Most high school students can be found in the pool, sleeping-in, or at the lake during the summer. This couldn’t be further from the truth for the elite group of 12 students selected to attend okPORK’s Youth Leadership Camp.
From June 17 to June 22 the young pork enthusiasts were kept on a tight schedule learning about the commercial swine industry, leadership and how to stand out from the crowd. By the end of the week campers; Dalton Baggs, Woodward; Brooklyn Barnes, Sand Springs; Curren Bailey, Moore; Madison Baker, Marlow; Cash Bronson, Chelsea; Keaton Clark, Minco; Whitney Glazier, Omega; Hunter Gorry, Oologah; Kailey Guinn, Porter; Mckenzie Holman, Kiefer; Billie Ann Jervis, Sapulpa; and Shilo Thompson, Ratlif City; proved their ability to advocate for the swine industry.
The calm before the storm is the best way to describe the quiet, yet eager aura which filled the Oklahoma State University inspired conference room at the Best Western Hotel in Stillwater, Okla.
Camp kicked off with a warm smile and welcome from Nikki Snider, director of marketing and promotions at okPORK. Roy Lee Lindsey, executive director at okPORK followed with a swine industry update and policy overview. Emphasizing points on economic drivers such as jobs and trade.
“These kids are the future of our industry and we here at okPORK are dedicated to providing learning opportunities for our youth,” Snider said.
The skills of making a first impression, to advocating on social media were among the topics introduced on the first day of camp by Lindsey Henricks, communication specialist at okPORK. Mastering these skills will prepare students to successfully and clearly share their their agricultural story.
After receiving backpacks donated by the National Pork Board, campers were divided into teams led by Dr. Scott Carter, associate professor in animal science at Oklahoma State University; Kylee Deniz, director of marketing and producer outreach at National Pork Board; and Rusty Gosz, youth livestock specialist at Oklahoma State University.
Team leaders were given the task of assisting their students in navigating through specific scenarios about swine industry issues. Then at the end of the week campers would use their new found knowledge to complete media interviews.
The team leaders began to pave the way for each group’s success on Sunday evening with an intense scavenger hunt across the campus of OSU.
Bright and early Monday morning campers were greeted by Joe Popplewell, operations manager at Seaboard Foods, who spoke about the company as well as the breeding and genetics program.
YLC is focused around the swine industry, leadership and personal growth. Karen Hiltbrand, okPORK’s summer intern, presented on the value having goals and living life with a grateful heart.
To ensure students are comfortable during a media interview, Austin Moore of Oklahoma Career Tech and Snider, discussed the “dos and don’ts” of speaking with the media and public. In celebration of all the campers getting through their first mock interview they were rewarded with Chick-Fil-A for lunch.
As lunch ended, the excitement was evident over the smell of nuggets and waffle fries as the campers were anxious to hit the road towards Trails End, HANOR’s number 1 farm near Ames, Okla. Upon arrival students showered in and were split into two groups to tour the 10-thousand-head farrow to wean farm. Under the lead of Jeff Mencke, Bill Barnes, Gustavo Lopez, and Robbie Woods, students were given a full tour of a larger scale farm.
“It was really an eye-opening experience to see that many pigs at one time,” Baker said, “It’s was cool to see how different farms are ran on the commercial side of things compared to what we do at home.”
Following the tour campers were hosted by the HANOR Staff at the “Rock House” lodge for great food cooked by Keith Reiner, okPORK west district board member and HANOR maintenance supervisor. Following dinner Jeff Mencke and Bill Barnes led further discussion about the operation and answered questions.
With full stomachs, tired eyes, and brains fully loaded with information, campers made the trek back to Stillwater as the sun began to set.
Tuesday wasn’t for those with weak stomachs. Campers started the day by evaluating live hogs at Oklahoma State’s Food and Agriculture Products Center (FAPC) with Jim Coakley, OSU Swine Unit herd manager. After making live calls on dressing percentage, loin eye area, back fat and carcass value, teams were led by student employees at FAPC in the harvesting process.
“My favorite part about camp was going to OSU and being able to learn the process of harvesting pigs and then being able to compare that same process to what is done at the Seaboard plant,” Barnes said.
To finish up on campus the campers and staff shared a quick lunch at the OSU Animal Science building with Animal and Food Sciences department head, Dr. Clint Rusk.
Campers then loaded onto the charter bus for a long drive to Guymon, Okla., where they discussed their scenarios and watched pig themed movies like “Sing” and “Babe.”
Not only does YLC have great people, but it also has great food! Dinner at Hunny’s BBQ is always a highlight for past campers, and this year was no different. After plates were cleared and fingers were wiped Jason Hitch, of Hitch Enterprises, shared about his multi-specie operation.
After an eventful night of Oklahoma weather, the campers made their way to one of the largest economic drivers in Guymon, the Seaboard Foods Processing Plant. Under the instruction of Elena Guerrero-Caballero, a production training supervisor at Seaboard Foods, campers and staff pulled on their rubber boots, put on their white frocks, and completed their wardrobe with hard hat, ear plugs, and safety glasses to prepare to enter the plant.
While touring the plant students were able to see every aspect of how a large facility which harvests thousands of hogs a day operates.
“At FAPC it took us a while to harvest our own animal and to see 20 thousand animals done in one day was crazy,” Jervis said.
The campers next bus ticket was to Oklahoma City, with a stop in between with Bert Luthi, of Luthi farms. While visiting, Luthi discussed his farm and the contract-growing he does with the Maschhoffs.
Bus time always proves to be the best time for group discussion. A fly on the wall would have heard 12 passionate agvocates repeating Rusty Gosz as he said, “Agriculturalists produce the safest most wholesome food supply in the world.”
Long days of engaging conversation and touring called for a break, and that was just what the campers got as they spent a night full of laser tag, high ropes and arcade games at Main Event in Oklahoma City. It was a well deserved night to wind down and have some fun.
A huge part of preparing students to advocate for the agricultural industry is arming them with knowledge about what’s going on in the legislature. This is exactly what students did as they intently listened to James McSpadden of McSpadden and Associates, Rep. Jon Echols, and Rep. John Pfeiffer go over the basics of agriculture policy on Thursday morning at okPORK’s office.
“The people that are representing us in the legislature are actually people that farm,” Thompson said, “They’re constantly advocating for us agriculturalists that live in Oklahoma and making a difference behind the scenes.”
Shortly after students were lucky enough to become YQCA certified by Dinah Peebles, director-national certification programs at National Pork Board.
Team white lightning leader, Kylee Deniz, then lent some inspiration about embracing being different and standing out from the crowd.
“You need to be the 5 percent,” Deniz said, as she explained the importance of embracing being different and using it as an advantage.
Hands of service are often the best kind of hands. Campers embraced this as they entered the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. In just a short two-hours campers, staff members and Dave the bus driver, packed 5,104 pounds of light bulbs, and packaged 1,636 pounds of onions. According to the Food Bank they were able package the equivalent of 5,616 meals for Oklahomans in need.
Following volunteering students were led by Bill Hendrix on a tour of the 10 thousand square-foot warehouse. He shared about their partnership with okPORK and Oklahoma Youth Expo for the Pork for Packs Program, which supplies pork sticks for the food banks backpack program.
What a better way to celebrate a successful day then with cheese fries and burgers from the one and only, Eskimo Joes. The evening winded down to the sounds of constant chatter and laughter under the parachute at Joe’s.
Anticipation filled the dew dense air as campers made their way back to FAPC Friday morning to fabricate the hogs they had harvested earlier in the week and compare their calls to some actual results. Backfat was measured, yield grades were calculated, and pork was packed throughout the morning.
Nerves were at an all time high for some students as they mic’d up for their media interviews on camera. In front on a full audience one-by-one campers carefully answered questions on issues about their specific scenarios led once again by Austin Moore of Oklahoma Career Tech.
After a few group pictures the time had came for the wrap-up cookout at the OSU Equestrian Center. There Dr. Clint Rusk addressed campers on their accomplishments, staff members made remarks about the personal growth of each individual camper, and completion certificates were awarded to campers.
As the the festivities came to a close, team leaders, staff members and campers all said their goodbyes.
“I encourage anyone who wants to have fun and learn about the swine industry to apply for YLC,” Bronson said. “It truly opened my eyes to what all the swine industry has to offer.”
After a long, but successful week YLC 2018 came to a close – strangers became friends, leaders were realized, and agvocates were born.