Creating the Catalyst

By Ryan Mead, Progressive Swine Technologies and NPPA Board Member

Pigs in the Classroom

Ryan Mead visits students at Twin River Elementary where they learned how pigs are cared for and got to see a weaned pig.

Unlike Ronald Regan in the mid 1980’s with his theory of “trickle-down economics” that referred to the policy of providing across the board tax cuts or benefits to businesses in the belief that this will indirectly benefit the broad population, our plan works just the opposite.    We call it “Trickle-Up Education”.  

The goal was big, but the plan was simple.   Our goal was to introduce animal agriculture into every classroom and allow teachers to create more with their current curriculum needs.  We wanted the students ‘lessons’ to come alive.    

It began by asking how animal agriculture currently existed in today’s classrooms and imagining us creating a catalyst or spark.   The by-product of this spark would be an environment where students think creativity and discussion is open and free.    The answer was to let every student experience, with all their senses, a three week old pig.    The plan was simple, yet so revolutionary in the classroom.   

When you walk into an elementary school with a wean pig, you are an instant hit.    What’s his name?   Why is his tail so short?   How often do you take him for a walk?    The myriad of questions range from the “innocent” to “very challenging”.   As pork producers, we know where we have been and where we are going.   However, we haven’t always been good at communicating this to our communities, neighbors and most of all, the student and leaders of tomorrow. 

As we think about the connection we have in the marketplace and our desire to promote and sell our product for a margin, have we determined if our customers are invested in us emotionally?     When a student poses a question, all the other students are waiting for an answer… so are the teachers.    As a result …Trickle-up Education.   Students may be asking the innocent questions; nevertheless the adults are gaining knowledge right along with the students.   Parents have told us, their son or daughter couldn’t stop talking about the pig that visited…Trickle-Up Education.  

The biggest question pork producers must ask is, “are we learning as fast as the world is changing?”  Your impact to the consumer of tomorrow (these students) cannot be measured by customary methods of “market penetration” or “price per pound”.   Rather, it will be measured on your ability to change the conversation and allow your customer to have an emotional connection to you.     They must trust you.

It is wonderful to recognize, that from the youngest of students we are touching in the classroom to the well tested educators, they get a glimpse of what gets a Nebraska’s pork producer up in the morning.   Some of the greatest, unplanned successes of this project were to see a son or daughter of one of our team members begin to glow and say, “That’s what my mom/dad does.”    Trickle-Up Education.

What we do is special.   It requires that we protect and promote animal well-being; protect public health; safeguard natural resources in all of our practices and contribute to a better quality of life in our communities.   The goal was big, but the plan was simple…create a catalyst.   If you are a pork producer and you know of a school, you can create a catalyst also.  

The students were so excited for the pig presentation they prepared for the visit by making pig puppets. Free pig puppet templates availbe by request at

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