Maddie Hokanson was 15 years old when she asked her father, Brandon Schafer, if she should volunteer for Minnesota Pork Board's Oink Outings, a program that encourages pig farmer and consumer interaction at various events throughout the state.
"I think had my dad not said, 'Yeah, of course you should. Give them a call!' I probably wouldn't have taken the leap and given it a try," Hokanson says. "That's really where my passion came from — for wanting to tell people what I do on my farm."
Today, Hokanson is the seventh generation to join her family's farm. Located just outside Goodhue, Minn., Schafer Farms Inc. raises 2,200 sows for genetic multiplication for Topigs Norsvin, and 300 cow-calf pairs of Gelbvieh and Balancer beef cattle.
"Growing up, I think that agriculture, farming, animals — that was just kind of in my blood," says Hokanson, who now serves as the farm's accountant as well as maintains her own freelancing business.
After the Oink Outings, which Hokanson excelled at, her passion for telling agriculture's story only became stronger. In 2015, she enrolled at South Dakota State University in Brookings, where she pursued a degree in agricultural education, communication and leadership as well as minors in animal science, agricultural business and marketing.
Active in Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow, Little International, Collegiate 4-H and Sigma Alpha, Hokanson still sought out opportunities to help "agvocate." In 2016, she was chosen as the Minnesota Pork Ambassador, and in 2017, she was recognized as one of the 2017 Pig Farmers of Tomorrow by the National Pork Board.
"That was really a turning point for me, in terms of moving beyond just the local and state levels of agriculture, and the pork industry specifically," Hokanson says. "I was really blessed to serve in that role, and at such a young age. … I think they truly look at the potential of people, and I'm glad they were able to see that in me and my passion for the industry, rather than the fact that I was only 20."
Proud to be in pork
Each summer, Hokanson explored other areas of agriculture. She was a marketing intern for Sema Equipment, a John Deere dealer in southeast Minnesota; a public relations intern for the Minnesota Farm Bureau in Eagan; a marketing, communications and event planning intern for Compeer Financial in Mankato, Minn.; and a marketing intern with Legend Seeds in De Smet, S.D.
While she says the experiences made her a more well-rounded person in agriculture, the pork industry won her over.
"I think people that surround the pork industry specifically are so innovative and advanced in their thinking," Hokanson says. "To be able to admire the nostalgia of farming while still being willing to move into what's up and coming really is what allows the industry to really is advanced, and in my personal opinion, the pork industry has done that just as well — or better than — many industries in agriculture."
On May 4, 2019, Hokanson graduated from SDSU. She was also the commencement speaker. Her message was simple and came from author Simon Sinek: Start with why.
"No matter what you choose to do with your career or with your life, make sure that it's aligned with what you would like to be your 'why' at the end of the day, and how can you work to fulfill that?" Hokanson says.
That "why" for Hokanson now includes her husband, Eric, and her 3-month-old son, Brent, who was born six weeks early with some major health challenges. In addition to her family, that "why" still includes the need to teach others about agriculture. She's starred in the Pork Checkoff's virtual video series, giving tours of gestation, farrowing, nursery and finishing barns. She's also a moderator for virtual Operation Main Street sessions.
"I want to make sure my 'why' is to be able to help future generations, to make sure that they have a successful future in agriculture," Hokanson says. "I think allowing me and my family to stay involved in the farm is one way that I can do that really well."