This past Saturday, I spent a beautiful fall day in the Indiana countryside.
There were a lot of pigs; a lot of cows; well-designed exhibits as impressive as a museum, I kid you not; several info-packed lectures; delicious, locally grown food; horses (I rode my first!); and, mostly, very kind, very passionate people who have made farming their livelihood, their enjoyment, their pastime and who could not have been more gracious.
When we arrived in Indiana, to an area just a short 75-minute drive from Chicago, our first stop was the Belstra Family Pig Farm, which is fitting, given that this whole thing was made possible for me by the National Pork Board. They sent me, with my friend Alicia, to join the ChicaGourmets group that was going Saturday.
So at the pig farm: we hopped on tractor-pulled hayrides that looped around the barns, stopping at spots for us to see pigs milling around, a nursery with babies eating, sow stalls where the artificial insemination is done (yes, we watched it happen). Malcolm DeKryger, vice president of Belstra Milling/Belstra Group pig production, was the leader on my ride, explaining how workers have to shower before even entering the barns and how animal waste is filtered out into pools in back, repurposed into fertilizer, and how much he absolutely loves this whole life of farming. All this, despite the fact that media treatment of “swine flu” hurt the pork industry terribly (25%/$1 million loss, at this farm alone).
And pigs were only the beginning. Next was a quick ride down the street to Fair Oaks Farms, one of the largest dairies in the country, which is owned by five families, including Dr. Mike and Sue McCloskey. Mike talked about the dairy industry while we ate grilled cheese sandwiches made with cheese from their own dairy, and then continued as he guided us through exhibits like a 4-D movie and a simulated forest with interactive features, showing what Indiana land originally looked like. (I am telling you, this place would be such a cool field trip for kids.)