By Darcy Maulsby

Some people run from problems while others run to them. We call them firefighters… first responders… Pig farmers.

Wait – pig farmers? Absolutely, thanks to leaders such as Scott Van Deest, a volunteer fire chief with the Lafayette Fire Department in Minnesota, and Amy Storm, an emergency medical responder from Ethan, South Dakota.

Van Deest and Storm are among the latest pig farmers featured in the Pork Checkoff’s #RealPigFarming digital communications.

“Producers are more than just pig farmers,” said Claire Masker, director of communications for the Pork Checkoff. “They are also moms, dads, coaches, firefighters and more. Highlighting that human connection builds trust with consumers.”

Two Unique Passions

Spark Life of Service

While Van Deest enjoyed working in agriculture in high school, he couldn’t shake a desire to head to the Rocky Mountains. He wanted to fight fires in the region and possibly become one of the fabled “hotshots,” the highly-trained firefighters who battle wildland fires.

By his early 20s, Van Deest pursued his dream in Colorado. But there was another dream that drew him back to Minnesota in 1995, where he started working for his previous employers at Wakefield Pork.

“I worked for Wakefield Pork owners Steve and Mary Langhorst in high school,” said Van Deest, who now balances his career as farm manager with Wakefield Pork Inc. with his role as a volunteer fire chief. “I knew I would always want to work in agriculture and went to college for it.”

Firefighting and pig farming might seem like an odd combination, but they share a lot of similarities, Van Deest added. Both allow him to serve the community and use his talents to help others.

“I try to be calm, cool and collected, because someone needs to be steady and reliable in stressful situations,” said Van Deest, a 22-year member of the Lafayette Fire Department.

While he prepares for the best possible scenario on the farm or at a fire, Van Deest and his team know there are no guarantees.

“On the fire department, you need to have a plan in place. When the pager goes off, everything can all change in a heartbeat,” he said. “And on the farm, you can have something come up that immediately changes your plans. That’s why we always train our people. It makes a smoother outcome and allows us to take proper care of the pigs.”

Though he could retire from the fire department, Van Deest plans to remain a firefighter as long as he’s healthy. He also remains committed to the pork industry’s We CareSM ethical principles.

“My work helps the community, and that always gives me a good feeling at the end of the day,” he said.

“Have Each Other’s Back”

The importance of helping the community hit home for Storm when her father faced some health issues a few years ago.

“I knew that if something happened, whether on our farm or to a neighbor, I would want to try everything I possibly could to help out,” said Storm, who farms with her husband and three sons near Ethan, South Dakota.

This desire prompted Storm to visit with the local fire chief. Since then, she’s become a certified emergency medical responder (EMR) and volunteers with the local area fire department.

“When we go to a call, we have each other’s back,” said Storm, who raises pigs, cattle and crops in addition to off-farm work as a photographer.

Living 10 miles from town can be an advantage when it comes to public safety.

“It’s very rural here, so if there’s a medic or fire call in my neck of the woods, I’m the first one there,” said Storm, who keeps her own medical bag and fire gear at the farm.

Storm is prepared for anything when a call for help comes in and puts these skills to work on the farm, too.

“My work is different every day,” said Storm, who handles everything from working with pigs to driving the tractor.

Storm sees a common thread between caring for people and ensuring the highest level of care for her pigs.

“We want to raise our pigs, our crops and our boys in a positive, healthy environment, and we want to be good members of our community,” she said.


Straight from the Source

When making connections with consumers, it’s hard to beat stories straight from pig farmers, veterinarians and other industry professionals who know it best.

“That’s why we created #RealPigFarming in 2014,” said Claire Masker, director of communications for the Pork Checkoff. “A story that makes pig farmers more human resonates. Highlighting the pork industry’s We Care ethical principles helps to connect with consumers.”

Stories are shared on the Checkoff’s blog and through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Some #RealPigFarming videos have gone viral, including Meet the Women of #RealPigFarming and Meet the Littlest Pig Farmer.