Thursday, July 23, 2015

Foodie Field Trip- Iowa Pork Blogger Tour Part 1- Brenneman Pork

I never cease to amaze myself. Going into this Foodie Field Trip I had some basic ideas for a great post. Post. Singular. One. What happened over this two-day tour was so much more than one post can ever represent. So folks, please stick around for the continuing series. I promise it will be worth it.

Have you ever seen where your food really comes from? I don't mean the grocery store, I mean where your pork chop or bacon is born, nursed, weaned and raised? Not a lot of us have, including me, but that has all changed, thanks to the Iowa Pork Producers Association. Last year I received an invitation to participate in a blogging promotion hosted by the Iowa Pork Producers Association. The requirements were simple- browse their recipe collection, pick a recipe, grab some fresh Iowa pork, prepare the recipe, write a post and hold a giveaway for our readers with the prizes courtesy of the I.P.P.A. It was a great promotion. Up for grabs was a grilling pack including utensils,  a selection of barbeque sauces from Jethro's Restaurants, a grilling apron and $50.00 in free pork coupons. 

I look dazed, but I am so smitten
It was hard to choose a recipe but I settled on Carolina Riesling Pork Chops. Of course I chose Riesling- it's my favorite white wine! The winner of the giveaway was Tracy Carlson, from Ames, Iowa.

The I.P.P.A., originally known as the Iowa Swine Growers Association, has been around since the 1930s, working to improve all aspects of pork production and today they share information with close to 12,000 pork industry leaders in Iowa. Their home office is in the city of Clive in Polk County.

Jenni gives a newborn pig a powder bath

So here we are a year later and the I.P.P.A. has again extended an amazing opportunity to the Iowa bloggers who participated in last year's event. I get to spend 2 days with Jenny Unternahrer from In The Kitchen With Jenny; Kristen Greazel from Make The Best of Everything; The Sustainable Couple's Kelli Lane; Jenni Ward from The Gingered Whisk; Alicia Schmitt of Fit and Farm, and Food and Swine's Cristen Clark. What are we going to be doing? Having a blast!!!

This lil guy is perfectly content in Jenny's arms

Our day starts bright and early at the I.P.P.A. office with a welcome breakfast and presentation. After we enjoy breakfast and getting to meet each other we board the bus for Brenneman Pork in Washington County. It's a bit of a road trip but that gave us lots of time to get to know each other. All I can seem to think about is........will I get to hold a little baby piggie? Typical city girl, right?

Erin is giving a brand new baby pig a good rub down
after a powder bath.

We arrive at the farm and are treated to lunch- Char Brenneman's homemade Iowa Pork Hamballs. Since RTK is all about the food normally I would stop here and share the recipe (don't worry, that will come later) but this tour of the farm was so much more than just amazing hamballs. As a life-long city resident this really was an incredible day for me. So we enjoyed lunch with Erin Brenneman. Rob and Char Brenneman popped in to visit with us but they were soon off to the county fair to look at the 4H winning hogs. Rob shared loads of information about raising hogs. I had no idea how "much" there was to all of it, such as pigs eat between 13 and 16 different diets during their lives. The farm also raises their own grain to feed the pigs (they still purchase grain from other farmers as well) and use the manure to fertilize their own fields. He talked about antibiotic use and changes over the years. The Brennemans are not afraid to tackle the tough subjects, and they are very transparent about farming. I had no idea there were so many facts that I had ever even thought about. Erin shared her story about how a lifelong Chicago girl went off to college, met a man with a work ethic just like hers, common interests, and the rest is history. Today she is absolutely thriving at the farm. You'll hear more about that in a bit. After a video presentation we are ready for the next part of our visit. The tour. Which also means it's time for the unglamorous stuff- shower in. Yep, you heard it, shower in. Times like this naturally curly hair is a great asset. Biosecurity is critical in livestock farming and in order to keep the pigs, and us, safe, showering in and showering out is required. Honestly, for all the dread I felt beforehand, the showering in and out was a piece of cake. 

Josie has a cute lil friend!

The buildings that house the pigs are massive. Incredibly massive. We toured the farrowing portion of the farm and being so close to the pregnant moms and newborn babies (literally newborn.......) really drives home the importance of biosecurity. Like human babies, new baby pigs are susceptible to illness and infection and need and deserve that protection. It's worth giving up our makeup and mascara and hairstyles. 

Jenni was brave enough to pull a pig. What an experience!

This massive barn was divided into a perfectly synced series of sections- the sows who are actively giving birth, the next section over has the sows with piglets just a few days older, another section the piglets are close to weaning. One area houses all the gestational sows and beyond that, the former moms doing what lady pigs do when they don't have kids- eating, fighting over who's the boss and laying around, in big pens. They were fun to watch, how they interact, and they do bicker and fight like a bunch of crabby women! The sows in the gestational pens were very content and comfortable. The sows with piglets were just as you'd expect- moms and babies doing what nature intended. What really surprised me was the air quality inside the barn. Let's be honest, pigs poop. Since they live in the barn, they poop inside the barn, but the carefully engineered ventilation systems in place very effectively take care of any odors. Is it fresh and floral scented like a spa? Of course not. We got the occasional whiff of fertilizer-to-be but overall it was very comfortable inside the building.

I think Kristin was a little smitten as well
Erin was hoping to have us experience the birth of a piglet, and that we sure did. We saw several pigs born that day, including some members of the group who were brave enough to "pull" pigs- literally reach inside mom and ease out a baby pig. I was not that gutsy! After they are born the piglets are given a powder "bath" to dry them off, and rubbed down with a towel. According to Erin this stimulates the baby and gets them active. The babies are introduced to mom's colostrum just like human babies, and I have to say, they are as precious as I hoped. I got to hold a couple different piggies and I was totally smitten.

Farm life is not all happiness and wiggly babies and smiles. While we were there we also experienced death in the pens, when one of the moms rolled over and suffocated a piglet. That lifeless little baby was a heartbreaking moment, but as they say- that's life on a farm.

Piggy love 
Erin's commitment to her animals and their well being is so obvious. She definitely exudes enthusiasm when talking about the farm, like during lunch, but once we entered that barn she was like a proud mom herself. The phrase "lit up" seems so cliche but she truly was when talking about and handling the sows and piglets. Farming isn't for everyone, that's for sure, but for Erin it's not a job, it's her life.

Brenneman Pork is truly a family farm. Formed in 1980 by Rob and Char Brenneman, the farm is very progressive, changing and growing all the time. It was clear listening to Rob when he was talking with us that he feels a deeply rooted passion for farming and raising hogs. Several members of the family work there including parents, sons, daughters and spouses.

So now that I have seen up close and personal where and how pork is produced it's time to get back to the city for the next part of our amazing journey- an artisinal ham tasting followed by four courses of pork awesomeness. You DON'T want to miss out on that........

**All photos inside the farm were taken by Erin Brenneman. Picture in the bus taken by Josie McQuillen

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

1 comment:

  1. What a great opportunity for an inside look into the pork industry! I can't wait to see your future posts from the tour.