Since 2004, the Pork Checkoff’s Operation Main Street program has put hog producers in front of consumers “to inform, educate and respond to issues facing the pork industry.” OMS began with 13 volunteer speakers and now boasts 1,064, to push the program every day to make a bigger impact and build consumer trust.
OMS speakers started by telling their story to improve the pork industry’s image in rural America. In a few short years, thousands of speeches at local Rotary, Lions and Kiwanis clubs helped educate consumers about how pigs are raised today.
John and Connie Surber, pork producers from Sabina, Ohio, have given 108 OMS speeches to civic groups, dietitians, county and township officials, and high school culinary students. “We think it’s important to always ask what OMS can do better to help consumers understand our commitment to provide safe, healthy food,” John says.
“OMS also pushed us to be stronger advocates by confirming that nothing takes the place of farmers telling their own story,” Connie adds.
Beyond the backyard
By 2008, OMS speakers were going beyond their backyard to cities, such as Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis and San Francisco, and to speak to key decision-makers, including dietitian groups and county commissioners. In 2011, they pressed forward to reach the next generation of key decision-makers, with presentations at colleges of veterinary medicine and high school culinary arts classes.
In just the last three years OMS speakers have shared pork information with:
- More than 1,000 culinary and animal science classes and
- Almost 100 groups at colleges of veterinary medicine.
“Getting into the schools is one of the biggest OMS successes,” says Steve Brier, Murphy-Brown Midwest sow production manager. Brier has given OMS presentations to 26 high school classes in Missouri. “The schools are the place to be because we have the best chance of making a long-term impact. … These students are just starting to form opinions. They’re open and willing to listen.”
Sharing science-based facts with veterinarian
OMS-trained veterinarians are leading the way on another success story by reaching the next generation of animal health professionals. Thanks to a partnership between the Pork Checkoff and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, OMS veterinarians have presented at 26 of the 28 U.S. schools of veterinary medicine. Today 86 veterinarians have been trained as OMS speakers.
“Veterinary medicine students will become an important resource for consumers about both companion and farm animal care,” says OMS Indiana speaker, Amy Woods, a veterinarian, who also serves on the AASV’s Communications Committee. “We need to make sure they understand the science-based practices used today for pig care. … Getting this information from a veterinarian also builds trust.”
Where does OMS go from here? OMS speakers will keep moving the program forward to face new and emerging challenges and to demonstrate how the pork industry is evolving through science-based responsible, sustainable farming practices.
“As OMS has changed the last 10 years, the constant has been speakers’ desire to always stay ahead of the curve and meet the next challenge head-on,” says Ernie Barnes, director of producer services for the Checkoff. “This commitment is even more extraordinary when you add in the 30,000 hours OMS volunteers have spent speaking out for our industry since the program began.”