Women farmers teach consumers about food
By Suzanne C. Witt For Sun-Times Media
Heather Hill raises 12,000 to 13,000 pigs a year on her farm in Greenfield, Ind. She also works full time, and each day on her land runs a household and is rearing three children, ages 9, 6 and 3. She could be your neighbor, sister, or friend.
Hill’s a Midwestern farmer who labors tirelessly to provide the best quality product for all consumers — including her own family.
And she’s passionate about educating the public on details of her livelihood and how it impacts the local food supply. Hill, who grew up in LaPorte, is part of a movement called CommonGround, which brings selected female farmers from across the country together to act as an educational resource for consumers. Its mission is to dispel any stereotypes or uncertainties about farming and food. As an active participant with several producer groups, Hill was a natural fit to represent Indiana.
“We all want the same thing (as part of CommonGround) — to tell our story, answer any and all questions and aid consumers in making the best decisions about what they eat and how it is cultivated,” Hill said.
She and the other women accomplish this by being advocates for what they do with knowledge, sincerity and understanding.
It was a natural progression for Hill: Farming always has played a part in her life, in some way. Her mom grew up on a hog farm in LaPorte, Ind., her parents met in 4-H and she started showing pigs, sheep and cattle at age 10. With a natural inclination for agriculture and animals, Hill majored in animal sciences at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., not entirely certain of the direction she ultimately would pursue. In her junior year she met her spouse, Marc, who already was working on the family farm in Greenfield, Ind., about 200 miles outside of Chicago. And today they carry on a family tradition as fourth generation farmers with love, guidance and support from her in-laws.
“Our children will be the fifth generation and everything I do is for their future in agriculture. We are stewards of the land and have the great responsibility of feeding our neighbors as well as ourselves,” Hill said.
Optimum pig care
The farm also produces corn and soybeans, 100 percent of which goes back to feeding the pigs who are raised totally indoors in climate-controlled buildings – protecting them from the elements and predators. Each barn is equipped with a generator, in case of a power outage, as caring for the pigs is top priority. And a veterinarian comes once a month for routine wellness checks.
“No two days are ever the same and there’s never a dull moment,” Hill said. “The pigs are fed twice a day, I take care of paperwork and keep detailed records on each animal. Our goal is to give optimum care to our pigs and produce the best quality for consumers.”
Sows generally produce two litters a year, which can yield between 10 to 12 pigs. At 26 weeks, pigs are ready for market.
With three major pig processors in the state, including Tyson, it’s likely pork purchased at the grocery store would have come from an area farm similar to Hill’s. Eating local and supporting farmers from the Midwest doesn’t get much simpler than that.
Farm to table
Hill is first to admit it’s been an evolution. Although some past farming practices and principles still apply, education and advancements have yielded more food with greater accuracy. Today, GPS technology is used in the fields to apply exactly what is needed to crops. The end result is better for the crops, farmer and environment.
Marketing has changed, too. Hill said farmers markets and the local orchards have become good venues for selling their frozen pork. And fielding questions through her blog, friends, other parents and anyone who’s curious spreads the word and lessens misperceptions.
“There are three generations on the farm today, and I take great pride in the fact that we are able to sustain this way of life. My kids love the farm and they have developed an amazing respect for the environment, hard work and spending time outdoors. We are a family farm that works very hard to make sure we all can eat. We ask that you trust in our experience ... and in us.”
More information is online at findourcommonground.com or 3kidsandlotsofpigs.com.