Pipestone woman honored as state's top pork promoter
PIPESTONE — Sylvia Wolters enjoys promoting pork so much, she was willing to stand outside grilling in an unlikely April snowstorm.
Granted, her appearance last week at Coburn’s, a supermarket in Pipestone, was planned without prior knowledge of the weather. Nevertheless, she was happy to do what she feels is a moral duty.
“The key message for us is we want to communicate our integrity, caring, commitment and passion for raising animals while providing a healthy protein source for a growing population,” Wolters said. “We feel that it’s an honor and a moral obligation to raise food.”
Wolters’ dedication to promoting the pork industry was recognized in January when she was named the state’s Pork Promoter of the Year by the Minnesota Pork Board. It’s an honor she didn’t set out to achieve, she explained.
“For those of us active in the industry, it’s our passion to communicate and educate and show our commitment to our animals,” she said. “I don’t feel like I should get an award for that. It’s just what we do.”
Wolters has been doing just that for a number of years since arriving in the Midwest.
She grew up on a farm — “but not a pig farm” — in the Pacific Northwest and earned a degree in animal science from Washington State University.
“I have been the swine/pork business since 1985, when I graduated from college,” Wolters said.
She and husband Terry moved to Minnesota 17 years ago, and she became employed by Pipestone Holdings. She was Pipestone Veterinary Clinic’s operations manager for 14 years and is now director of public relations for Pipestone System, with which her husband is also employed.
“There are a lot of opportunities for college graduates in the pork industry,” Wolters said. “For the vet clinic … my primary responsibility was purchasing animal health products, and 85 percent of our business is in swine.
“Since moving to Pipestone, my husband and I live on and own a small farm,” she added. “We also own shares in several sow farms, and also own a wean-to-finish research barn. Our passion for the industry is in addition to our working with Pipestone System and entails involvement with local FFA and 4-H chapters as well as Minnesota Pork Producers Association, South Dakota Pork Producers and the National Pork Producers Council.”
Many of the activities for youths have been a result of their involvement with their children in 4-H — daughter Bailey is now a senior at South Dakota State University, and son Blake is a sophomore at Pipestone Area High School.
“I guess the largest contribution is I’ve been able to be part of the last three years with the organization and execution of a new research barn in the Sioux Falls area that’s opening soon, as well the agriculture learning centers in Pipestone and Tyler,” she said.
“We want to bring our ag practices to the public so people can experience them firsthand and see what agriculture all about,” Wolters continued. “It’s not about moving pounds of product; it’s about educating people about modern agriculture practices and where their food comes from.
“I’ve been part of Provider Pals, Ag in the Classroom, and I’ve been invited to talk for other classroom activities all the way from fourth-graders to seniors. The message has changed in the last five years. During my first 20 years of being in the industry, it was about getting the consumer to look at pork as a primary protein source. In the last five years, we’ve been more focused on educating about modern ag practices, animal husbandry and the importance of animal welfare.”
A big part of that focus, Wolters said, is offering a contrasting message to that being emphasized by animal rights organizations.
“Animal rights activists today are very well funded and have access to the media in a large way,” Wolters said. “Our new focus is to provide as much accurate information about our industry as we can, and bring about transparency of what we do, instead of the media only being from the animal rights activists’ viewpoint.”
Wolters and her husband own a pork grilling and promotion trailer they take to numerous events throughout the region. The trailer was also at Coburn’s last week with Wolters as part of a Pipestone System initiative.
“We have about 700 employees company-wide in about 50-some locations,” she explained. “Today, each group of employees is involved in a ‘can-struction’ competition’ with cans of pork products and is donating food to local food shelves.
“We had our display here this morning, and we tied it to handing out of free samples of ground pork this afternoon. For every pound purchase of pork from the grocery store, Pipestone Systems will donate a pound of ground pork to the food shelf — in addition to all the cans in the display.”
Daily Globe Managing Editor Ryan McGaughey may be reached at 376-7320.