by Darcy Maulsby
If you ever attended summer camp as a kid, you know you can leave camp, but camp never leaves you. That’s even truer at a pork leadership camp, where young people learn to lead, find inspiration to pursue ag careers and become lifelong ag ambassadors.
Just ask Cassidy Smith, director of communications for the Texas Pork Producers Association (TPPA).
“The Texas Pork Leadership Camp opened my eyes to the diverse pork production in Texas and around the country,” said Cassidy Smith, director of communications for the Texas Pork Producers Association (TPPA). “It also influenced my career choice.”
Smith grew up raising show pigs and participating in 4-H and FFA. She never experienced the full scope of the pork industry, however, until she attended the Texas camp in 2004.
“I made lifelong friendships through the experience and had so much fun that I wanted to stay involved in the pork industry,” said Smith, who followed through on that sentiment.
That’s the power of youth pork leadership camps, said Cindy Cunningham, assistant vice president of communications for the Pork Checkoff. The camps are organized each year by several state pork associations nationwide, three of which are featured here.
“The camps, which are supported by the Checkoff, tap into the passion kids have for raising pigs and give them tools to succeed as the next generation of pork leaders,” said Cunningham, who assisted with media training at the 2016 Oklahoma Pork Youth Leadership Camp.
Kylee Deniz, producer outreach and marketing manager for the Pork Checkoff, agrees that the camps play a key role with youth.
“The impact of the camps can’t be overstated,” Deniz said. “We encourage more states to get involved.”
Texas Offers Career Focus
The TPPA has hosted its Texas Pork Leadership Camp for more than 20 years.
“Since Texas is largely show-pig driven, with just a few large, commercial hog operations, our camp focuses on the diverse career paths available today,” said Brandon Gunn, TPPA executive vice president. “We want students to discover there is more than one way to succeed as an ag leader.”
Camp alumni include Trent Ashby, a member of the Texas House of Representatives; Daryl Real, who worked with the National Swine Registry before becoming senior vice president of agriculture and livestock at the Texas state fair; and Kevin Mock, who owns Mock Livestock in Hico, Texas, and is a national accounts manager for Show-Rite Feeds. Other alumni have pursued careers as attorneys, Extension specialists and more.
The 2016 camp followed a pig from conception to the dinner plate, with visits to commercial swine farms, a tour of a Tyson bacon processing plant and other pig-centric training.
“Many of these experiences offer a ‘wow’ factor and allow students to see aspects of the pork industry that most people do not,” Gunn said. “We want them to consider a career path in the pork industry.”
Oklahoma Pork Immersion
The Oklahoma camp is a relatively new opportunity for young people, with the first camp held in 2012. Each year, 12 high school students are selected for the week-long experience.
“We offer a range of learning opportunities to get these kids ready to promote the pork industry and agriculture,” said Roy Lee Lindsey, Oklahoma Pork Council executive director.
“All participants become certified in the Youth Pork Quality Assurance® program,” he said. “We offer a complete immersion experience to get them excited about all things pork.”
The 2016 camp included an overview of the U.S. pork industry, media training, a visit to a sow farm, meat quality training and a tour of a culinary school in Oklahoma City. The experience has encouraged some youth to choose a career in the pork industry, Lindsay said.
“One participant had wanted to be a physical therapist,” Lindsey said. “But the leadership camp sparked his interest in pigs, and he planned instead to earn an animal science degree and work in the pork industry.”
Lindsey also noted a young woman who decided to enroll in veterinary medicine school after participating in the camp.
Illinois Supports Next Generation of Leaders
The Illinois Pork Leadership Institute allows students to participate multiple years to further immerse youth in the pork industry.
“We help kids network with people in the industry and discover the wide range of career options related to pork production,” said Mike Borgic, director of membership and outreach for the Illinois Pork Producers Association (IPPA).
The IPPA has sponsored the Institute for about 20 years, with 12 to 15 students each year. Borgic’s participation led to an internship at the IPPA and his current full-time job with the organization.
“The Illinois Pork Leadership Institute was fun while also providing encouragement for me and other youth to work full-time in the pork industry,” Borgic said.
The institute, held in late June, is geared toward high school and college students. Tours have included Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana, culinary schools in Chicago, a Purina feed facility in St. Louis and the Northern Illinois Food Bank.
The Illinois Institute, like other pork youth development programs nationwide, is committed to expanding students’ horizons.
“It’s all about supporting the next generation of pork industry leaders,” Borgic said. “We need to encourage youth to step up.”