September 8, 2023

Niman Ranch Awards $250,000 in Scholarships and Grants to Young Farmers

To commemorate Niman Ranch’s 25th annual Hog Farmer Appreciation Dinner, the pioneering natural meat brand’s Next Generation Foundation awarded nearly $250,000 in scholarships and grants for young farmers and future rural leaders in Des Moines, IA. First held in 1999, the celebration brings together Niman Ranch farmers, customers and partners to recognize and thank the brand’s network of independent family farmers.

For the 25th celebration held Aug. 25-27, the Niman Ranch community gathered at venues around Des Moines to network, learn and share ideas, culminating in the Saturday evening 600-guest dinner prepared by renowned chefs from across the country. Each course on the menu featured Niman Ranch pork. This year’s acclaimed chefs included Jamey Fader of Marczyk Fine Foods in Denver, CO, Jo Lerma-Lopez of LUNA Mexican Kitchen in San Jose, CA, Adrian Lipscombe of the advocacy organization 40 Acres Project in Austin, TX, Pushkar Marathe of Ela Curry Kitchen and Stage in Palm Beach, FL and Michael Showers of High West Distillery in Park City, UT.

The highlight of the evening was the presentation of scholarships and grants to Niman Ranch farm families by the Next Generation Foundation. Grants awarded support funding investments on the farm for humane livestock production and regenerative agriculture practices. Other high points of the dinner included a keynote address by legendary news correspondent and proud graduate of Pella, Iowa’s Central College, Harry Smith, as well as the presentation of several awards to Niman Ranch farmers and ranchers recognizing top meat quality and partnership anniversaries.

Leading up to the dinner were tours of local Niman Ranch farms and a full day of educational workshops co-hosted by leading food systems non-profit organization Food Tank. The education summit featured speakers from Natural Resources Defense Council, National Young Farmers Coalition, Fast Company, Bloomberg, Shake Shack, America’s Test Kitchen, Axios, Dine Diaspora, ButcherBox, ASPCA and many more. Highlights of the Summit were remarks shared by Nina Teicholz, celebrated author of The Big Fat Surprise and Toni Tipton-Martin, editor of Cooks Country Magazine from America’s Test Kitchen.

The first Hog Farmer Appreciation Dinner in 1999 was the brainchild of Paul Willis, himself a hog farmer and founder of the Niman Ranch Pork Company. Willis had experienced a 1998 dinner in Berkeley, CA at Café Rouge where Chef Marsha McBride expressed her appreciation for the quality of the pork he raised. He thought other farmers should be able to feel that same sense of pride, so he worked with Berkeley’s Chez Panisse to bring the dinner to Iowa. It was a rousing success for everyone involved and the tradition has continued ever since bringing a new group of celebrated chefs to Iowa annually.

Willis said the event has taken on a life of its own, becoming a family reunion for the Niman Ranch community. Niman Ranch general manager Chris Oliviero said, “The event is about making connections in our network and helping create an understanding of the role each of us plays. It’s also about recognizing and celebrating the contributions of our farmers.” He added, “The way hogs are raised by independent Niman Ranch farmers is becoming a lost art, but we’re supporting future generations so that art continues.” He also said Niman Ranch is committed to at least another 25 years of Hog Farmer Appreciation Dinners.

Congratulations to the 2023 Niman Ranch Next Generation Foundation Scholarship and Grant recipients:

Andy Arnold, Elizabeth, IL

Eric & Mikala Boor, Osceola, IA

Madison Boyle, Danbury, IA

Kallin Crile, Wayland, IA

Callie Ferneding, Carroll, IA

Jake Ferneding, Carroll, IA

Kailyn Frederick, Falls City, NE

Alayna Gerhardt-Crile, Wayland, IA

Joel Gindo, Elkton, SD

Ryan Goertzen-Regier, Newton, KS

Carter Goetz, Bridgewater, IA

Amos Graber, Lockridge, IA

Nikkita Grimm, Media, IL

Andrew Haan, Parkersburg, IA

Joshua Haan, Parkersburg, IA

Conner Hildreth, Rockwell City, IA

Maggie Hutton, Chestertown, MD

Brooks Ingels, Randalia, IA

Ava Jovaag, Austin, MN

Kaitlin Kleiboeker, Stotts City, MO

Alison Knutson, Centerville, SD

Kasandra Knutson, Centerville, SD

Sadie Kuehn, Mingo, IA

Lindsay Larson, Nelson, WI

Kody McCleary, Mendon, IL

Abby Moen, Decorah, IA

Morgan Moen, Decorah, IA

Cade Nolte, Wilton, IA

Mason Nolte, Wilton, IA

Andrew Oberreuter, Danbury, IA

Noah Oberreuter, Danbury, IA

Keara O’Brien, Ames, IA

Andrew Olson, Galesburg, IL

Jocelyn Ramos, Denison, IA

Josie Riggs, Falls City, NE

Haley Robb, Doniphan, NE

Ethan Roberts, Sidney, IA

Ryan Roberts, Sidney, IA

Molly Scott, Wellsville, MO

Chevelle Spaulding, Castana, IA

Mark Sperfslage, Seneca, KS

Levi Steinkamp, Wall Lake, IA

Tate Stewart, Moline, KS

Bennett Talsma, Chandler, MN

Logan & Mariah Thome, Saint Ansgar, IA

Macy Tiefenthaler, Breda, IA

Ephraim Van Zante, Fremont, IA

Morgan Wegs, Mount Sterling, IL

Peyton Wegs, Mount Sterling, IL

Wyatt Wiebe, Dawson, MN

Kelsey Wilson, Holliday, MO

Jason Wright, New Market, IA

Trisha & Nolan Zachman, Belgrade, MN

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