Erin Brenneman of Brenneman Pork: ‘Have conversations about what’s going on at the farm’

The pork industry needs to do a better job telling its story — particularly about how it is improving, evolving and serving the best interests of consumers, producer Erin Brenneman told Pig Health Today.
calendar icon 4 December 2018
clock icon 4 minute read

Brenneman, who together with her husband and father-in-law runs Brenneman Pork in Washington, Iowa, has made it her mission to help tell that story and shape perceptions about farming and the pork industry.

To this end, Brenneman Pork maintains active social media pages, a vibrant website and regularly opens its premises for tours. It also seeks creative opportunities to engage with members of the community and serve as a resource to people.

Reaching the other 98%

Speaking at the 2018 American Association of Swine Veterinarians conference, Brenneman noted that only 2% of the nation’s population farms.

“So, how are we to expect 98% of the people to know what we’re even talking about?” said Brenneman, adding that there are so many misconceptions about farming and the pork industry.

Brenneman, who grew up in suburban Chicago and only moved to a farm after getting married in 2004, describes herself as an advocate for sharing the farm story with a refreshing outsider perspective. She said a smart communication strategy not only could help producers tell their story, it could also be a useful tool for dispelling misinformation about antibiotic usage and other production practices.

As part of its communications outreach efforts, Brenneman Pork leans heavily on social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. She said that on these channels she tries to find common interests with members of the public and puts out information in small, digestible doses.

“Keep it light, keep it fun,” Brenneman said during a session at the AASV convention. “We are people, not fact-spouting robots….Nobody wants to be bombarded with data and details.”

She said she has found that the small things they do on the farm each day fascinate people outside the industry — whether it be taking a shower before entering a hog building, changing boots or towel-drying a pig.

Take lots of pictures

Brenneman recommends taking lots of pictures and fostering a connection by posting frequently, even if the pictures have nothing to do with farming.

“Time after time my most viewed and viral posts have nothing to do with pigs but rather to do with the world around us — the community, the country, our staff,” she said.

“Driving down the road, walking through the barn, visiting a client, seeing a perfect sunrise. Snap pictures of all of it. You don’t have to use them all, but you will have them in your ‘arsenal’ when it is a day that you can’t come across any content to use. Staying frequent, or at least regular, on social media will gain you points with the algorithms and consider you more interesting to look at.”

In addition to telling its story via social media and its website, Brenneman Pork gives farm tours organised through the National Pork Board. The board helps set up farm tours with members of the local community, including influential food bloggers, registered dieticians, legislators and elementary schools students.

Trusted resource

“A lot of these kids in this rural community have never even been on a farm,” Brenneman said, adding that bringing visitors to the farm is a great way to help people understand what goes on there.

But Brenneman said such outreach efforts also help her enlist allies and become a trusted resource to them. These allies could be particularly helpful in setting the record straight when they hear things about the pork business that are untrue, she said.

“If they hear something, they can tell a friend,” she said. “Or they cannot argue it, but they can stand up for you, and say, ‘Hey, I know this farmer. Why don’t you go talk to them?’”

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