Sister States Sizzle for Bacon

By Kelly Visser, Iowa Food & Family Project

From bacon ice cream to bacon-themed festivals to spreadable “baconnaise,” the bacon craze has taken hold of consumers around the globe. But a love for pork is nothing new in Iowa. Generations of hard-working farmers have put Iowa on the map as the nation’s leading pork producer, representing $7.5 billion in total economic activity for the state each year. 

When Pigs Fly

In 1959, Yamanashi, Japan was devastated by a typhoon. More than 90 people died, homes were destroyed, and the country’s rice and livestock agriculture were wiped out.

After learning the plight of the Japanese people, Sergeant Richard Thomas, an Iowa soldier who had been stationed in Japan during World War II, decided to act. He united Iowan farmers, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and the Pentagon to round up 36 breeding hogs and 100,000 bushels of corn to send to Yamanashi by way of U.S. Air Force planes.

The act of humanity and goodwill by Iowans, which is now fondly referred to as the “Iowa Hog Lift,” set the stage for a long-standing relationship between Iowa and Yamanashi.

“After the initiative, Iowa officially established a sister-state relationship with Yamanashi. Since the 1960s, this relationship has led the way for countless citizen exchanges to encourage diplomacy, business relationships and cultural awareness between the two states,” said Kassi Bailey, International Program Manager for Iowa Sister States.

The Mighty Bacon Delegation

After learning the rich, pork-loving history between Iowa and Yamanashi, founders of the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival, an annual Des Moines event that celebrates all things bacon, were inspired to connect with bacon-loving students, agriculture and business professionals in Japan. 

“We thought a bond initiated by sharing of pigs could be strengthened by the sharing of bacon,” said Brooks Reynolds, founder of Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival. “Beyond the Sister State initiative, Japan is a great location for a global Bacon Festival because it’s one of the leading customers of Iowa pork.”

In November 2017, a “bacon delegation” comprised of the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival team, Iowa chefs, pork producers and representatives from sponsoring businesses traveled to Kofu, Japan (a city within the state of Yamanashi) to help launch the inaugural Japan Bacon Festival.

It was a huge success — more than 12,000 attended the two-day event. The team plans to continue the event annually.

Leading up to the 11th Annual Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival in Des Moines on February 17, Iowa Sister States is welcoming a “bacon delegation” from Japan to meet with Iowa pork producers, visit farms and shadow the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival team as they prepare for the big event.

“The visit will be a great opportunity for the Japan Bacon Festival team to learn about Iowa culture and agriculture, as well as share their insights with our community,” said Bailey.


“Whether its Japan or Iowa, there are a lot of people who have embraced the counterculture of bacon fellowship,” said Reynolds.

The Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival team expects more than 10,000 attendees at the upcoming event held at the Iowa Events Center. Attendees will have the opportunity to sample every type of bacon imaginable, speak with Iowa’s pig farmers, attend educational bacon lectures (take notes and you’ll be sure to ace any bacon test that comes your way!), play Olympic-inspired games and enjoy live entertainment.

“We’re fortunate to have local pork producers and organizations attend the event to promote pork alongside us. They’re really supportive of the fun we have with the event,” said Reynolds.