On September 26th, we hosted our most recent Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner. It was a moving experience – a chance for me to see just how close our community of our farmers, chefs, customers and employees have become. We also have a whole host of people here in Iowa that continue to volunteer and support us year after year.
The concept of this dinner started years ago when my father was invited as a special guest and speaker at an event in California in which Niman Ranch Pork was featured. He talked with the restaurant patrons about what we do on the farm and how that plays an important role not only in the flavor of our pork but also in the sustainability of our environment and the rural community. He returned with a renewed enthusiasm about the work we were doing. The vision of our first Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner was to replicate that feeling for all the farmers who supply Niman Ranch. We bring highly acclaimed chefs to the event each year who understand and value the work our farmers do in raising their livestock traditionally, humanely and sustainably.
This year we received the largest number of RSVP’s ever for the dinner from our customers and farmers. Seats filled up fast, topping out at 530 guests. It was our largest dinner ever! The amazing chefs featured at this year’s dinner came from Florida, Massachusetts, Arizona, and Texas. These chefs were given a tour of a Niman Ranch hog farm where they could see first-hand what we mean when we say our animals are “raised with care.”
Our customers at Burgerville were awarded the Honorary Hog Farmer title at the dinner to acknowledge how they created a strategy to positively impact the farmers who needed it the most through a farmer expansion grant program.
United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack – also a former governor of Iowa – spoke to the crowd about the important role our farmers play in agriculture and in our food system today. He credited companies like Niman Ranch for helping to sustain rural communities across the country by paying premium prices to these farmers.
The owner of Progressive Distributors in the Cayman Islands, Dax Foster, gave a heartfelt speech recognizing the integrity our farmers exhibit in raising their livestock humanely. He emphasized just how much it means to some of the most respected chefs in the world, including those who work in the Cayman Islands.
Ruthie Carpenter, a senior at Palmyra High School in Palmyra, Missouri who is the daughter of Niman Ranch farmers Mark and Carolyn Carpenter, gave a speech about her experiences growing up on her farm raising pigs for Niman Ranch, as well as her participation in Future Farmers of America. Her speech was inspiring, touching, and clearly exhibited her pride in what she and her family have accomplished by working with Niman Ranch.
The Mardesen Family of A-Frame Acres won the 2015 Farmer of the Year award for their family’s dedication to educate folks about the necessities of raising pigs the Niman Ranch way. They have been strong supporters and advocates for Niman Ranch through mentoring other farmers, hosting farm tours and participating in Niman Ranch related events. We were very happy to recognize them for their achievements.
Thanks to the support of individual contributors as well as many of our generous business partners, over $50,000 was raised this year towards the Niman Ranch Next Generation Scholarship Fund, which was awarded to 26 recipients this year. More than ever before, our customers showed our farmers just how much they appreciate their hard-work by hosting some of their own fundraisers. Anthony Scheer, the recipient of the Diane and Dave Serfling memorial scholarship last year, participated at many of these fundraisers.
I am so proud of my dad and my entire family for founding the original Niman Ranch pig farm and opening doors for other like-minded pig farmers. This Farmer Appreciation Dinner focused on the importance of family in our farming operations and how the support for the next generation is instrumental for the future of Niman Ranch and our family of farmers.