From the Executive Director


I am coaching a Little League baseball team this summer. The team is made up of 11- and 12-year old boys, including my son. I have eleven boys of varying skill levels but all with one thing in common: enthusiasm for playing baseball. Their enthusiasm is contagious. No matter how uninspired you may be about baseball, you can't help but get caught up in their zest for the game. My first baseman summed it up best as he got ready for his first at-bat of the season when he turned to me, smiled, and said "Man, I love this game!"

Enthusiasm is an essential ingredient for the success of any endeavor. It can make a huge difference in the outcomes of our activities as well as in our responses to adversity and challenges that confront us. How many of us start our day with the feeling that we love what we are doing? Or at the very least can inject enthusiasm into some part of our day?

Enthusiasm may have a downside when it is in opposition to your beliefs or has a harmful impact on your activities. Recently, I attended a meeting entitled the "Summit for Sustainable Hog Farming." It was sponsored by the Waterkeeper Alliance from White Plains, New York. The meeting had been heralded as promoting "sustainable" hog farming. What it turned out to be was a thinly disguised rally against "factory farms." There was considerable enthusiasm, however misdirected it might have been.

Unless you consider anecdotal testimonies to be data, you would have been sorely disappointed in the presentations at this meeting. "Sustainable" was never clearly defined nor quantified, but I came away with the definite feeling that it excluded any type of confinement housing. Speaker after speaker bemoaned the loss of the family farm and reasoned that hog confinements were not sustainable and maybe even evil. They continually played on the nostalgic theme of the family farm, without ever defining the family farm of today or the future. The prevailing conspiracy theory was that "factory farms" are to blame for all of the woes faced by the industry.

A meeting of this type brings up an area of dissonance: how do you define a "factory farm?" From this meeting I heard three definitions:

  • You have more than 2000 pigs.
  • You have pigs in confinement (any number).
  • You take care of pigs that you do not own.
Choose any one or any combination of the three. I became quickly aware that none of these definitions was based on anything that resembled cognitive thought. Of course, this convenient lack of definition is certainly useful to the adaptation of a message to a particular target audience. The prevailing thought among the "experts" at this meeting was that they know a factory farm when they see it so don't bother them with the facts.

This type of enthusiasm is certainly harmful for the industry. It is being provoked and funded by individuals and groups who have no real desire to solve problems. They know how to raise enthusiasm and cash. They feed on controversy to support not only their agendas, but in many instances their livelihoods. They thrive on not reaching consensus or solving problems, for these would result in an end to their cause. They realize that solutions that benefit all members of the swine industry will do nothing to further the agenda of those who seek to destroy agriculture, family farm and all.

Personally and professionally, I found this meeting to be offensive in its nature, tone, and focus. As someone whose upbringing, livelihood, and lifestyle are all rooted in agriculture, I find it painful to watch as uninformed and mean-spirited people misrepresent the swine industry and try to destroy it.

What a contrast to the enthusiasm of my Little League team! These boys are there for the joy of playing the game of baseball. Win or lose, I know that they will be there for the next game, and the next, and the next. Their enthusiasm may wax and wane, but it is instantly ignited in the simple acts of catching the next fly ball or hitting that line drive into left field. Their enthusiasm is there at the core of their being. There is no agenda for these boys, just the love of a game and the enthusiasm that arises from it - doing something that they enjoy and that fulfills them. Perhaps we need to be reminded of this in our own profession once in awhile. Regardless of your level of participation, veterinary medicine and the swine industry need your enthusiasm more now than ever before.

And if you are ever in the Perry area, stop down by the ball field on a warm Sunday afternoon and I might even let you join us in the dugout. Man, I love this game!

-- Tom Burkgren

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This page last updated April 19, 2012.