Our annual Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner was held on September 13, 2014 at the Embassy Suites in downtown Des Moines. It was a spectacular celebration. Every year it seems to take on a personality of its own. This truly was the year of the Niman Ranch Hog Farmer. Enthusiasm for the dinner led to a record breaking number of RSVPs. After all these years, it amazes me to see how much this event has developed, not just in size, but in helping people understand how important it is to recognize our farmers for their good stewardship of the land and humane treatment of their livestock.
The outpouring of support from the food community was enormous, starting the moment we asked our selected featured chefs if they would be willing to come to Iowa and cook for our farmers. They agreed without hesitation, and many of them even paid for their sous chefs to come along. Chef Jason Cline of St. Petersburg, FL, went even further and held a fund-raiser for the Next Generation Scholarship at his restaurant, The Birchwood.
Chris Beischer – The Mercer Kitchen, New York City, NY
Keenan Bosworth- Pig and Pickle, Scottsdale, AZ
-Sous Chef Nick Kubisch
Jason Cline- The Birchwood, St. Petersburg, FL
Alexander Roberts- Restaurant Alma, Minneapolis, MN
-Chef De Cuisine Mike Berger
Lucas Sautter – Alderbrook Resort, Union, WA
Kelly Whitaker- Basta, Boulder, CO
-Sous Chef Brad Rossini
Our featured chefs and special guests from Marczyk Fine Foods in Denver were provided a private tour of La Quercia at their facility in Norwalk, Iowa. La Quercia uses Niman Ranch pork to create the best prosciutto available nationwide. All our guests were given a tour of Alderland Farms later that day, where they got to see first-hand how Niman Ranch pigs are raised.
Local supporters like Slow Food Des Moines and The Cheese Shop generously provided lunch for our featured chefs while they were working hard in the kitchen. Culinary students from the Iowa Culinary Institute at DMACC and several local chefs helped them put together a superb menu with a sophisticated twist on comfort-food.
Our farmers showed up to the dinner in droves for the phenomenal food, and also to find out who would be recognized for having produced the best Niman Ranch pork. Our 2014 top quality pork award winner was Clayton Hawkins of Missouri, a former Niman Ranch Next Generation Scholarship winner. The Farmer of the Year 2014 award went to the Brown Family of Alderland Farms in Iowa. They not only supply pork to Niman Ranch but also work diligently to grow awareness about the importance of raising pigs humanely, without antibiotics.
Our keynote speaker, George Faison of DeBragga & Spitler, New York’s Butcher®, took us on a culinary video tour through the kitchens at some of New York City’s finest restaurants. Chef Chris Beischer, one of our featured chefs, participated in the video representing Mercer Kitchen in appreciation for our family farmers. Hearing, “Thank you Niman Ranch hog farmers!” come directly from the kitchen staff towards the end was especially heart-warming.
Contributions made to the Niman Ranch Next Generation Scholarship Fund came in record breaking numbers as well. It was encouraging to see so many of these bright, young students receive awards throughout the evening. I’ve watched many of these future farmers grow up and graduate college, and I love how so many of them return to the family farm.
Farmers are facing more difficult challenges than ever with the growth of industrialized farming. We continue to deal with the historical issues: unpredictable weather, fluctuations in corn prices, gas prices and land prices, and livestock disease. Sometimes it may be difficult to find the value of producing hogs on such a small scale, but Niman Ranch and its partners believe in a market that values traditional methods for raising hogs and empowers and rewards farmers for the additional work required.
Thank you Niman Ranch hog farmers for your continued dedication to raising your hogs humanely and sustainably without antibiotics, for helping to make our rural communities a better place to live and thrive and for producing the finest tasting pork in the world!