Its National Pork Month, so in the spirit of pork I’d like to offer a different prospective of the industry. Meet Meghan Cline (@CityGirl4Ag on twitter), Meghan Cline, Assistant Director of Communications for the National Pork Producers Council in Washington DC. As a city girl turned Ag, Meghan offers a unique perspective of the pork industry.
“A farmer? You mean the old men who carry around pitchforks and chew on hay? No, I don’t know any” … is what I could have said just several years ago.
Growing up as a city girl in Northwest Georgia, the most “country” I was exposed to was a country music FM station. Our high school had no FFA or 4-H clubs. The thought never crossed my mind to ask where the never-touching food on my divided plate came from.
Then, college happened. Two land-grant universities by the names of University of Georgia and Oklahoma State University were the breeding grounds for my love of agriculture. I headed to UGA with my childhood dream of being a veterinarian for sweet puppies and kittens. After taking a few ag classes and quickly realizing I was not a “science person,” I rerouted to agricultural communications. I was a natural comma nazi and thought the Alpha Gamma Rho boys on campus were good-looking. This major combined the two, so I gave it a shot. A few classes in, I fell head-over-heels in love…with agriculture, that is.
After a summer internship in Washington, D.C., I was Oklahoma-bound for grad school. It didn’t take me long to know that was where I was supposed to be. Friends were made easily, everyone was genuinely nice, I learned the art of two-stepping, and, boy, those wide open spaces were beautiful! Being a “country girl” became second nature.
Two years flew by, and after a very difficult decision to leave the state, I once again packed my bags for D.C. Not leaving my newfound ag side behind, I came to work on Capitol Hill for pork farmers, putting my agricultural communications degrees to full use. On my second day of the job, I was sent to Pennsylvania to tour a meat processing plant. I was certain I wouldn’t last through the day without hurling, but I was wrong. Everything was clean. I mean clean. Workers were happy, and there was a lot more manual labor than machine. It was by no means glamorous, but it was something I needed to see if I was going to be able to defend why I eat meat.
This year, I had the opportunity to travel to Des Moines for the World Pork Expo where I met countless farmers, reaffirming my love for agriculture. There, I also toured my first hog farm. I was prepared to see the worst. After all, the graphic animal rights activist videos were shot on farms, right? I figured since this was a large-scale hog operation, I would see the worst of the worst (since consumers have been trained to think that small farms are somehow “better” and more “sustainable” than large farms).
First stop: a large room with sows in gestation crates. Yes, it was loud. Yes, it was smelly. But these pigs were clearly happy as can be. They had their food and water delivered to them, a climate-controlled barn free from predators and room to lie down and take a few steps back. One farmer explained it to me best: “If you were in a room with a bunch of your closest pregnant friends, wouldn’t you want to be separated?” YES!
I totally “girled out” out in the nursery barn, squealing about as much as the piglets. Come on, is there anything cuter than a piglet? No.
Then, I saw piglets being castrated. I saw piglets being put to sleep. I saw a mama sow roll over on one of her helpless babies. And, I realized farming – like a lot of other professions that deal with living beings – is not glamorous, but it is a necessary and noble profession. I am thankful everyday for our nation’s 67,000 pork farmers who have the right to raise their animals in ways that are best for the animal and business. That’s the beauty of American agriculture: choice. Choice for farmers and ranchers to produce food in the best way they see fit and choice for consumers to purchase food produced in a variety of methods.
I often get the “What the heck? Are you a pig whisperer?” jokes when I tell someone what I do, but it gives me great pleasure to laugh and explain my job as opposed to turning cold and dismissing the opportunity to educate city folks about agriculture. Now, patience (especially for ignorance) is certainly not my middle name, but I can relate to these folks who have probably never thought where their food comes from. I challenge you to never let an open opportunity pass to educate us “city folk” on where our food comes from and the good deeds of farmers. If someone wouldn’t have done it for me, I would probably be a strict vegan who couldn’t tell the difference between cats and dogs from cows and pigs.
Thanks to Meghan for sharing her Pork industry experience for national pork month. Give Meghan a follow on twitter. Though Meghan and I didn’t formally meet while we both attended OSU, I was fortunate enough to get to know Meghan at the AgChat Foundation “Agvocacy 2.0 training conference” in Kansas City a few months ago.
If you get a chance give Meghan a shout out for her guest post on Farming America!