THE 7,000 sq. ft. Pork Education Center, built directly to the west of the Fair Oaks Farms birthing barn on the farm’s main campus in Fair Oaks, Ind., is now open to the public. The $4.5 million center complements The Pig Adventure at Fair Oaks in that the Pig Adventure showcases the production side of the pig industry, while the new Pork Education Center showcases the finished product side, with a focus on pig and pork education.
Fair Oaks Farms broke ground on the Pork Education Center in May 2014. The official public opening bash is planned for June 28 with the Sizzling Days of Bacon festival.
Main features of the new center are a sky trail ropes course that reveals pig factoids as visitors progress and reach higher levels, a custom-built treehouse from the team at Animal Planet’s Redwood Kings and various other pig- and pork-related attractions. The center also serves as the boarding area for The Pig Adventure bus tours.
“Responsible, sustainable pork production is a key part of the message in this center,” said Jon Hoek, a member of the board that helped guide and craft the pig centers.
The Pork Education Center focuses on food uses and non-food uses alike. “It showcases what pigs do for people,” Hoek said, noting that it includes information on the nutritional value of pork and how the pig is important from a medical standpoint.
While the centers are geared toward consumers, Hoek encourages industry leaders to come spend a day or two just being “a fly on the wall.” He said consumers’ concerns are not what they are generally assumed to be: “Things we thought would be problematic with consumers aren’t.”
For instance, Hoek said visitors will stand and watch two sows fight and find it funny, but when the back of a sow is gently tapped with a welfare-friendly rattle paddle, they get concerned by what they perceive to be happening.
The Pork Education Center, much like the Pig Adventure, provides the opportunity to talk about the issues and to answer people’s questions – something Hoek firmly believes is important to helping grow consumer understanding and acceptance of the industry.
At the height of tourism season, Hoek said some 1,500-2,000 visitors a day come to view all aspects of modern pig farming.
Later this year, the pig centers at Fair Oaks will be part of an Animal Planet episode that the Redwood Kings shot on site during installation of the treehouse they designed. The segment goes into the barn, where they learned all about pigs.
Both pig centers will tie in to the Crop Education Center that is under construction on the Fair Oaks campus. That $14 million center is scheduled to open this fall.
A small laying hen operation also is in the works, with the goal of supplying the on-site restaurant. It should be completed by the end of this summer and will likely serve as a model for a larger-scale setup in the future.
The Pork Education Center was made possible through the support of industry partners, including the National Pork Board.
Only 1% of us make our living from production agriculture. At the same time, consumers are more informed than ever. They care where their food comes from. Fair Oaks wants to educate and provide a venue for that dialogue, Mike McCloskey, chairman of Fair Oaks Farms, said during the groundbreaking festivities last year.
All of the new centers join the original dairy education initiative upon which Fair Oaks Farms was first founded. For the past decade, the dairy cows have been attracting hundreds of thousands visitors annually who learn first-hand about commercial dairy production and enjoy some fresh local cheese and ice cream.
Feedstuffs magazine reports: