Sunday, October 20, 2013

National Pork Month - Guest Post

Most of us think of pumpkins and ghosts and goblins in October, but Peggy Greenway would like you to think about pork. October is National Pork Month, and as a pork producer, Peggy wants to raise your awareness of "The Other White Meat."

Peggy and her husband, Brad, own and operate a diversified crop and livestock farm. They not only grow corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa, but also care for 160 stock cows and raise pigs in a modern hog building. When Peggy’s two children were little, they helped on the farm and developed an excellent work ethic. Today, Peggy works on the farm with her husband and full-time employee, Thomas. Peggy follows the industry closely and volunteers with the county pork council. Peggy joined the CommonGround™ South Dakota program as a volunteer because she enjoys telling consumers her farm stories. It is important for her to talk about their constant efforts to grow safer food with less land and less water causing less of an environmental impact. 

I met Peggy and several other South Dakota farm women at a South Dakota CommonGround event last month. As a fellow farm wife, their goal to dispel myths about modern agriculture and build trust in farming communities and farm families resonated with me. I have asked Peggy to share a bit about her life on their farm with us in honor of National Pork Month, and am so glad that she has agreed. 

Here is Peggy's story:

My dad recently reminded me about a story I wrote when I was in fifth grade.  I’m sure you remember the common school assignment - write a story finishing this thought: “when I grow up I want to be…”  As unusual of a wish as mine was, all these years later I have to laugh because it actually came true. Much to my teacher’s surprise at the time, I had said I wanted to grow up to be a pig farmer! 

I suppose it wouldn’t have been so farfetched if I lived in a rural area instead of a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota.  Yes, I was a city girl and there were no pig farms for miles.  However, I had access to country life on my uncle and aunt’s farm 50 miles away and I was enthralled with their pig farm. As a fifth grader I thought everything about the farm looked like fun, and who wouldn’t love to take care of those cute little piglets?

Years after that story was written and forgotten about, I met my husband-to-be at college.  He happened to be a farmer with beef cattle, row crops, and of course pigs.  The story of that young fifth grader had come true, even though all the fun things I remembered about the pig farm as a kid weren’t exactly how it was in real life. It was hard work. In the early years of our pig farm we had a herd of sows (mother pigs.) When the sows farrowed they would be in an individual birthing pen inside a barn where they would stay for about four weeks until the piglets were weaned. Then the sows would go back outside to live in pens in small lots with a portable hog shelter. On a nice, dry, 70’ day the sows were pretty comfortable but you know those days are few in the upper Midwest. We had to work hard to keep them cool during the hot summer months by running water holes and sprinklers. The winters were brutal because it never seemed like you could keep enough straw (bedding) in the shelter to keep them warm. And, the worst conditions were in the spring when the mud was up to two feet deep. We raised the pigs (offspring from the sows) until they were ready for market. They were fed outside with shelters or in hoop barns so they were also subjected to weather extremes.

It was a struggle to keep our animals comfortable and we weren’t happy with the conditions our pigs were living in.  So, in 2006 we sold our sows and became part owner of a new, state of the art, sow unit which is managed by a veterinary clinic. We built a brand new modern pig barn in which to feed our pigs we get from the sow unit.  Four times each year we get 1400 12-pound piglets and feed them for 20-22 weeks until they are ready for market at 275 pounds. The pigs are divided between 12 large pens in each side of the barn and stay with the same group until they’re sold. They have ample room to move around and play and have a constant supply of fresh air, fresh water, and feed (appropriate for their age and weight) which is formulated by a swine nutritionist.  The entire floor in the barn is slatted concrete so all the animal waste falls through to an eight foot deep pit below. This means the animal are always clean and dry. The barn has computerized ventilation which automatically runs several large fans, a large curtain on the south side, louvers in the ceiling, sprinklers in the summer, and heaters in the winter. Some people question why we put pigs inside barns and wonder what goes on in there. I am SO glad that we are able to provide comfortable, climate controlled shelter for our pigs (because remember what it was like for the pigs on our farm in the old days?). Animal care is our top priority and it helps ensure high quality and safe pork for my family and yours. If you ever want to see for yourself what it’s like inside a pig barn there are several videos at There are nine videos of my farm available there.

Our pig farm was like many others in the early 1980’s, but today nearly all pigs raised in the U.S. are raised in modern barns like the one we built.  I’m extremely proud of our industry for having the commitment to improve animal welfare. I’m also proud of other improvements the industry has made including the following:

  1. Since pig waste is held under the buildings in deep pits the odor is reduced and the value of the manure is increased.  The manure is a valuable asset because it is an organic and natural fertilizer and replaces the need for petroleum based fertilizer. The liquid manure is incorporated into the topsoil each Fall at a rate based on soil need and the actual fertilizer contents of the manure.
  2. Sustainability:  To produce a pound of pork, today’s farmers are using 78% less land, 41% less water, with a carbon footprint that’s 35% compared to 50 years ago.
  3. The National Pork Board has created programs such as PQAplus (Pork Quality Assurance PLUS) which is training that each pork producer must complete. Packers (slaughter facilities) require farmer certification before pigs can be delivered to their facilities.
  4. By following best care practices, keeping animals indoors, and having a veterinary/client relationship to ensure animal health, we provide the safest pork to consumers in history.

 Here are some PORK facts in honor of National Pork Month:

  1. Pork is an excellent source of thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B, and protein. It is also a good source of zinc and potassium.
  2. Pork tenderloin is as lean as skinless chicken breast.
  3. Versatility is a great attribute for pork.  It works well with any flavor, so it fits with most cuisines.
  4. Cuts of pork that come from the loin, such as chops and loin roast, are the leanest cuts of pork available. LOIN = LEAN
  5. The USDA recently reduced the recommended internal cooking temperature for pork to 145’, followed by a 3 minute rest.  Grill it like a steak - slightly pink is OK!  (Ground pork, like ground beef, should still be cooked to an internal temperature of 165’.)
  6. For more pork information and recipes visit
  7. For more information about life on a pig farm, follow these bloggers:
    1. Wanda Patsche at
    2. Chris Chinn at

I love that Peggy's dream to be a pig farmer came true, and really appreciate her explanation of how their pig barn works. Quality care of the animal really is a priority for all in agriculture.

Of course, this wouldn't be On My Plate without a recipe, and we are fortunate that Peggy also shared a recipe for BBQ Pork Meatballs. I prepared them with a mix of ground pork and spicy Jimmy Dean sausage. The fresh parsley was my addition to the recipe as I take advantage of the last days of my herb garden before winter weather takes it away, and I used plain chili powder, but might consider Ancho chile powder for more kick. The rich, smoky sauce is quite sweet and Hubs would have liked it to have more bite or tang, but I liked its contrast with the slight heat of the meatballs (due to the spicy sausage). These are a perfect appetizer meatball for all the holiday parties this winter.

(adapted from Farm Credit Cook book, Kathy Niedermyer, Omaha NE)
1  (12 ounce) can evaporated milk
1 1/2 pounds pork sausage (I used SPICY Jimmy Dean.)
1/2 pounds ground pork or ground beef (I used ground pork.)
2 cups oatmeal
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons chile powder
3-4 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F.
Combine all ingredients and form into walnut-sized balls. 
Place in a single layer on a baking sheet.

BBQ Sauce
2 cups ketchup (I used the homemade from my garden tomatoes.)
2 tablespoons liquid smoke
2 cups brown sugar (Next time, I might reduce this slightly, but it only because Hubs likes things a little less sweet.)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup chopped onion

Combine in a saucepan. 
Simmer on low heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring frequently.

Pour sauce over meatballs and bake for 1 hour.
Bake meatballs without sauce for 30 minutes. Drain any excess fat and place in a crockpot. Cover with sauce and cook on low for 3 hours.
(this is the method I used) Bake meatballs for 30 minutes on baking sheets. Meanwhile, simmering sauce for about 20 minutes to dissolve sugar and soften the onions. Transfer baked meatballs to a shallow cast iron pan and pour sauce over the top. Cover with lid or foil and bake an additional 20-30 minutes until sauce thickens and coats all meatballs and pork is cooked through.

***Peggy's Note***These go over great at potluck gatherings.  The sauce is THE best part, so don’t be tempted to use BBQ sauce from the store!

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