By Valerie Earley, University of Minnesota Sophomore
As a curious six year old boy looked up at me and suddenly asked, “Do pigs have earwax?” I couldn’t help but giggle at his innocent, silly question. After answering his question we put on matching pig tattoos and chatted about the last time he saw a pig, what it ate and where it lived. Happy as can be, he left our bright pink and orange Oink Outings tent at the Farmer’s Market, content that he now knew that pigs do in fact have earwax, not realizing he just learned a little bit about pig farming in Minnesota through a simple conversation.
My summer as an intern with the Minnesota Pork Board and the Minnesota Pork Producers Association was filled with all things pig farming. The projects I worked on included everything from Oink Outings to planning for Farmfest, but regardless which project the objective remained to provide resources and connections for pig farming. Although there were both challenges and opportunities along the way, I enjoyed working with the intelligent, hard-working and upbeat people who are involved in pig farming in Minnesota.
My role as an intern was to assist in planning, facilitating and outreach that shared the story of pig farming and provided resources for farmers. Throughout the summer, I spent over 40 hours outside our bright pink and orange Oink Outings tent answering questions about pig farming at Farmer’s Markets in the Twin Cities. I helped facilitate a Leadership Conference for college students about their impact on the future of agriculture. I assisted in preparation and attended Farmfest at the beginning of August. Working with design and production companies, I created content for posters, newsletters and handouts for children. I spent 12 days at the Minnesota State Fair, making pig ears, talking about piglets and promoting eating pork. Each of these events required hours of work behind the scenes, but when it all came together it was satisfying to see the projects unfold.
Each project presented challenges and opportunities that pushed me to grow throughout the summer. The three largest learning opportunities I had were gaining knowledge about pork production, developing skills to connect with people and expanding my professional network.
Growing up on my family’s dairy steer and beef farm, I had little experience on a pig farm. From the start, the staff and farmers taught me about pig farming. From everyday pig care with farmers at Oink Outings to spending four hours in a packing plant, I gained a holistic understanding of pig farming and its importance to the world, Minnesota and each person’s life. Second, I learned the importance of building relationships by making a connection and establishing trust. As I grew more and more comfortable at Oink Outings and other events throughout the summer, I recognized the growth in my ability to read people and more easily make a connection with them. Whether that meant complimenting a woman about her shoes, talking about popsicles with children or about the weather with an old man, a small connection always led to an open conversation about pigs. After making a connection, establishing trust became much easier. Forming trust was especially important in experiences like a 30-minute conversation with a Humane Society employee to chatting with a group of six teenagers about animal cruelty videos to a seven year old kid about why he is a vegan. While most conversations remained fairly simple, connection and trust proved to be very important when communicating on any degree of intensity. Learning how to make quick connections with consumers also helped me to make a connection with professionals while expanding my network. Attending events such as the Board of Animal Health, Agriculture in the Classroom, and Minnesota Pork’s Human Capital meetings gave me an opportunity to meet and learn from experts.
While I learned from events and projects that went smoothly, challenges presented an opportunity for growth and development. The largest challenge was working on multiple projects at once and measuring their results. For example, while putting the final touches on Farmfest, we also were planning for our three booths at State Fair. Although I was able to see the immediate reaction to each project, it was challenging to truly measure the impact of projects like State Fair. Regardless of the project, I continued to develop skills to simultaneously plan detailed projects and learned how to see signs of success.
This summer has been filled with adventure, learning and connecting with farmers, consumers and experts involved in pig farming. Whether it was answering questions about earwax or giving away sunglasses, I learned more about pig farming, making connections and multitasking. Additionally, I reflected upon my skills and the experiences I had that helped me grow to a passionate representative of pig farming in Minnesota.