On Sunday my son sold his pig

When the pig litters came in January, the Farmer helped my son pick out pigs for his 4H project. They picked four, because you never know, really, how a pig will grow. So you start with four and pick two after a few months.

My son woke up every morning and fed his pigs, for six months. And after three months, he walked with the pigs, around in a circle, twice a day, to train the pig for the show.

There is huge variety in the amount of help parents give their kids in these projects. Some kids’ parents buy show pigs from out of state and the kids take very little care of them until the fair. Some kids do everything themselves.

I think it’s a lot like an allowance for a city kid. Each family manages the potential pitfalls of an allowance themselves. (My brother is a banker and he uses allowances to teach the concept of compound interest.) We decided it would be best if our son did most of the work. Doing the work is more important to us than getting a ribbon.

While my son trained the pig, the Farmer trained my son. So much of going to the county fair with a pig is showmanship. There are rules you could never know being an outsider: Always make eye contact with the judge, never show frustration with the pig, keep the pig between you and the judge.

That first rule is huge for my son. He has Asperger's and his eye contact is naturally limited. For someone with Asperger's, eye contact is awkward, overwhelming, and extremely tiring.

The Farmer understands this problem very well, because when the Farmer is having a difficult discussion with me, I cover my eyes. So he focused especially on teaching our son to make eye contact with the judge.

The day of the fair, my son was dressed up. Well, for a farmer. He had on a collared shirt and clean jeans. He had all the accoutrements of a great pig showman, including the brush you use in case the pig gets dirty in the ring. (You brush off the dirt when the judge is not looking — another tricky rule that no city person could glean.) He stood by the pen, watching his pigs, all cleaned up and ready to go for nearly an hour.

We had been preparing for so long. We had done preparation to help my son deal emotionally with the pigs getting slaughtered. We had prepared him for the chaos of lots of pigs, and utter boredom of waiting for his pigs’ weight class to be called. We had not prepared him for the huge tension that permeated the ring.

My son showed four different times. The first time he showed his pig by weight. His pig weighed 287 pounds. As he waited by the show ring for his turn, we realized he would be showing his pig in a weight class with all older kids.

The ring was hot and crowded and chaotic. But guess what? He did a great job.

It turns out that the Farmer was not quite up to date on showing pigs. For one thing, people shave their pigs now and we didn’t know that. So we had the only hairy pig. Another thing: The pig show does not reward pigs who are healthy and trouble-free and can be raised in a profitable family business. So, the pig show rewards a certain kind of shape and heft and it’s a type the Farmer doesn’t raise, so I can’t tell you that our pigs placed very high in the competition.

All those unexpected obstacles did not faze my son. He stuck to what we practiced and did well at that. We showed his pigs three more times. Each time he got a little more confident. And I felt like my son was growing up, right in front of me. There is so much you can do to prepare for the world, but really, you grow only as you succeed or fail. You learn so much about yourself in that moment.

I watched the Farmer watch our son.

And we were both nervous. It’s good to have the feeling that at some point, there is nothing more you can do. At some point, it’s time to fail or not fail. Those moments have been so important for me, and for the Farmer, and I was glad we could give that moment to my son.

And, he still got a ribbon. Third place.

I found myself hugging and kissing the Farmer a gazillion times — one for every hour they spent together practicing. And when there was a special category for kids from farm families (technically: for pigs that were raised on the same farm as the mother pig) where there were only eight qualifying kids (out of about 200 kids showing pigs) and I was so happy to have my son in that bunch. I’m so happy I’m raising my kids on a farm.

Sunday was the auction. The Farmer helped my son wash the pigs to get them ready. This was two days after my son showed his pigs, so by now, he felt like a pro around the stalls at the fair.

I know that the lesson here is that running a business and earning money is really hard work. But the sweetness of my son and the Farmer working together made me choke up again and again. I think there is also a lesson here that if you work with people you love working with, it doesn’t really feel like work.

I was actually worried sick that my son’s pig wouldn’t sell. Most county fairs have a 4H show, but they don’t auction the animals because there wouldn’t be enough bidders. Our county, Lafayette, has an auction that is renowned, even in Wisconsin, for having huge community support. The local businesses bid way above market and neighbors bid on each others’ animals for the sole purpose of creating a good community that teaches kids how to raise an animal and sell it.

To give you an idea of how special this community is when it comes to the 4H auction, San Diego County has 3 million people and it raises $400,000 at their 4H auction at the county fair. Lafayette County raises $100,000 from a population of 15,000.

This is the first sale of the auction.

I was so nervous that Melissa told me, “No more talking!” But I ended up making her register as a bidder because I was so scared that no one would bid.

The auctioneer announces the parents of the kid. I think this is why three bunnies sold for $600. When the auctioneer said “Penelope Trunk,” I felt ill. But then it all happened so fast. He came into the ring, and he looked so in tune with his pig, and so self-confident in his ability to manage the pig.

Bidding started. Market price for a pig like this is sixty cents a pound. The Farmer said anything over ninety-nine cents is a good sale. I told Melissa she should bid if it doesn’t go to a dollar a pound. But right away, the bidding got to a dollar. And the pig sold for $2.50 a pound.

I get choked up writing this. The guy who bought the pig is a guy who buys a lot of cattle from the Farmer. The guy who bought the pig is a farmer himself. He’ll eat the pork, for sure, but I’m sure he bought the pig because he believes in 4H and the county fair and what it teaches kids. And he believes we are part of the community, too: me and my sons and the Farmer.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, Parenting
179 comments on “On Sunday my son sold his pig
  1. Chris Yeh says:

    Love this post. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a close-up of your son. He really has your eyes.

  2. Tristan says:

    Cute kid and great story! You definitely have the right to be proud.

    You best posts (and everyone’s best posts, for that matter) are the personal ones with just a bit of business thrown in, not the business ones with just a bit of personal thrown in. And this post is a perfect example of that.

  3. Annika Swenson says:

    Wow–did this ever evoke so many childhood emotions. Having been in 4H my entire childhood (in NW Wisconsin) and now living just north of you in Iowa County, I appreciate the life you are providing and showing your sons on the farm. I have to say…this makes me so proud to be a part of small, rural communities. Even if we’re ‘transplants’ from other locales, somehow the natives don’t treat us as exotic species…all the time. :)

  4. Maria says:

    This is such a beautiful post, and my favorite of all your posts on this blog.

  5. Somer says:

    last line gave me chill bumps. pulling for all of you, SLC

  6. Angela says:

    One thing I admire and respect about you is that you allow your boys to be individuals. You support and encourage what THEY are interested in (music, raising pigs), which many parents have a hard time doing (you know those families: every kid must play soccer or the violin). Also, your husband must be thanking his lucky stars to have such amazing young men in his life (along with you, of course!)

  7. Tammy H says:

    This was a wonderful post and it truly shows the importance of community within a small town. We have a local 4-H sale in our small town of 3500 every year and we get huge community support. We only sell fed steer at our sales and this year our members sold 17 steers at an average of $2941.00 each. Our sale grossed over $50000.00. We have some buyers who have bought every year for the entire 24 years our club has been active and at least 15% of all of the steers sold will go on to auctions so these people aren’t even buying for thier freezer but for thier community.

    On a second note, you and the farmer are doing an amazing thing for your son through this program, with or without Aspergers what he learns in 4-H will benefit him everyday of his life.

    Great pictures of a great day.

  8. Regina Twine says:

    A sense of community and belonging. What a beautiful thing to give to your family Penelope. Thanks for making me tear up and remember how much I’m searching for this.

  9. AnnieBee says:

    That last line made my cry. I’m so happy for you and your sons and your farmer husband / family.

  10. Jennifer says:

    LOVE.

  11. Rebeca Dunn-Krahn says:

    I’m at work and people are wondering why I’m sitting here sniffling. My chow mein is not too spicy, it’s just this post! Congratulations to your son.

  12. Casey says:

    This post got me thinking about how much your life has changed. I thought about how when you and the farmer were dating, that you mentioned wanting to live and raise your kids on the farm. I just put an offer on a house that scares me to death because it sits on 3/4 of an acre. Not a farm by any stretch of the imagination, but a lot of responsibility for a single mother with three young kids. But when I saw this house, I knew that I want my kids to grow up there. I want them to have some of the same responsibilities I had growing up, such as watering the vegetable garden, mowing the lawn, weeding, pruning trees, etc. If I get the house, we are even considering getting a goat to help keep the weeds down. I love what your kids are learning. I think land and animals are a good way of providing some great experiences and excellent lessons.

    By the way, your son is a beautiful boy.

  13. Amy says:

    Not to be too didactic, but this is a great example of celebrating your kid’s milestones without helicopter parenting. What a cool experience!

  14. KateNonymous says:

    What a wonderful post! There is so much here about family and parenting and community. I love it.

    And congratulations to your son. It sounds like the whole process was a tremendous success, and an amazing experience that he’s sure to have learned a lot from. Well done to all of you!

  15. Lisa says:

    What a lovely, lovely post. I have a tear in my left eye. If you work with people who take care of you, teach you, have pride in your success, it feels absolutely less like work. I suppose if pigs are included that could be a plus. I love the photo of the Farmer pinching his fingers with nerves for your boy.

  16. thatgirl says:

    there’s so much for everyone in this story. can’t help but connect it to earlier discussions about the debate between academic and experiential learning.

    most of all, this illustrates how people best form their families–through day to day living and learning with one another, rather than separating themselves into separate corners, dialed into only themselves. maybe, just maybe the farmer can see a future life and farm of his own–apart from the tension of his parents, and in seeking support and harmony with his chosen family. bravo!

  17. Maren says:

    Long time reader, but don’t think I’ve ever commented before.

    Just had to say, this is a great post! Your gift for writing really shines when you focus on the intersection between family and work.

  18. Tim Murphy says:

    Very cool to read about parents instilling solid values in their kids, and spending the time necessary to do so. Sounds like you and the Farmer struck the perfect balance between guidance and independence. I’m from Wisconsin, so I also really enjoyed hearing about how your community supports its 4H program. Great post.

  19. Danielle says:

    Made me weepy. Loved this post. I have very two young boys and my husband and I are seeking to relocate from our fancy suburb to a more rural area for so many reasons. This post added to my feeling secure about our decision. Beautiful boy, btw.

  20. sut says:

    I cried reading this. x

  21. Peter says:

    A fabulous account of what you all are about.

  22. sophie says:

    I got so choked up reading this. This, Penelope, is your most beautiful post. I can feel all your emotion in it, maybe because my kids showed animals in 4-H too, but also because your writing and photography. I’m so happy that you had this experience and felt this way – you realize this is such a long way from your posts a couple years ago. So proud of you P, and the Farmer, and your son.

    Your son! He’s BEAUTIFUL! Okay, he’s probably prefer handsome. But tell him he can look people in the eye because he has the most beautiful eyes in the world. People want to see them. Tell him that.

  23. Cheval says:

    Raising kids is such hard work but as your story tells, it opens doors to the most important things in life. thanks

  24. Geanine says:

    This is a beautiful post, Penelope, your best one ever! What a wonderful experience for your son and entire family. I’m soooo happy for you! Lots of love and support there on so many levels. The Farmer is a good man. :-)

  25. Jessica Thompson says:

    I am grinning from ear to ear. I am so happy for you and your family. What an awesome experience! You seem so much more peaceful at the Farm. I really think that you’re doing a fantastic job with your kids.

  26. Irving Podolsky says:

    Another moving post, Penelope.

    I am glad you shared with us another inspiring story about families coming together; parental families, community families, and neighborhood families. I miss that. I’ve never had a sense of belonging in my life and I’m not sure if that’s because I’m a loner by nature, or because I never found a tribe that felt like home. Or trust.

    But getting back to you, your sons and the farmer; it’s seems like it’s working out. And I am sincerely happy for you.

    Irv

  27. Rich says:

    Thanks for the uplifting post. I thought you were going to say that the lessoned learned was about mentorship. The Farmer, perhaps not well versed in the current (process? technology?) show details, did know enough to get by. And more importantly he developed your son’s confidence for when the big moment arrived. And if there is one thing I have learned in business, it’s that confidence is most of the challenge.

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Great comment, Rich. You make such good points about mentoring. You could be my blog-post co-author :)

      – Penelope

    • Steve C says:

      I agree with you Rich. I would add that confidence is a critical part of almost everything life brings, not just in business. Excellent comment.

  28. Regina Twine says:

    Actually Rich has a great point. I would love to hear the Farmer’s or your son’s account of this mentorship.

  29. josh holley says:

    We raised animals when I was younger and I miss that simpler life. The farm not only taught me how to work but taught me how to love it. I love stories of how children come into a farm situation and thrive. It sounds like yours are doing just that.
    Thank you for such a good story and for sharing your family with us. I only hope my children get this chance someday as well.

  30. Sarah Bush says:

    I welled up on that one Penelope. Beautiful.

  31. Cristina says:

    That is a very sweet story! Although as a city person and a dog-owner, it is hard for me to imagine parting with a pig that I had raised since birth (in a not-as-livestock way), I think it’s a wonderful experience for a child to have.

  32. Robert says:

    What a powerful, wonderful, and poignant rush this post has given me — thank you, Penelope. As some others have commented, this lovely story is my all-time favorite, too. I also note, it is the pinnacle, or epiphany, of all those that came before; they were all necessary to this post’s unique and beautiful unfolding.

    A practical tip for people with Asperger’s: My son, now 15 years old, is an Aspie. His way of dealing with the extreme discomfort of making eye contact is to focus on another’s left ear, rather than her eyes. Outside a range of about six feet, this tactic works well; the other person cannot tell the difference. If your son actually is able to make the contact, all the better, of course, but if in future that becomes difficult again, he might try the ear thing.

    Love,
    Robert

  33. Brooke Farmer says:

    This made me tear up. Not so much for you and your son and the farmer, but because I try so hard to find the thing that will really get through to my son and help him find that confidence. I haven’t found it, but I know there is something.

    I guess I have to keep on searching. I can’t wait to see what it is.

  34. Kerry says:

    This really is my favorite post of yours ever. SO many levels of good stuff.

    I’m happy for all of you (well, except the pig).

  35. jacqueline says:

    Those moments: And I felt like my son was growing up, right in front of me. Those moments are so filled with brightness they almost hurt. Thank you for this post, I forgot about what they felt like.

  36. Bill says:

    I have to admit that it’s been a while since I saw one of your articles as worth reading.

    This one was. Good job by both you and your son… The Farmer, too.

  37. Karla says:

    Loved this post. I am the working Mom of 7 year old twins and this post was just right on so many levels. I am so glad things are working out with the Farmer.

  38. Joanne says:

    I haven’t commented on your blog in YEARS, but this post was very moving. It also shows how “lifelong learning” isn’t just a trite phrase, and how it’s so important to be open to new experiences and learning new skills.

  39. Stan says:

    Penelope,

    While writing prose you have really composed poetry of the highest order. It is touching at some many levels and a great example of what real community can be like even in this highly chaotic world today. Congratulations!

  40. Lesa says:

    I am so moved by this story. You have a wonderful way of taking us with you into your world. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  41. Carolyn says:

    I’m so touched by your life on the farm and what it’s doing for you and your family – so many wonderful life lessons! I too got teary-eyed reading your post. We’re all so busy glued to our electronic devices and going like sixty — this post reminds us about what’s really important. Your son will remember this experience for the rest of his life.

  42. David says:

    Nice story.

    I guues y’all is really farm peeps now!

    Congrats to your son on a job well done!

  43. Yuse Lajiminmuhip says:

    Amazing post. Your writing just keeps getting better and better. Maybe your lifestyle has something to do with it.

  44. Kathy says:

    Penelope….have you heard the saying: anyone can be a father but it takes someone special to be a Dad? I think the Farmer has turned into a Dad. How wonderful is that?

  45. Simon Mayeski says:

    Your best.post.ever. And wonderful pictures.

    Should be an award for that :)

  46. Kelly Queijo says:

    Penelope, this is a beautiful post. I am thinking the Farmer must truly enjoy seeing something he has done all his life through new eyes. How wonderful for all of you!

  47. vicky says:

    Another great post! Gotta ask: Did your son cry when he realized (even though he did of course know before) where the pig was going next? That is the sad part.

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Yes, my son did cry. We tried to prepare him in small ways. For example he did not give the pigs names. But he still got teary the last time he saw them before they went to the butcher.

      A bigger problem, to be honest, is my son’s goats. He used his own money to buy them but he can’t bear to kill them, so we had to tell him that he can’t keep expanding his herd if he can’t turn it into a business. (Common refrain from the Farmer: “This is not a petting zoo.”)

      -Penelope

      • Kristi says:

        Sipping coffee, reading and trying not to break into full on tears at the office. Amazing capture of what the 4-H programs was developed for. As a kid who joined 4-H to get over my fear of basically the world I can tell you the lesson your son is learning will last a lifetime. I did so much in 4-H and the confidence you gain is second to none. We had our county fair last year and I love watching my niece and nephews develop and grow. My niece is one hell of a showman. This year we worked on eye contact with the judge and smiling. She does great with the eye contact but gets nervous so she uses a fake smile that includes rolling her top lip under. I'd recently watched Dr. Temple Grandin's documentary and how her Aunt taught her facial expressions from photos of herself. So I went over photos of my nieces various smiles and then we did hand signals. Thumbs up real smile, thumbs down fake. By her second round in the ring she was working that judge like a pro. Cracked me up! When she received Grand Champion for her age group for showmanship well I couldn't wipe that smile off her face.

        I also would like to comment on the petting zoo refrain from the farmer. I think it's the full cycle of learning that 4-H teaches you. You treat the animals with respect and you produce a sellable product that you grow to love. It's hard and I cried some big tears even in the auction ring but those 4-H animals if raised correctly lead a great life. I like how Dr. Grandin states this regarding making slaughter houses more humane, "Nature is cruel; we don't have to be."

      • Legion says:

        I know quite a few gents down here in Texas that have goat herds who sell to land owners who just want self-propelled lawn mowers.

        Some guys down here will dump a bunch on their hunting leases and just let the go wild. A good way to stock it with game and keep the vegetation in check.

    • Katrina Miller-Fallick says:

      My daughter raised pigs as a Junior in High School (as part of FFA). And she still cried at the end. Heck, I almost did too, and I grew up on a farm and have even butchered animals my self.

      I think it’s ok to cry, a little. It really gives you an appreciation for life.

  48. Kim says:

    Blended families are complicated in different ways than two-parents-who-had-all-the-kids families. This was beautifully and honestly illustrated by the often-changing “my son”/”our son” references in your post. The Farmer is fathering those beautiful boys beautifully, and I am happy that you can’t help but lapse into the “our.” Lovely because it’s springs from pure love.

  49. ResumeWriter says:

    Yep. A bit weepy.

  50. Rosario says:

    Catching up with the blog-Is the farmer the guy in a red t-shirt? He is hot in a nerdy kind of way. Not bad at all.
    Nice picture of your son. So cute.

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