SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — In 2008, pork producers across the country were suffering, Phil Borgic and Mike Haag among them.
Both farmers, Borgic, of rural Montgomery County, and Haag, of rural Livingston County, were members of the Illinois Pork Producers Association board of directors.
“It was a tough time for pork producers, profitability-wise,” said Borgic, who was the president of the board.
“It was a really rough time for the industry. The sow market had crashed to virtually zero,” Haag said.
Board members talked about different ways to try to ease the pain for producers. They mulled over the possibility of taking sows out of the hog supply, thus relieving some of the oversupply problems, processing the sows into ground pork and then donating the pork to food banks.
“That was where the idea started and it built from there,” Haag said.
Donating meat from their hogs was not a new concept to producers like Borgic and Haag.
“Pork producers throughout Illinois were already donating meat, and had for decades, to charitable organizations and local civic and community groups, providing meat for different events like pancake and sausage breakfasts,” Borgic said.
For Haag, as well, donating meat from the family’s pigs was as much a way of life as raising those pigs.
“When I was a kid, it was one of the things my dad always did. We’d give three or four sows to the fireman’s pancake and sausage breakfast with the only stipulation being that it was an anonymous donation,” Haag said.
The IPPA approached the Illinois Association of Meat Processors with their plan.
“We contacted the IAMP and local processors to get the meat processed. They were willing to offer a program within their membership for discounted processing and packaging for that meat,” Borgic said.
Borgic also had contacts at the Central Illinois Foodbank and he approached Pam Molitoris, the executive director of the CIFB.
“In 2008, we met with Phil Borgic, who was with the Illinois Pork Producers Association. He came to us with this idea and we thought — why not? Pork is a pretty lean product and protein was always hard for us to get. So, we were thrilled when they brought this idea to us,” Molitoris said.
Borgic said he is pleased with the way the Pork Power program has grown. Along the way, other commodity groups, including the Illinois Corn Growers Association and the Illinois Soybean Association, have come on board and now are part of the Pork Power program.
The program also has expanded to allow producers and the public to make monetary donations to the program.
“I am honored and humbled to be a part of the start of it. And I am so honored that is has grown from those humble beginnings. As farmers, we support our local communities and people in need and this is one of the ways we do that,” Borgic said.
Haag said that, for him, it’s a reminder that not everyone has access to a ready supply of protein.
“We are not looking for this week’s meals. We are planning out six months in the future with a freezer full of meat and it’s such a luxury to be able to do that. There are just so many people who are not able to do that. Food banks are able to get a lot of different things, but protein, which is one of the most important things for kids, is a struggle for them to get. So, being able to help them get that is gratifying for us as protein producers,” Haag said.
Molitoris said the partnership is one of the longer-lasting ones for the food bank.
“We have a lot of partnerships and some partnerships last a few years. For this to last for 14 years, that tells me that people are really invested in it, that all of the Pork Power partners are invested in it. So many people coming together is something that really makes it unique,” Molitoris said.