The tradition of the Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner is alive and well! We recently celebrated our 18th annual event at the Embassy Suites Downtown in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, August 27.
Each year we painstakingly select a group of highly acclaimed chefs who meet our strict criteria. They are award –winning chefs in their regions and they have shown a real commitment to supporting Niman Ranch and our family of farmers and ranchers not only through purchasing Niman Ranch meats but by raising awareness about how our network of family farmers raise the livestock. Most often the initial reason many chefs choose Niman Ranch is because of the outstanding meat quality, but once they realize the connection with flavor and how the animals are raised, they become advocates for our entire program.
I always look forward to this event because it brings out the sense of community among our farmers. Our annual celebration is reminiscent of a family reunion. It used to be easy for most people to relate to the American farmer with our country’s strong roots, steeped in agriculture. One hundred years ago, approximately 50% of the U.S. population lived in a rural environment. But now rural America, which encompasses nearly 75% of the land area of the United States, currently accounts for only 16% of the country’s population, the lowest in the nation’s history. Much of the connection with farming has been lost.
Recently, the trend in farming has been “bigger is better” requiring fewer folks to farm the land, resulting in the population decline in rural areas. Niman Ranch farmers are typically smaller and more diversified than most current agricultural operations. They are bucking the system by continuing with tried and true methods of raising livestock in a manner that was been passed down for centuries, rather than jumping on the latest bandwagon of industrialized processes. One of the benefits of our growing network of family farmers is that we are helping drive a growing revitalization of rural communities.
At our Farmer Appreciation Dinner, the enthusiasm for our farmers and the work they continue to do is infectious. Farmers are given awards for their years involved with Niman Ranch (at 5, 10, and 15 years) while top quality awards are presented to the “cream of the crop”, which is determined through regular pork quality testing. Top honors go to the Niman Ranch Farmer of the Year. This year that was Scott Sibbel, for going above and beyond his normal duties, representing Niman Ranch farmers and spreading the word about the importance of the work they are doing on the farm, helping people understand the difference they make in our small towns and our country. Among our non-farming guests, the Honorary Hog Farmer is the most coveted award. It was earned this year by Marczyck Fine Foods for both their commitment to providing Niman Ranch meats to their customers and for their record breaking fund raising efforts for the Niman Ranch Next Generation Scholarship Fund, raising over $27,000 this year.
In some ways, the Niman Ranch Next Generation Scholarships awards represent the climax of the evening. This year’s record amount was raised collectively by our business partners: individuals, employees and farmers alike. The Niman Ranch Next Generation Scholarship Fund is designed to raise awareness about the loss of traditional farming and ranching practices, and to ultimately help maintain this way of life. Our goal is to help give the children and family members of Niman Ranch farmers or other family farmers a better opportunity to obtain a higher education and ultimately improve the quality of life in our rural communities.
It was heartwarming to see the support for children of Niman Ranch farmers, providing them with the financial support to continue their education and encouraging them to further enrich themselves and their communities.
The Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner is an inspiring and empowering event for everyone who attends, celebrating how Niman Ranch farmers continue to grow and thrive. I would like to extend my gratitude to all of the farmers for the work they do as well as our customers who take extra care in handling our products and telling our farmers’ story. Our work together is influencing and rewarding the type of farming we need to see to across the country.