There’s a lot more to pigs than bacon and chops

January 21, 2011


What do pepperoni, concrete, bullets and heart valves have in common? Thanks to the research of Christien Meindertsma and her published work called “Pig 05049” I learned they are all made out of your ordinary every day pig parts. In fact, she found 185 non-pork products that pigs are involved in. If you’re like me I had no idea there could be so many pig parts in so many things.

Now granted, working for the Iowa Farm Bureau and visiting with pork farmers across the state I knew there were many uses. I was always surprised to find that in the pizza realm alone pigs are responsible for pepperoni, sausage, and ham. But Meindertsma’s research goes far beyond pizza and other meat products and traces uses in items like ammunition. I mean really, bullets, I would’ve never guessed that.

I came across a presentation that Meindertsma gave to the website TED recently while I was surfing the internet. To me the presentation drove home the importance of pork farmers here in the state and the hard work they do to feed the world and provide for the world even when they face criticism.

For Meindertsma the importance of pigs to the Netherland’s economy made it a no brainer to track down all the different economical, health and social benefits pigs bring to us. To do that she tracked one pig as it was transferred from the farm to the packing plant and then to all of the products it helped make.

Here’s a small list of some of the other products pigs literally have a part in: sandpaper, paint brushes, paint, beer, collagen, fine bone china, cheese cake, train brakes, bread dough, soap and body lotion. Their parts are also used to make many of the low fat health products we eat on a daily basis.

Learning about this research and visiting with pork farmers across the state I can’t help but take great pride in Iowa’s standing as the country’s largest pork producing state. I’ve visited hog barns across the state and talked with farmers to gain an understanding for the passion that they have in raising these animals. Research like this shows me that the farmers caring for these animals and the products they become are much more important to Iowa’s economy and the national economy than I could ever imagine. The roads we drive on, the plastics we use every day and the ammunition we use to protect our borders and citizens are all made from the pigs that are being raised just outside of the towns we live in.

Meindertsma commented to people attending a TED talk in the United Kingdom that she too was surprised to find so many uses and she had two primary observations about her findings.

“First, It’s odd that we don’t treat these animals like absolute kings and queens and the second is that we don’t have a clue what all these products that surround us are made of,” Meindertsma said with a smile. She went on to say that it was important to know what the raw materials that surround us are made up of so we can take better care of the livestock, the crops and the people that produce the products.

You can watch the presentation about her findings here:

Written by Joe Murphy
Joe is a photographer and writer for Iowa Farm Bureau.

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Colin Johnson: The Power of “Connecting”

January 13, 2011

A clean-cut, lean and studious-looking young man crossed the stage and scanned the crowd of hundreds of strangers and judges with clip boards. Unlike the others who smoothed their suits and ties with a familiar ease, Colin Johnson would feel better to be behind the wheel of a tractor. But, remembering his late father’s years of leadership, generations of sweat and dirt, and all the Iowa farmers who are rooting for one of their own, he muttered a little prayer to himself: “Let God’s grace give me the words and peace in the moment, to remember what’s important and be able to display that on stage.” He took a deep breath, smiled and leaned into the microphone.

Johnson came out on top in a tough field of professional talkers: lawyers, agribusiness leaders, grain marketers and others to win the coveted American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Discussion Meet prize. The AFBF Discussion Meet is not a debate on ag knowledge, as much as a showcase of a Farm Bureau member’s ability to hold and guide a conversation.

With anti-ag activist agendas and regulation measures bearing down on agriculture, it’s never been more important for farmers to be a part of a bigger conversation than the one going on every morning at the corner Cafe or local farmer’s hangout. This conversation is going on now, globally, online, through social media and national media outlets.

The 34-year-old Agency farmer’s style is a welcome one in any public venue; he works to understand the people in a conversation. He listens.

Colin’s wife, Dawn, believed from the very beginning that Colin could win this whole thing because she knows how engaging he can be, even in the face of adversity or opposition. His conversation-starting acumen is how they met.

Colin was having breakfast in Ames with friends, when he heard the conversation in the booth behind him turn to vegetarianism. Being the son of a third-generation Iowa hog farmer, he turned to share a different perspective. While he didn’t change the mind of the vegetarian, he did change the mind of Dawn, who was impressed enough with the young man that she changed her mind about ‘never marrying a farmer’.

Colin’s winning discussion points covered the critical need for all farmers, to reach out and connect with consumers. Many of his fellow Discussion Meet candidates kept saying “We need to EDUCATE consumers about farming.” Colin sees it another way: farmers need to be the ones to reach out and find common ground among those who share our values.

“We have family in common,” he says. “I think of them when I raise pigs and grow corn and soybeans because I know it matters how farmers grow crops and raise animals. We’re talking about food we put on the table for our family and yours; we’re talking about land we all share and the watershed we all share.” Johnson says it’s important to remember the big picture isn’t about profit; it’s about character.

Johnson has come full circle. “I’ve been a longtime supporter of Farm Bureau and have learned a lot from them, but one of the reasons I belong to Farm Bureau is the strong moral, Christian foundation of the organization; we’re serving a higher purpose by remembering we’re all in this together.”

The Discussion Meet winner gets a Dodge pickup truck. With a growing family and more sweat equity than capital, it’s a welcome prize. “I’ll work with my wife to make sure we get one that will best suit the needs of our growing family. The color? Let’s just say it’ll be the color of dirt; it’ll get used!”

What’s next for Colin Johnson? He doesn’t have a quick answer, other than to continue to keep sharing what it means to be a farmer today. Let’s all keep the conversation going…

Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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The Farmers’ Workout

January 10, 2011

A farmer saves a newborn calf from deep mud in a pasture near Albia last spring.

If post-holiday television ads are any indication, then a lot of folks are making resolutions this year to lose weight and adopt healthier habits, like quitting smoking or joining a gym.

Back when I was growing up, my parents would always go on a fitness bender after the holidays. I still giggle when I recall the times my dad would work out to Jane Fonda fitness tapes alongside my mom. It was his attempt to avoid gaining weight when his farm chores slowed down in the winter.

Indeed, some of the fittest people I’ve ever met are farmers, particularly livestock farmers. And it’s no wonder. Their daily workouts often include lifting 50-pound seed bags above their shoulders, chasing down loose piglets or carrying 100-pound calves out of the mud in the spring.
In fact, I bet I could make quite a bit of money if I released a new exercise video based on “The Farmers’ Workout.” I’d be sure to include all the fitness lessons I’ve learned from farmers over the years, such as the following tips:

-Keep moving. Farmers spend most of the workday on their feet, whether they are shoveling snow, checking on livestock or coaching their kids’ basketball teams. I once met a 70-year-old farmer who walked laps in his machine shed in the winter to stay in shape. Fitness experts often recommend walking 10,000 steps a day, the equivalent of 5 miles, to help with weight loss and maintenance. But any regular physical activity can help boost your overall health.

-Get outside. For many farmers, working outdoors is the best perk of their job. Yet farmers also don’t have the luxury of staying inside when the weather gets cold. The cows still need to be milked twice a day, and the cattle don’t feed themselves. So follow the farmers’ lead and do something active outside, even in the winter, if the weather cooperates. Get a pair of snow shoes, take your kids sledding or go for a walk around the neighborhood. Just be sure to bundle up in warm layers of clothing, and invest in a pair of Yak Traks or other traction footwear if the sidewalks are icy.

-Fuel your body. Dairy farmers often sit down to breakfast after they finish milking cows around 6 a.m. Research shows that fueling up with a good breakfast, including lean meats, eggs and dairy foods, aids in weight loss. And most farmers are avid milk-drinkers. Whenever Farm Bureau hosts its annual young farmer conference, the caterers know to stock up on milk or else they will quickly run out of this most-requested drink.

While we can benefit from following a farmer’s fitness and nutrition regiment, we can also avoid some of the not-so-healthy habits that farmers are sometimes guilty of adopting. For example:

-Don’t ignore your health. Farmers will continue working even if they have a broken bone from a cow that stepped on their foot. And all too often, farmers don’t take time from their busy days to visit a doctor. But it’s important to schedule regular check-ups to identify your risk factors for chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure. By identifying the warning signs early on, you can make lifestyle changes to avoid a costly and debilitating health problem.

-Protect your skin from the sun. Working outdoors all day, farmers are at greater risk for skin cancer, which can be fatal if not treated early. My dad, who has a permanent “farmers’ tan” on his neck and forearms, had a skin cancer growth removed from his left arm a few years back. Make it a habit to apply sunscreen before you head outdoors.

-Don’t eat farmer-sized portions. Farmers can burn quite a few calories going about their day-to-day chores. But if you spend your days working in front of a computer, it’s best to keep your portion sizes smaller to avoid weight gain. The Mayo Clinic offers a terrific visual reference for portion control. (

Is your New Year’s resolution to lose weight or adopt a healthier lifestyle? What positive changes have you already made to improve your health and wellness?

Written by Teresa Bjork
Teresa is a features Writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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Making Time for 2011 Resolutions

January 4, 2011

I’ve been mulling over something a very smart co-worker said to me this week: time is relative. It moves faster or slower depending on your age, your work load and enjoyment of whatever you’re doing at the moment.

If you are my approximate age and grew up on a farm, you probably remember how long summers used to last when you spent day after sweaty day walking beans or de-tasseling corn. The start of school (and an end to the 12-hour chore days) seemed to take forever.

For proof of the “relativity of time” theory, look no further than your children. Every mother thinks time stands still when faced with a colicky infant, sleep deprivation and potty training. But what about when they’re teenagers? Every time I look at my daughter (now 13 and taller than me), I’m convinced she should still be five, holding my hand to cross a parking lot and totally in love with her parents (sigh).

According to psychologist Philip Zimbardo, it’s not just 13-year-olds who need to sloooooow down; it’s us ( We probably don’t need some psychologist brainiac to tell us all that we eat too fast, work too long, worry too much. We spend too little time sitting down to dinner together. We sacrifice our friends, our family and our sleep in order to “get ahead” in our jobs. According to the latest statistics, only 20 percent of households sit down and have dinner together.

One thing is for certain: as fast as time goes by at our age (mine anyway), there IS no going back. So, as we look ahead to 2011, how about making a couple resolutions to help us all make time a little more meaningful. Here’s my short list of 2011 Resolutions:
1) I resolve to do everything slower: walking, talking, breathing, praying; you know, the Big Stuff.

2) I resolve to tell my family members every day that I love them. Let me just say that anyone with a surly teenager at home knows this can sometimes be harder than it sounds (sigh).

3) I resolve to let my dog take his time to check out evvvverrrything on our morning walks. At least once a week, anyway (sorry, Spot).

4)I resolve to chew my food. Slowly. No more burgers wolfed down at my desk while I “work through lunch”. Sure, it’s not practical every day, but a recent dinner with friends at a new French restaurant in Des Moines ( convinced me that there is beauty in planning and enjoying a slowly and carefully-prepared meal. I need to take time to actually taste and enjoy my food!

5) And finally, I resolve to share even more stories of Iowans who DO take their time doing what’s right in the name of putting food on ALL our tables: farmers. Farmers, more than anyone else, understand the theory of “relative time.” Their technology has evolved faster than our nation’s space program, yet the raw materials at their disposal remain unchanged: soil, water, work ethic. Technology can shorten a growing season, increase yields or improve the nutrition of a chicken egg, but it can’t change values. Values of good farmers don’t change. Let’s hope we all resolve to remember that in 2011. Happy New Year!

Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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