Creating nearly 11,000 jobs and yielding more than $645 million in gross annual income, Ohio’s pork industry is vital to the state’s economy. Ohio is among the top 10 pork production states in the nation – thanks in part to its central location and strong agricultural heritage.
“The state capital, Columbus, is within 500 miles of more than 50 percent of the U.S. population. That, coupled with the state’s bountiful crops and accessible transit system, makes Ohio an ideal place to raise pigs,” says Quinton Keeran, director of communications with the Ohio Pork Council. “Ohioans recognize the sustainability of pork production and the industry’s commitment to environmentally sustainable practices.”
To help consumers learn about the pork industry, the Ohio Pork Council provides a multitude of educational resources, including downloadable lesson plans for teachers and a series of virtual field trips to pig farms for schools.
“The majority of people will never physically visit a farm, but educational programming like virtual field trips allows individuals the opportunity to have a connection with modern agriculture and learn more about what happens on farms and inside barns across the country without ever leaving their homes or classrooms,” Keeran says.
Reaching Young Consumers
The Virtual Field Trips program, started by the Ohio Pork Council in 2015, has been successful thanks to participating farmers like Neil Rhonemus, who became involved to “make people aware of where their food comes from.”
“I think it’s very important that we have an avenue to exchange our questions and ideas, so we can understand what’s going on. Unlike other places, we can’t have people actually come into our buildings because of the risk of spreading germs. Obviously, that’s a health issue for the animals and our food production,” Rhonemus says.
With the help of a webcam and solid internet connection, Rhonemus is able to take the students along with him as he performs his daily chores.
“I show them everything that’s going on that day. Typically I’ll start from inside the barn. I’ll show the pigs, and I’ll walk slowly, showing the feed, what the feed looks like, and I get a close-up shot with some of my hands. I show them where the water comes to. Then I’ll show the flooring, and that leads to questions about, ‘Why is this?’ That’s good, because I want them asking me questions that they’re curious about. I want them to be engaged,” he says.
Making a Connection
Keeran says the Ohio Pork Council actively reaches out to consumers to help tell the story of the more than 3,700 pig farmers in the state. The council is visible on social media platforms, such as the Ohio Hog Farmers Facebook page, and members attend multiple events across the state throughout the year. They help promote pork and actively engage in conversations about modern agriculture and how food is grown and raised.
“With a constantly increasing disconnect between people and how their food is grown and raised, it is necessary for those involved in agriculture to reach out and tell their individual stories,” Keeran says. “In such a fast-paced world, with information available at our fingertips virtually 24/7, it is crucial that agriculture be transparent and accessible.”
According to Keeran, another reason for the industry’s success is the attention Ohio producers pay to biosecurity.
“Animal care is top priority for a farmer. Modern advances in agriculture have allowed farmers to better care for their animals, including the way farmers protect a pig’s health. By choosing appropriate locations for barns, implementing proper protocol for disinfecting transportation vehicles and facilities, and communicating within the local and statewide agricultural community, farmers are able to better work to prevent potential illnesses from entering their barns. Healthy pigs make safe pork,” he says.
To this end, the Ohio Pork Council is working diligently to spread this message of safety and responsibility to consumers through educational programs.