Farming is a Family Affair
By Kelly Visser, Iowa Food & Family Project
Photos by Joseph L. Murphy, Iowa Soybean Association
Family and work are intertwined for many farm families across Iowa. The thread is often woven through crack-of-dawn chores, beloved holiday dessert recipes, cheering sections at county fairs and values to be passed down from generation to generation.
For Trish Cook, family and work intersect each day in her roles as a mother of three and a pork producer. She and her husband, Aaron, operate a farrow to finishing farm in Buchanan County with around 1,200 sows, producing 30,000 pigs each year.
“We’re proud of the work our family is doing to produce a good, nutritious product that feeds people in our communities and around the globe,” says Cook.
The Cook’s farm is one of many family-owned pork operations in Iowa. The state’s farmers raise more hogs than any other state, 40 to 50 million annually, which is almost one-third of the nation’s total.
Life Lessons on the Farm
Over the years, farming has helped the Cooks teach their three children, now 19, 18 and 14, about work ethic first-hand. It’s not the easiest work, but it always pays off when we can see newborn piglets grow to be healthy hogs, she says.
During the school year, the Cook children’s job is to be a student and a kid. But during the summer months growing up, the three kids were always eager to play an active role on the farm. Whether they were helping with farrowing (birthing piglets), unloading trailers or herding pigs, they’ve spent many moments working together as a family.
“It’s really neat to work alongside your children toward a common goal,” says Cook.
Taking Lessons Beyond the Farm
Beyond the hands-on lessons the Cook children have learned on the farm, Trish and Aaron have made it a priority to address their children’s questions about agriculture – whether those questions are inspired by something they see on the news or a label at the grocery store.
“We talk as a family to help them fully understand why we do what we do. This has allowed the kids to become good advocates for what we do as farmers to raise high-quality, nutritious food,” says Cook.
Throughout their lives, the Cook children have been active in pork promotion, including serving as Iowa Pork Producers Association’s Iowa Pork Queen and Pork Ambassadors, or sharing their family’s story with other Iowans.
“It’s fun to see how they can advocate for agriculture and teach others about what we do on our farm,” she says.
Time at the Table
Like most families, each day is full of balancing baseball practices, homework projects and ever-changing to-do lists for the Cooks. But through it all, connecting as a family for dinner is a priority each night.
“A lot of times we’ll talk about what we saw on the news, how a test went or how another family member is doing,” says Cook. “Just having 30 minutes of time to breathe and talk to know what’s going on in their lives is really special.”