Say you’re thinking about planning an event to get out the
word about livestock agriculture. What would you do?
A speaker? Maybe a couple?
PowerPoint? Well, OK, but a short one with pictures.
What about a demonstration? Well, maybe, but what?
How about if you found a guy who was raised on a Nebraska
grain and livestock farm and now worked for a land-grant university?
What about someone who was so passionate about meat and
livestock production and meat production — of all types — that he not only
taught about the stuff, but he judged it on his summers off from teaching at the
What about someone who could present the story of production
livestock agriculture and mix it in with information about local livestock
production in a way that wasn’t preachy, didn’t take sides, but did present a
ton of information — including a lot of really positive information about
production livestock agriculture?
What about someone who didn’t utter a single industry
talking point, but explained — from his perspective growing up on a hog farm —
the different styles of production, from farrow to finish to outdoor production?
What about a person who could present the information not as
a slap in the face, but in a way that was casual and yet interesting and
informative? Yeah, get that guy.
Next, you’d want a demonstration. But what?
What about an agribusiness that’s been in the same family
for three generations now? One that serves all different members of the
community and one that can provide a demonstration of agricultural practices
that people really don’t know too much about?
One that will open its doors to guests and welcome them —
despite the fact it’s a U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected food processing
One that feels comfortable talking about some things that
might make some people uncomfortable — or even squeamish? Where would you find
such a place and people?
Then you know you’re going to need food. How about — wait,
how about linking the food part to the rest of it? That would be great
follow-through, as they like to say in sports, taking the product from beginning
If you think such an event can’t exist, I assure you it can,
and it did today. I attended a presentation called “Meat Trends.”
“Meat Trends,” sponsored by the University of Illinois
Extension — Jo Daviess/Stephenson/Winnebago, was billed as an interactive pork
processing and cooking demonstration. This was how it should and can be done,
To start, the event was held at Eickman’s Processing in
Seward. Eickman’s is a third-generation family-owned and -operated business of
family meat cutters and processors. Tom Eickman, whose dad, Merlyn, founded the
business, was the meat cutter for our demonstration.
Before Tom Eickman worked his magic, however, Jeff Sindelar
of the University of Wisconsin-Madison gave a presentation on pork production.
He didn’t use any industry slides, instead using a presentation he put together.
Sindelar is a meat specialist for UW Extension. He received
his doctorate in meat science from Iowa State University. He grew up on a hog
farm in Nebraska with four brothers and a sister and shared stories from that
with his audience.
Since Sindelar grew up on a hog farm, he also could mix his
presentation with some production livestock information and some information
that applied to niche sectors. He talked about heritage breeds of hogs, and he
talked about the breeds that are popular with larger producers, the Chester
Whites and the Yorkshires, and why and in a way that everybody could understand.
He made no judgments, just explained why things are the way
they are in different production systems. And bless his Badger heart, he didn’t
utter a single talking point.
He talked about Pork Quality Assurance Plus and Transport
Quality Assurance and explained those programs. He talked about ways to judge
quality in pork cuts, no matter who produces it.
When Sindelar finished, we “gowned up” and went out to the
cutting room. Since the actual slaughter probably was a bit too intense for some
in the audience — though there were pork producers in that same audience — Tom
Eickman had half a carcass waiting to be carved up, with the head attached.
With the same type of skill a painter might use on a
masterpiece, he carved the carcass apart into the appropriate cuts, explaining
why and how and who and what as he went, from the half a brain and the ear that
came off the half a head to the tail and the hock and, in between, of course,
bacon. Glorious bacon. And pork chops.
Eickman also discussed the new naming system for various
cuts of pork, showing where they were on the carcass and talking about the cut’s
former name and the new name.
He also talked about his experience and the family business
— a family that is so devoted to its craft that one family vacation is to a meat
show later this month where they’ll compete against other shops in different
cured meat categories. One of the judges? Sindelar.
Eickman talked about his craft and his shop comfortably. At
one point, he jabbed one of his knives into himself to demonstrate that he dons
what sounded like chain mail to guard against accidentally filleting himself.
He also talked about the USDA inspection process — USDA
Inspector Tom, who is at Eickman’s 40 hours a week, but also inspects other
local facilities, waved at us on his way through the shop — and what gets saved
and for what and what goes into the rendering truck and where that goes.
After that, we didn’t want to leave, so interesting was Tom
Eickman and his demonstration, but lunch was ready.
I’ve not yet dined at Toni’s of Winnebago, but after Chef
Michelle Princer’s amazing tasting menu, it’s on my list. Princer cooked some of
the same cuts we’d just seen Eickman create from the hog carcass.
We enjoyed Grilled Braised Pork Hocks in Pecatonica Beer.
Yes, Pecatonica Beer is a thing.
It’s beer made by the Pecatonica Brewing Co., which is
located in Gratiot, Wis. The founders grew up along the Pecatonica River.
Their slogan is “What the heck! Have a Pec!” And their dark
beer is an amazing marinade for pork hocks.
Chef Princer also served Smoked Char Siu Pork Shoulder Steak
and pork belly sliders. She explained her preparation methods and what methods
are best for different cuts of pork and why. And this lady needs to be a TV chef
because she really does cook like the rest of us.
Princer talked about her restaurant and talked about
markets. She sells a lot of steaks and a lot of the more common cuts of pork —
creamed pork brains haven’t made it out this far yet.
And she spoke honestly about how much even talented chefs
such as herself can do with a cut of meat, that the steps that come before she
or any other chef gets the meat — or even, really, before the hog arrives at
Eickman’s — are vital.
The genetics of the animal, how it’s raised, what it’s fed,
how old it is, even how much stress it’s had on it’s final trip all affect the
product that the diner — the consumer — gets on that plate.
The circle was complete on an amazing day and a fantastic
presentation that managed to combine a lot of information, a lot of learning and
even, I have to think, some eye-opening information, into three short hours.
This wasn’t hard-sell agvocating at all. This wasn’t jamming
science and talking points down your throat or droning from a set of
This was a lot of information, presented casually by great
speakers and in an interactive atmosphere all the way. None of the speakers ever
gave the impression you couldn’t ask questions or answer or comment and, in
fact, plenty of folks did during all three presentations.
But even without the hard sell and even without the science
— Sindelar is an assistant professor, after all, and could have professor-talked
all the way through his bit, but he did nothing of the sort — we all learned a
lot, I’d venture to say.
We learned a lot about local livestock production, we
learned a lot about larger-scale livestock production, we learned about meat
cutting and meat processing and we learned about cooking.
Margaret Larson, the county director of the local Extension
unit, asked me what I thought of the day. I answered that she and Jackie de
Batista, Winnebago program coordinator, and everyone who helped organize this
event, hit the trifecta — interesting speakers, interactive and informative
demonstration and a perfect location.
I can’t imagine how tough it is to plan an event that, you
hope, will appeal to a broad range of people, that will keep people interested
and asking questions and interacting with the presenters, that actually will
have them come away with more knowledge than they had before they arrived. This
event really did that.
It did another thing that really great events will do — it
left me wanting to attend more events put together by this group.
The Winnebago Local Foods Initiative hosts its Openfields
Local Foods Dinner Series throughout the summer, and the Stephenson County Local
Food initiative along with Stephenson County Farm Bureau and the
Freeport/Stephenson County Visitors Bureau on July 20 will present the Say
Cheese cheese and wine tour of Stephenson County.
I have to hand it to the U of I Extension and especially
Margaret and her staff. They really are in challenging times with finances and
reorganization and uncertainty and cuts and yet they create a masterpiece such
as “Meat Trends.”
What a fantastic day. And what a great model for other
groups to use.