By TIM ALEXANDER
DES MOINES, Iowa — In a departure from a usual Pork Checkoff webinar, Emmy Award-winning actor, 4-H alumni and Iowa farm boy Eric Stonestreet partook in a live Q&A about his checkoff-funded partnership with the National Pork Board. Kicking off a planned series of upcoming social media videos featuring Stonestreet, the actor sought to dispel misconceptions about modern pork production and farming.
“I had pigs come into my life at a very young age,” said Stonestreet, who is best known for his role as Cam Tucker on ABC’s “Modern Family.” “I had wanted a job, and my dad went and got 60 feeder pigs and built a fence. He said ‘here’s your job; it’s in your backyard and you don’t have to travel.’ That was around the fourth grade.”
The family soon added some gilts to the farm and had them artificially bred, before eventually acquiring a boar. “So my biggest operation as a young man was seven sows and a boar, but that kept me very busy through my high school years. When I went off to Kansas State (University) we got rid of the pig operation, because I was primarily raising them for 4-H to show at the fair, and to sell feeder pigs off-cycle.”
Along with NPB personnel, Stonestreet visited a modern swine farm to film the series of checkoff-sponsored videos a week prior to the July 20 webinar. The 49-year-old actor called the technology present in newer swine barns “incredible” and came away impressed with how far pork production, and agriculture, had come since his days on an Iowa farm.
“I was impressed with the cleanliness, the shower-in and shower-out, even the booties I had to wear in the barn,” he said. “I felt more clean and sanitized in that hog barn than I do going in and out of hospitals across America to visit with ill children.”
Stonestreet said he is energized by his new relationship with the Pork Checkoff and NPB due to his history of raising pigs and being brought up in a bucolic, rural environment.
“Farmers are my people. This is exciting for me because it’s an opportunity to re-tether myself to where it all started for me. I grew up as far from the Hollywood spotlight as you can in rural Kansas City, Kansas, with our pig operation out in the country. I started in western Wyandotte County and moved to Manhattan, Kansas, in college, then to Chicago and L.A. I love full-circle moments and this was the chance for me to come back to my roots and where I started from,” Stonestreet said.
Many of the tenets of animal care and compassion Stonestreet learned from his father on their small, family pig farm were evident in the operations of the large swine farm he had visited the week before, the actor noted: “Coming back to such a huge farm with so many pigs and seeing that same person as my father— a person that cares for their animals and takes pride in their work, the community, their workers and families — I was looking forward to connecting to that. And that’s exactly what I got to do last week.”
The actor wants those who see his checkoff videos to come away with a sense of respect for the integrity with which the typical pig farmer approaches their profession. “I’m not surprised by it; I’ve known farmers my whole life. It has never changed, and it never will change,” said Stonestreet, who also had a part in the 2013 movie “Identity Thief” alongside Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy.
“I think it would serve the world wonderfully if everyone had to spend a week on a farm, getting up for breakfast at 4:30 a.m. so you can be out the door at 5, and working until the sun goes down. I think people would be absolutely astonished to learn what goes into a day’s work on a pig farm, a beef farm, whatever. I think there is a disconnect because people won’t think about it,” he added.
The video series with Stonestreet came about after the NPB surveyed consumers about their pork consumption preferences. The survey found that 20 percent of respondents plan to reduce consumption, while 11 percent already have. The survey also identified perceived consumer concerns about animal housing, nutrition and diet.
To address these concerns, the Pork Checkoff-funded video campaign will launch in September. Each social media video re-defines idioms and phrases associated with pigs and pig farming to instead showcase the innovation of modern pork production, according to an NPB news release.
An archived recording of the full July 20 Pork Checkoff webinar with Eric Stonestreet can be viewed at www.porkcheckoff.org/news/eric-stonestreet-celebrates-pig-farming-mythbusting/.