DEMOTTE — Nick DeKryger, vice president at Belstra Milling Co. in DeMotte was the guest speaker at the monthly Community Round Table hosted by the Jasper County Economic Development Organization and the Jasper Newton Foundation. He spoke about a new educational program through the LEAP foundation, an acronym for Leading Education About Pigs, developed to bring pig education to grade school students.
Working with the Indiana State Fairgrounds, Belstra’s program has been developed as a virtual learning tool with a curriculum, lesson plan and fun interactive lesson units for children in third through sixth grade to learn from and enjoy. On Sept. 17, the DeMotte Chrisitian School will participate in a trial run for the virtual portion, where a tour guide at the Fair Oaks Pig Adventure will take the classes through a 45-minute tour of Legacy Farms, the pig farm that is the adventure and owned by Belstra Milling. Students will be able to ask questions and interact in a variety of ways during the program.
DeKryger said Bud Belstra (founder of the company) and his son Tim were passionate about teaching people about pigs. In 2013, they created the Fair Oaks Pig Adventure, which teaches visitors about how pigs are raised and what they are raised for as a way of being transparent about the farming process. He said a year ago, they created the foundation to further enhance and boost educational opportunities. “Our goal is to look at the industry and do a better job of telling our story,” DeKryger said. “Pigs are wonderful creatures.”
The foundation will sponsor scholarships for pig specific careers, which includes animal science, veterinary science, business management and other agriculture related degrees. “Lots of careers can be pulled into the pig industry,” he said. “The industry is more than barns.”
He said support from the pork industry has helped the foundation “get off the ground.” The goal is to have 5,000 to 10,000 students enrolled in the program as it grows. The Indiana State Fairgrounds Board assisted in sending email blasts to schools across the state. “There’s A Pig in My Classroom,” had 600 kids sign up for the program on the first day, with over 1,000 signed up so far. The program officially kicks off on Sept. 24.
For the DeMotte Christian students, the program will launch for a trial run in the morning for students in fifth and sixth grades and in the afternoon for the third and fourth graders. Students will learn about terminology, the many uses there are for pigs, including medical use and food. “We use every part of the pig except the squeal,” DeKryger said. There are activities for the students, stickers, word searches and fun easy recipes.
Belstra Milling Co. operates eight pig farms in Newton, Jasper, Pulaski Counties and one in Kankakee County, Illinois. They employ 210 people under the Belstra name, which includes animal feed, custom feeds including medical feeds, organic fertilizer, a transportation division and pig production. The company supplies six pigs a week as ground pork to area food pantries in Jasper and Newton, plus the Northwest Indiana Food Bank in Lake County. The company is headquartered in DeMotte.