This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Groundbreaking ceremony at the Pig Adventure

This afternoon I drove up to the Fair Oaks Dairy Adventure to see what was happening at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Pig Adventure. I parked in the Dairy Adventure parking lot and was walking to the shuttle bus when I got invited to ride to the site by one of the contractors.

The Pig Adventure will be north of the visitor's center, and a little north and east of the dairy farm that the tours visit. The first thing I noticed was the marvelous sand on the site. The second thing I noticed was the framework of a large building.
East of the framework was a large tent for the reception and program of the groundbreaking. It was on a concrete pad that will be the floor of the main barn.
Below is the tent from a different viewpoint. When the framework for the big barn is completed, it will extent all the way to where I was standing to take the picture.
I signed in and wandered around, taking pictures and talking to people. The plan for the complete facility is shown below. It took a while for me to understand how the plan fit the existing construction. The left of the plan is north and the bottom is west. The parts shown in yellow will be walkways above the animals for human visitors. They will be completely enclosed and with a separate air supply--the big concern of the farmers is not that human visitors will catch a disease from the the pigs, but that the pigs might catch something from a human visitor. (The same is true for the Dairy Adventure.)
Below is the architect's rendition of the facility looking toward the east-south-east. The parts with the green roof would be the parts devoted to visitors.

(Speaking of architects, I met one of the architects who helped design the facility. I asked him what background he relied on to come up with the design. He said that this project was unique--he had never done anything like it. The point that there is no large, modern pig farm that invites visitors to come and see how it is done was made by several of the speakers during the program.)
There was food--cheese from the dairy farms.
I mingled to see who was there, eavesdropped on conversations, and asked questions. The planned opening for the visitor's center is Memorial Day 2013. I asked what Belstra Milling did, and was told to look at the back of the tee shirts that the Belstra employees were wearing.
There were at least a half dozen state legislators there and various other politicians. There was a lot of press there, especially from farm news groups. (I told a lady from Indiana Pork that I had a blog and would write about the event and she gave me a media kit--being considered as news media rather than a pest is a new experience for me.) I even met the head of Belstra Milling, but I did not have any hard-hitting questions for him.

After half an hour the people began to get ready for the program. A companion estimated that there were at least 500 there.
People representing the Fair Oaks Dairy Adventure, the Pig Adventure, and Indiana Pork spoke. The Dairy Adventure has about 500,000 visitors a year and other groups involved in agricultural education consider it the gold standard of agricultural education--that is, telling average people the story of modern agriculture. The people in agriculture think it is important to tell that story because the vast majority of Americans no longer have any connection to farming. Most people of my generation knew ancestors or had relatives who farmed, but recent generations no longer have those linkages to the farm.

Listening to the speeches, it was my impression that the Dairy Adventure sees itself as a popular roadside attraction but they want to be more: they want to be a destination. To become that, they must offer more, and it was for this reason that they reached out to the pork industry. The pork producers, who have struggled to get their story out, jumped at the opportunity. The estimated cost of the facility is $9.6 million, which includes the costs of the visitors' center and all the educational elements. The pig adventure will not be the last addition to this complex if the people at the Dairy Adventure have their way. They are looking for other partners to open still more farms. I can only wonder what they have in mind. Chickens? Turkeys? Sheep? Beef cattle? What else?

The keynote speech was given by the Lieutenant Governor of Indiana, Becky Skillman. Then, after various groups of people were recognized, the crowd was invited to move to the front of the building to witness the traditional groundbreaking. You can see some of the crowd below.
Below is the pose for photographers. Besides the lieutenant governor, the people included Mr Belstra, people representing Fair Oaks Diary, Indiana Pork, Legacy Farms (which will be the name of this facility), and a couple of the contractors, including Titan Construction of Rensselaer. The hill on which the equipment is located is where the front of the visitors center will be located.
I took a picture to the north, where the farrowing building will be located. You can see traffic on I-65 in the background. Also, notice the wonderful sand.
By the way, the pigs will not go from this farm to the slaughter house, at least not directly. This farm will house 2400 sows. They will give birth to about 75,000 piglets a year. When those piggies get a big enough, they will be shipped off to other farms where they will complete their growth, and then they will go to market.

After the program ended, the people were invited to a meal featuring a chicken sandwich and a cookie. OK--that was my attempt at humor and I apologize if it offended you. Of course they did not serve chicken--they served pork burgers, and they were very good pork burgers. They did, however, serve cookies--cute pig cookies. The line moved very smoothly and the wait was short, which was remarkable given the number of guests.
The opening of this addition to the Fair Oaks Farms is a big deal for our area. Fair Oaks Farms says that in a few years they want to have four times as many visitors as they do now.

I was impressed by the size of this event, by the number of politicians and media people who were there, by the visions expressed in the speeches, and by how efficiently the whole event was conducted.

(A couple of years ago I had an April Fool's post. Maybe that post was not as absurd as I thought it was. It seems that Fair Oaks Farms wants to be the Disney of farm edutainment.)

Update: More pictures here. (I am in one of them. Can you find me?)


Desert Survivor said...

Wow, that's really interesting. I had no idea so many people went to the Dairy Adventure. Nice coverage of the groundbreaking event--you earned that media kit!

reMark said...

Excellent Post! This will be of historical importance to the area.

Thanks for taking the time to craft this story with good writing and relevant pictures!

I look forward to your posts daily!

Anonymous said...

Really enjoy all of your posts since Rensselaer is my hometown and I no longer live in the area. Too bad the Fair Oaks Dairy Adventure really isn't in Fair Oaks, take a look at a map. Your reporting is terrific. It really bothers me that they use the name Fair Oaks Farms. when they aren't even located in Fair Oaks..could it be that there is no off ramp on I65 for Fair Oaks??? Many years ago there was a REAL Fair Oaks Farms where there were real farmers.

Anonymous said...

These people have NO feelings for the families that have NO water. the water table can NOT handle the demand of the dairy farms, now the even want more!! they can come and buy my house if they have that much money! Next they will want an airport so that people can just fly here to see all the cows. Lord know they don't take people on tours to see the fields floating in cow shit in the late summer!

Anonymous said...

Comment on the cow shit in the fields... it is so nasty that you can smell it on I65 and it makes you want to puke!

Anonymous said...

conctHe 11Thanks to you, the traveling reporter. Good photos of the crowds and events of the week. We love Rensselaer Adventures.

Anonymous said...

Fair Oaks Farms is a shrine to factory-type industrialized agriculture, which is of course the dominant paradigm in the Industrial Agricultural Midwest.

I've never been there, and can hardly bear the thought of going. For many of us, this enterprise represents all that is wrong with American farming.