What started as a promising idea more than eight years ago has flourished as the Pork Checkoff’s Operation Main Street (OMS) strengthens the farm-to-fork connect between producers and consumers.
“I got involved with OMS to make a difference in the way people outside the pork industry see us,” says Nick Andersen of Clear Lake, Iowa, who owns LANA Enterprises, a wean-to-finish swine operation that produces 32,000 pigs each year. “I’m amazed at how people are unaware of how their food is produced. There is a real need for pork producers to answer questions and improve public relations with urban consumers.”
In the past eight years, nearly 1,000 OMS speakers have given almost 6,000 speeches in 41 states, reaching more than 174,000 people. Across the nation, theses speakers have presented at 1,600 Lions Club meetings, 1,300 Rotary Club meetings, 1,200 Kiwanis Club meetings, 60 classes offered by universities’ schools of veterinary medicine, 120 dietetic association gatherings, and 140 county and state meetings of elected officials, including boards of supervisors.
“The best part is the question-and-answer session and making a difference on how people think about pork and hog farmers,” says Terry O’Neel, a corn and soybean grower who runs a 500-sow farrow-to-finish swine operation near Friend, Neb. “Most people are amazed on how things have changed and what goes on in modern pork production.”
Giving audiences permission to question
O’Neel, who often travels 50 miles one way to speak with civic groups, high school culinary classes and school lunch specialists, says audience members often have questions about pork production.
“They want to know how many pigs a sow has, what breeds I raise and how long it takes for a hog to reach market weight. People are impressed at how pork production has advanced in technology through the years.”
Pork’s positive messages are reaching far beyond meeting rooms and classrooms. OMS presentations have generated more than 800 news stories with a reach of almost 29 million people.
Andersen, who has given nearly 50 OMS presentations, notes that pork producers raise larger, leaner hogs on 78 percent less land with 36 percent less feed and 41 percent less water than in years past. He has found his audiences to be warm, friendly and accepting, even when he addresses controversial areas of pork production. “This gives the audience permission to challenge me, and their questions are always cordial and respectful.”
Some audience members have questions about drug and hormone use in pork production. “I use these opportunities to explain that our goal is to produce a safe, wholesome, dependable, economical supply of pork for the American family,” says Andersen, who emphasizes that pork producers use no hormones, use medications judiciously, and follow We Care principles to ensure animal well-being.
Focusing on the future
Many audience members are interested in pork recipes, and Andersen notes that pork can be cooked safely to an internal temperature of 145 degrees, according to new U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines.
Connecting farmers and consumers is a key benefit of OMS, says O’Neel, who would like to see specialized OMS presentations tailored to the next generation of consumers, including high school and college students.
“It’s important that we create a dialogue with consumers not only to tell our story, but to better understand how people view our industry. We want consumers to know that pork farmers care deeply about our pigs, our employees and the land we live on.”
For more information on OMS or OMS training sessions, log onto http://www.pork.org/Programs/46/OMS.aspx, or call the Pork Checkoff Service Center at 800-456-PORK.