AKSARBEN 2020 in the books

In agricultural circles we spend a tremendous amount of time pointing fingers at folks in urban America that don’t know where their food comes from. So here is a question: How many folks in farming don’t really know what happens once the farm product leaves the gate?

I would venture to guess that it is too many. I am writing this on the heels of a tremendous AKSARBEN Stock Show 2020. Youth from 14 different states, Indiana to Kansas to Montana, are eligible to exhibit goats, sheep, chickens, cattle or pigs. This year though, it was the maiden voyage of the Pig Challenge.

The Pig Challenge concept is certainly not new; it is a play off the long-standing catch-a-calf program, only we took it a step further. Interested youth were asked to send in an application to be selected for a Pig Challenge pig. We received 29 applications and 20 young people were given pigs. Yes, I did say given pigs. During the last week of April, 20 pigs were delivered to families from Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota and North Dakota. Each pig had a starting weight and average daily gain was to be calculated and used as part of the final placing equation.

Each pig caretaker must correspond with their sponsor four times during the growing phase and record books must be maintained. Once they arrived at AKSARBEN 2020, each kid took part in an interview process that lasted roughly five minutes. In addition, the 20 pigs were split and shown in two classes; one for purebred Spots and the other for purebred Berkshires. A live champion and reserve champion were selected and did compete against the other division champions for grand champion honors. Additionally, each exhibitor was given a score for both showmanship and their live placing.

With all of that combined, the total points that could be acquired was 500. The top three animals in total points were given the opportunity to be a part of the Purple Ribbon Auction on Saturday during AKSARBEN and typically that is where the program ends. However, for the Pig Challenge, that is where the real industry knowledge really begins. As I write this piece, I am sitting in Wahoo, Nebraska, where the 20 pigs have been delivered to be butchered and processed under U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection.

I am videoing the harvest itself to give the exhibitors a real look at how the process really works. Once the processing is complete, we have partnered with the Nebraska Pork Producers to identify schools and facilities in the state where we can serve ground pork or pork burgers. I fully plan on being present and continuing the video documentation as kids eat the very product that young livestock enthusiasts raised and showed at AKSARBEN 2020.

The purpose of this program was to give the kids insight in the farm to fork concept and also meet like-minded folks from different parts of the country. I think livestock shows are a great opportunity to develop networking but, too often, I fear that we show up and simply hang out with our own because it is most comfortable.

Beyond the Pig Challenge at this year’s event, it was just extremely healthy for people just to gather in one spot, see friends and share in fellowship. With all of the “social distancing” of 2020, I can tell you first hand that folks are ready to come out of their shell. Maybe the most important part of the event was the fact that families were busy and not listening to the gloom and doom on a daily basis. When you were present it was all about how can my kids excel and how can my kids achieve a scholarship opportunity?

All I felt, as everyone loaded up to head home, was appreciation. I truly felt folks took livestock less for granted and appreciated the opportunity to gather. Honestly, this was an expression of our freedom as citizens of the United States, which causes me to remind folks that you are really a citizen of your state and your state is a member of the union. I recognize that it seems too technical but, trust me, that day is coming when you will fully grasp what that means.

In closing, AKSARBEN 2020 could not have been better timed, better managed or better executed than it was this September. I am just simply proud to be a small part of the bigger picture and I encourage all families who appreciate it like ours did to get really vocal in driving home how important events like this are for our future.

Editor’s note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.LoosTales.com, or email Trent at [email protected].