The Ontario Pork Congress once drew 10s of thousands of farmers to Stratford to learn about the industry and improve their farms. As the number of hog farmers has plunged, the event has spawned a week-long celebration of pork as a food.
The Ontario Pork Congress continues to grow, with more exhibitors than last year and more young people showing their pigs in the Bacon Maker Classic.
The annual celebration of everything pork in Ontario is happening again June 20 and 21, with the sector at a relatively healthy place.
Chris Crump, president of the Ontario Pork Congress (OPC) said at an event promoting the annual trade show that the show has invested in resources in the past year to better promote and manage the show.
Crump runs Agriculture Ultrasound, a company that provides custom ultrasound services to livestock producers, including swine herds across Ontario and around the world.
He said the volunteer board of directors that runs the OPC is a great group to work with. The show is run with support from the Ontario Pork Industry Council.
Over the years, the volume of producers attending the show has declined dramatically, from 10s of thousands in the 1970s to about 2,500 now. That’s meant the show had to find its way to its current form as a networking hub for the sector.
It’s also meant that the sessions at the show have evolved from producer information on production, to showcases of how pork is now used by its buyers. Taste the Best challenges six restaurants to take a certain cut of pork and make it into an original creation for farmers and OPC attendees to try.
The OPC has also created the Hog Jog to raise funds for a community cause that changes each year. This year the funds will go to the Local Community Food Centre, on behalf of the Clare Schlegel and Richard Yantzi families who are co-chairs. It now has more than 500 participants.
There are other pork-related festivities in the Stratford area that are tied to the Pork Congress. Hog Wild Week in Stratford is a week-long celebration of pork that sees restaurants in the area feature pork on their menus. And the weekend after the OPC is the Stratford RibFest and Blues Fest. Its organizing committee has representation from the Ontario Pork Council committee, including Joe Dwyer, of Dwyer Manufacturing. Dwyer said the RibFest features competitors barbecuing pork products that are all produced in Ontario.
At the OPC, there are 61 children who have registered for the Bacon Maker Classic, the live hog show held in a tent outside of the main show.
“The live show has always been a favourite of mine,” said Crump. “I have been involved in this show for close to 30 years and I’m thrilled it continues to be a growing part of the Congress.”
The live show is held on the second day of OPC so farmers with biosecurity concerns can avoid that day. It’s also broadcast inside the OPC facilities.