FRANKLIN, Ill. — During an open house for new hog barns in Illinois, Nic Anderson of the Illinois Livestock Development Group talks to the audience about how much pork the barn will produce, how many slices of bacon, how many pork chops.
With COVID-19 changing plans for an open house for a Morgan County family’s new barn, Jenny Ring decided to turn bacon into reality for a local food pantry.
“I said how about bacon and they said we never get bacon and that would be so special for our clients,” said Ring, communications director for the Illinois Pork Producers Association.
Normally, the IPPA sponsors a pork chop or pulled pork dinner along with speakers and a ribbon cutting to mark the construction of new pork production barns throughout the state.
The open houses are an opportunity for friends and neighbors of the barns to see inside a barn and talk to the family who has built the barn and find out more about Illinois pork production from the people who are in the business.
“Our normal open houses bring in 300 people to an even. We have a ribbon cutting ceremony, a free meal, and it’s a celebration of the farm family and the pork industry,” Ring said.
When Jarrad and Kara Colwell’s new wean-to-finish barn in Morgan County was started in early August, Ring said she hoped that an open house event would still go ahead in the late fall. The Colwells are new production partners with The Maschhoffs, based in Carlyle.
“We thought early on that the COVID thing would be settled by then. We thought, ‘We can do this, it will be out in the country, no problem,’” Ring said.
But as COVID-19 showed no signs of slowing down and as cases continued to surge throughout rural Illinois, Ring and others involved with the open house knew they had to change plans.
Ring and Tim Maiers, of Maiers Ag Consulting, and Matt Henry, business development senior manager for The Maschhoffs, realized that there was no way to host a traditional open house.
“The closer we got to the barn being done, we said we just don’t think this is going to happen this year. But we still wanted to do something great for this family and for the community to highlight them,” Ring said.
So, Ring contacted the local food pantry, the Jacksonville Food Center, to talk about a donation of pork. Through its Pork Power program, the IPPA donates ground pork to food banks around the state.
But Ring, Maiers and Henry wanted this donation to be tied to the new barn in some way.
“We related it back to the statistics that Nic Anderson always talks about at the ribbon-cutting ceremony,” Ring said.
She talked to the organizers at the Jacksonville Food Center, which serves Morgan County and the Jacksonville area, about different kinds of pork, including hams.
“They said they serve a lot of single-person households and even the smallest ham can be overwhelming,” Ring said.
So, she asked about the next obvious option and the donation was underway.
“I thought bacon is something that is a treat and that they might not otherwise buy for themselves,” she said.
Ring purchased 120 packages, totaling 90 pounds, of bacon from County Market in Jacksonville and donated it to the food pantry. Since the pantry does food distributions Monday through Friday, the bacon was distributed before Christmas.
Ring even made Christmas cards to be handed out with the bacon.
“I made a graphic that said this barn is going to produce 5 million slices of bacon a year and 380,000 pork chops and Merry Christmas,” she said.
Feeding other Morgan County families through the bacon donation turned out to be a great way to honor the family behind the new barn.
“This is such a great family. They have four kids and a fifth on the way, due in March. They are young and they are building this barn to create a legacy for their kids,” Ring said.