Pass the Pork has enabled WG Provisions to reopen its small pork-processing facility in Sidney, in southwest Iowa. The plant—which produces smaller “roasting pigs” that are mainly sold through food service channels and for events like barbecues and Hawaiian luaus—had been closed for about a month amid COVID-19 restrictions on restaurant operations and large social gatherings.
When Darren Dies, president of Ames-based WG Provisions, saw the call for added pork processing capacity, he wanted to at least try to help, despite potential challenges.
“Before, we were essentially just a slaughter line,” Dies said. “We’ve had to create a new process and reorganize our staff, but everyone’s kept a great attitude and has been jumping in to try to figure it out.”
The Sidney operation has nearly 20 employees who typically process pigs that weigh up to 150 pounds. Now, they’re skinning and deboning animals that weigh double that, then sending the pork to Midwest Premier Foods in Ankeny for grinding and packaging into one-pound quantities. The company has brought in equipment to help automate the hide-pulling process and split carcasses—roasting pigs are merely scalded and scraped, and skin is not removed.
Dies was hopeful the plant could process 50 to 100 pigs daily for the Pass the Pork effort.
“If we can do more, we will,” Dies said. “I realize we’re not a huge processing plant. But in a small way, we can help mitigate the excess supply that’s in the pipeline.”
Northwest Iowa pig farmer Dwight Mogler delivered the first load of 63 pigs May 11. Mogler serves as vice president of resources and District 1 director for the Iowa Pork Producers Association.
“I think this whole process has good people trying to help people,” Dies said. “We’re very grateful. We’re helping pork producers, this program is helping our business get back on its feet, and we’re helping take care of people who need food.”
Dies noted that the plant’s new processing setup better positions the company for purchasing heavier roasting pigs to utilize for a separate initiative, part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has partnered with regional and local distributors to purchase agricultural products for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. WG Provisions was awarded a contract to supply pre-cooked meat to nonprofit organizations in the Midwest region.
Instead of those pigs being dressed for roasting, they will be slaughtered and deboned in Sidney—as they are for Pass the Pork—and the pork will be cooked at the company’s location in Jewell, which had also been closed about a month.