For years, it’s been a common and most welcome sight ... In the midst of all the hoopla surrounding the Homestead Festival and Pork Days event in September, a group of Bureau County Pork Producers can be seen at Soldiers and Sailors Park as they grill up thousands of pork chops and pork burgers. It’s a tradition that has stood the test of time ... until now.
With only a handful of members remaining, the Bureau County Pork Producers made the bittersweet decision to disband.
“We saw it coming,” said rural Sheffield resident Norm Von Holten, adding the years of transition in the pork industry and the fall of the actual number of pork producers in the county sealed the deal. “There’s not a lot of new blood in the industry. Basically, we’ve got a bunch of old boys who are getting tired out.”
At the last Homestead Festival/Pork Days event in 2013, Von Holten said he started hearing “rumblings” that the Bureau County Pork Producers wanted to be finished with the long-standing tradition of grilling up those pork chops/burgers for event-goers. After a few telephone conversations, the group met in mid-January and made the decision to disband.
“It wasn’t a big surprise. It was coming,” Von Holten said, who was the president of the organization when the decision was made. “It’s the end of an era.”
Von Holten wasn’t sure when the Bureau County Pork Producers first began, but he said he had been a member for 35 years, and he knew it was in existence before that.
The Bureau County Pork Producers were the creators of Pork Day which eventually turned into the Homestead Festival/Pork Days we know today.
Bureau County Pork Producer Greg Steele of rural Princeton said Richard “Dick” Coddington was the brainchild behind Pork Day, which kicked off in 1974.
“He had the vision to do this, but he said he thought we should practice a couple of years before the sesquicentennial in 1976,” Steele said. “It started at the fairgrounds in the ‘60s. Later we were invited uptown on Main Street. The Homestead Festival was built around that ... When we first started, it used to be the only place you could get a pork chop; now you can get a pork chop most every weekend somewhere around the county.”
Aside from their well-known pork chop sandwiches/dinners at Homestead, other events the Bureau County Pork Producers were involved in included donations of Easter hams to the food pantry and a booth at the Bureau County Farm Bureau’s Ag Fair for the county’s fourth-graders. Von Holten said there will be a couple of pork producers who will still man a booth at the Ag Fair.
But what about those tasty and tender pork chops at Homestead Festival/Pork Days? Von Holten said not to worry.
“(Grilling the pork chops at Homestead) will have no external changes,” Von Holten said. “In recent years ... the past three or four years, 4-H and Extension have done the serving and logistics; the Pork Producers have just been grilling for a fee. Those entities will stay in place and keep on going; the Young Leaders out of the Farm Bureau are going to take over our spot. They are going to be involved in the job of cooking, and the 4-H and Extension will continue doing what they’ve done. Externally, we won’t have any changes, other than some faces.”
Meanwhile, Von Holten who is upbeat about the change admits it is rather bittersweet.
“We are ... veterans of our own business. The writing was on the wall. It was not a shocker. It’s been coming,” he said.
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