Award winner Mensink is invaluable to Minnesota Pork
PRESTON — Craig Mensink took on his first batch of feeder pigs as a sophomore in high school to support his college fund, at his father's advice.
It was the first step toward his decades of service to the industry, which earned him the Distinguished Service award at the Minnesota Pork Congress in January.
Mensink and his wife, Pam, are the third generation of pig farmers on their rural Preston land. They're known in the community for their giving spirit, volunteering at their church, the county fair and many pork advocacy groups.
If you shop at Cub Foods, you might have seen their photo in the meat department .
"We ended up doing a deal for Cub Foods because we sell pretty much exclusively to Hormel," Mensink said. "We didn't say anything to our kids, and pretty soon they're shopping in the Cities at Cub and call and say, 'Hey, did you know you're up in the store with your pictures?'"
The promotion was an effort to help customers see where their food comes from. It's one of many efforts Mensink has initiated to raise awareness about the industry and give back.
The Mensinks, who sell about 9,500 pigs to Hormel each year and grow corn and soybeans, have served pork burgers at the Fillmore County Fair and funded ground pork at the county food shelf for four years.
That's just the beginning of it.
Craig Mensink has been president of the Minnesota Pork Board and is a member of state pork committees. His most eventful work, however, has been with the Pork Checkoff, which he did from 2012-15.
"We were gone 60 days a year, all volunteer," he said. "If you want to know where a good barbecue place is in the United States, we've probably been to it."
Minnesota is third in the nation for hogs, next to Iowa and North Carolina, and Mensink has been a strong voice for the state. He's traveled to Russia, China, Brazil, Japan and Colombia.
Most notably, he did a media blitz in New York City once with former Food Network show "Chopped" champion Madison Cowan.
In all that he does, Mensink's goal is to help people understand what goes into the industry. He acknowledged sometimes there is a stigma about how pigs are grown. Things such as the recent Mercy for Animals video that caused Hormel to stop accepting hogs from a farm in Oklahoma contribute to "bad vibes." Mensink said it's very few who treat their animals in this way.
"Our son-in-law (Chad Persons) is out there taking such good care of (our pigs) right now," Pam Mensink said. "They're all warm and safe."
The Mensinks start early with making the inner workings of the pork industry clear. They've opened up their farm to elementary school students as part of a program called Provider Pals. A school in the Twin Cities sends classes to them every May.
"It was very rewarding but also kind of sad because all these kids have this concept of the grocery store as being where their food comes from," Craig Mensink said. "That's what we were trying to connect. We're trying to get it into the kids a little early."
To make it more fun, Mensink made a diagram of a pig to show them where the different cuts of meat come from, including the favorite pizza topping: pepperoni.
The Mensinks also have been part of Operation Main Street, a project that started in 2005 to connect civic groups to farming. Mensink spoke to several Lions Clubs and the Austin Chamber of Commerce, explaining how they raise pigs and how meat has become healthier during the last 50 years.
Going forward, a challenge is growing more advocates such as Mensink. He pointed to social media as an opportunity for the younger generation.
"They thought we were their voice, and it's so much easier for them to stay at home and work and expand their operations, but now they're realizing that it's their time to step up and come to the forefront," he said. "Which is great, because I'm the older generation, and I'm not the Facebook type, where all these kids now have that to offer. They can go on social media and get right to that now. We had to do it all with meetings and stuff, and they can do it in an instant."
Mensink sees the shift happen on his own farm, where daughter Megan and son-in-law Chad Persons help out more and more. But there's no question his service to the pork industry is as distinguished as you'll find.