JACKSON — Sioux Valley native Brad Freking, along with his wife and his sisters, started New Fashion Pork in 1994.

Over the last 25 years, the Frekings have grown the company from a local wean pig operation to an international venture.

Humble beginnings

Near the end of veterinary school at the University of Minnesota, Brad Freking learned about a new practice of bringing wean pigs down from Canada. He decided he'd like to go into business doing just that, so he found space in the old creamery building in Jackson.

New Fashion Pork was born. Brad's first employee was his sister, Linette Freking.

At its outset, NFP imported about 1,000 pigs per week, raised them and sold about 50,000 each year. At the same time, Brad and Linette's sister Suzie was running the family farm, which grew from 200 sows to 600. NFP purchased pigs from the family farm, as well.

During the first couple of years, Brad's wife, Meg, who grew up east of Jackson, stayed in the Twin Cities to generate income while the business was getting its feet off the ground.

Growth

Twenty-five years later, NFP now has operations across seven states — Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Wyoming — and raises 1.4 million hogs for harvest each year. NFP also partners with processing facilities in St. Joseph, Missouri and Sioux City, Iowa, along with bacon production plants in St. Joseph, Missoula, Montana and Salt Lake City, Utah. (NFP hogs are used in Daily's brand bacon.)

Following the 2008 economic crisis, the Frekings decided to diversify NFP's production and expanded into 16,000 acres of domestic farmland and 30,000 acres of corn, soybeans and sugar cane in the Central American country of Belize. Those crops go into NFP feed mills, which feed NFP pigs, whose manure is used to fertilize NFP fields ... and so on. The company now operates on a cycle, with each step of pork production feeding into the next.

Between live operations, partnerships and Belize farmland, NFP touches nearly 7,000 employees in total.

"The Freking family has always made a point to celebrate their employees," Animal Well-being and Quality Assurance Manager Emily Erickson said.

NFP makes efforts to support its employees through wages and benefits, but also by hosting activities for families to socialize together, such as a company-wide Christmas party each year.

Community service

The company is also active in community service. In 2014, NFP started Jackson County Food 4 Kids, a program that provides weekend food packs for food-insecure kids, explained Linette Freking, who heads the initiative.

"Hungry kids struggle to learn," said Brad Freking.

NFP works with school guidance counselors in Jackson County to help identify which students may need additional food support. After counselors recommend a student for the Food 4 Kids program, there is a one-page application to ensure the kid is truly in need. Food packs include Friday night dinner and all three meals Saturday and Sunday. Linette Freking said Food 4 Kids makes sure the food provided comprises all the food groups.

Emily Erickson (left) and Linette Freking hold food packs that are provided through NFP's Jackson County Food 4 Kids program, an initiative that has been helping area school children since 2014. (Leah Ward / The Globe)
Emily Erickson (left) and Linette Freking hold food packs that are provided through NFP's Jackson County Food 4 Kids program, an initiative that has been helping area school children since 2014. (Leah Ward / The Globe)

"Even though we're in a very food-rich community," Linette noted, "there is a need." She added that one in six grade school children are food insecure.

With help from Second Harvest food bank, Food 4 Kids sends food packs home with about 150 kids each week, amounting to about 5,700 packs or 40,000 meals each school year.

"Some of the letters we get at the end of the year are unbelievable," Brad Freking said, adding that "the kids don't view it as a negative" but feel special when their teachers place the food packs in their backpacks.

Individuals and organizations can schedule a time to help assemble food packs, the Frekings added. Details are available on jacksoncountyfood4kids.org.

In addition to its private efforts, NFP has also lobbied for grant funding that makes it possible for the elementary school to cook lunches for kids over summer break.

"It's been great for us to give back to the community," said Meg Freking.

Food 4 Kids is not NFP's only community service program.

"We are huge supporters of 4-H and FFA," Brad said.. Many of NFP's leaders have participated in one or both programs.

"It's a great avenue for us to find talent," added Meg.

NFP also has a Community Pride Team that organizes activities such as Coats for Kids and a Christmas gift drive. The team looks for other opportunities to support the communities in which its employees live and work, as well. For example, NFP gives financially to local fire departments in its associated communities.

"They're critical for the safety of our employees and our sites," Meg said.

Future plans

Looking forward, the Frekings said they are waiting for the dust to settle on the newly inaugurated feed mill in Round Lake and processing plant in Sioux City — both of which opened in the last two years — before making any more major plans.

They are also "batting down the hatches" for African Swine Fever, Brad added. The swine disease is decimating hog populations around the world, but has not spread to the United States.

Since 25% to 30% of U.S. pork is exported, Brad said, African Swine Fever has the potential to do serious damage if it were to come to the U.S. However, in the meantime, the U.S. can benefit from exporting pork to countries blighted by African Swine Fever. For example, he noted, hogs are five times the price in China than they are here.

"We're taking a cautious approach" to disease prevention, Brad said. No matter what happens, he noted, NFP has a plan.

Ultimately, NFP's goal is to build on its momentum.

"We want to see growth with our whole employee family — to help us grow, and create the best quality pork we can at a great value," Meg Freking said.