If you give a Chicago native a pig maternity ward, she will shower the sows with love and show the entire world the piglets. She may even give the pigs a pancake if she thinks it will lead the public inside the barn doors.
When Erin Brenneman met her husband, a pig farmer at Iowa State University, I am certain many thought a clash is coming. Yet, it is not even close to the reality. Brenneman, a lover of animals, has embraced the pig farming world. In fact, it was a passion for animals that brought her to Iowa State University and eventually to family and the farm.
Growing up in suburbs of Chicago, I am certain she did not picture herself in charge of the maternity ward in barns of a large farrow-to-finish operation. As she shares her story with a room full of swine veterinarians, you can see the universe got this one right. Her journey from large city to family farm is a perfect match.
Brenneman wears her feelings on her sleeves. The love and compassion for pigs and people are hard to miss. “Raising pigs is the fun part, but sharing that passion with others is a bonus,” she says with a smile on her face and enthusiasm in her voice.
A day does not go by that she does not share her real pig farming story with someone either on multiple social media channels or in person. Keeping the barn doors wide open is a priority for the Brenneman family and Erin. She is not shy to tell you why she thinks being open about farming is valuable to the consumer-farmer conversation. It is about sharing the good and bad times like when a hog barn burned on one of the Brenneman farms. It shows you’re human and makes it easier for people to relate to you.
International Women’s Day is the best time to share her inspiring story and her words of wisdom to not just her fellow pig farmers, but to all in agriculture.
As Brenneman tells you like others active in sharing the real pig farming story, farmers need to tell their story or someone else will do it for you. Still, she recognizes that not everyone is comfortable with taking pictures with pigs, starting a live video from the barn or inviting food bloggers to be a pig caretaker for the day, but it should not be an excuse.
Here are her tips, she shared at the American Association of Swine Veterinarians annual meeting.
1) Work hard, have fun, make a difference: She wisely recommends also to work hard, but have fun. Sharing what you do every day in the barn is easy and can make a big difference. Above all, she reminds everyone just to keep it simple.
2) Pick a social media channel: The online world is the way to reach more people at once. It can be awkward for many in agriculture. She knows many farmers and ranchers are more comfortable being a Facebook stalker. However, she challenges everyone to pick a social media channel to share your farming story or contribution to agriculture and stick with it.
3) Don’t do it alone: There is safety in numbers, and there are times you need a tribe to back you up. Remember, the anti-meat campaign is alive and well. Trolls will hijack your social media post. Still, the trolls only attack those who are making a difference. So, know when to pick your battles and sometimes it takes some in your circle to keep your balance.
4) Focus on hobby and farming does not count: Common ground can be established between those who farm and those who do not. She advises everyone to share more personal things about their lives. While the piglets are cute, talking about your pets or hobby can build a foundation of trust.
Most of all she challenges everyone to be part of the answer and share their story. You can follow Erin on Twitter at @sowmomma and on Facebook at Brenneman Pork Inc.