As pork loin nuggets sizzled and browned in hot oil, Bobby Gross diligently poked each chunk with a thermometer.
“Making sure they’re the right [internal] temperature,” said Gross, a high school freshman from Dunlap. He had just learned that pork cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit is a safe temperature that also results in tender, juicy and flavorful meat, according to the National Pork Board (NPB).
The culinary exercise was part of the second-annual Pig to Plate Adventure, sponsored by the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA). The event, in Ames on Nov. 12 and 13, educated high schoolers about pork—from conception to consumption—through informational sessions, barn tours, a fabrication (or carcass cutting) demonstration and more.
“High school students are at an age where they’re forming opinions and molding their futures,” said Kelsey Byrnes, IPPA’s consumer outreach director. “Being able to share with them how pigs are raised, how to properly cook pork and opening their eyes to different career opportunities in the pork industry is incredibly exciting.”
This year’s attendance included nearly 50 students and 13 advisers affiliated with FFA and Family, Career and Community Leaders of America. Students came from 12 schools: Albia, Audubon, Belmond-Klemme, Boyer Valley (Dunlap), Central Community (Elkader), Central DeWitt, Central Springs (Manly), Danville, East Buchanan (Winthrop), East Union (Afton), English Valleys (North English) and Mid-Prairie (Wellman).
Gross particularly enjoyed learning about meat processing and the value of different cuts, as well as the effects of African swine fever, a rapidly spreading disease that poses no threat to humans but has wiped out pig herds in many Asian countries.
“I’ve been around pigs my whole life, and I never knew some of that,” he said.
In addition to a virtual tour of a farrowing barn in Creston, students visited the Iowa State University (ISU) Allen E. Christian Swine Teaching Farm, a 90-sow farrow-to-finish operation.
“I liked seeing the way they treat the animals, how it’s actually humane,” said senior LeaAnn Goldensoph of DeWitt.
Misconceptions about agriculture can easily gain traction through social media, noted junior Hannah Lanphere of Manly. She appreciated connecting with those directly tied to the industry, including keynote speaker Brett Kaysen, the NPB’s assistant vice president of sustainability, and speaker Jodi Sterle, associate professor of animal science at ISU.
“It’s nice to hear their point of view,” she said. On the Internet, “you kind of hear everything.”
Junior Anna Hauschild spent the summer working at Wikner Farms, a farrow-to-wean farm near her home in Farmersburg. Her family also raises pigs, but on a much smaller scale.
“I’ve only ever been on one [large] farm,” she said, “so comparing other farms to what they do and the different methods was kind of cool.”
The free event was open to a maximum of five students and one adviser per district. For more information, visit www.iowapork.org/pigtoplateadventure.