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.

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  1. Maggie
    Maggie says:

    Wonderful! I grew up on a small family farm and completely understand the discipline and care it takes to show animals. That dedication goes a long way in the working world as an adult. And good Midwest values don’t hurt!

  2. Lesa
    Lesa says:

    This was a lovely post that brought tears to my eyes. When you write about life on the farm, your writing is inspired.

    Maybe you should give up the idea that you are writing a business blog and just focus on life on the farm: relationships, the business of farming, parenting, etc.

    There are a lot of people writing about business but few, if any, writing about farm life from a city girls perspective.

    Just a thought….

  3. Abi
    Abi says:

    I loved reading this post and it made me think about what’s important for when I have kids – it’s doing the work – understanding a job well done and completion rather than the money.

    I felt like I was on an adventure with you all, I had to override my panic button so that I didn’t scroll straight to the bottom to make sure your son got something/sold/won – whatever the point was (Saaf London gal here – I get it, but I don’t get it!)

    And I love the photo of your son with his ribbon.

    Hairy pigs – I saw these on TV yesterday and your post reminded me of them: http://www.pigparadise.com/curly.html

    Lincolnshire Curly coats – weird, but cool but weird. For a minute, my world couldn’t compute and I felt a bit ill? I think I was imagining woolly bacon (gross) and then I just yelled “Sheep pig!” at the TV.

    Anyway, congrats to EVERYONE involved for all their hard work in the raising/showing/selling of pig.


  4. Elizabeth Harper
    Elizabeth Harper says:

    Nice to see I’m not the only one that got weepy reading this. Well done to all three of you! The Farmer sounds like a great helpmate and role model for your son.

    The pictures on this post added greatly to your story. Thanks for sharing them especially the happy look on your son’s face as he held up his ribbon.

  5. Morgan
    Morgan says:

    I got choked up reading this, too! Beautifully written and photographed. It sounds like you, your boys, and the farmer have found home.

    Would that we all did what we loved so we could love what we do.

  6. rb
    rb says:

    I loved this post. I am an office-inhabiting urban dweller now, but I was raised in the sticks and sold sheep at the county fair for the FFA. That connection to where our food comes from has been invauable for me. I can’t tell you how many times some idiot eating a hamburger has accused me of being heartless raising cute little lambies to be butchered.

    That is why today I love your commenters. Not one idiot of that variety so far. It must be a record!

    Lastly, your son is adorable. They are both adorable. You are a fortunate woman.

  7. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    If all parents took this approach think of how many people would go into careers that they love…
    GREAT! had to forward this one on….

  8. Dimity
    Dimity says:

    Penelope, please don’t tell me that people are going to eat those gorgeous pigs and that they’ll save them for breeding purposes!

  9. yvonne
    yvonne says:

    Fine looking pig. I raise pigs for the fairs in this area of eastern washington for the groups to have pigs to raise. Nothing fancy about like your son’s pig just several different breeds and lots of different colors. I do what I do because I want the groups to continue and possibly instill love of ag and animals, responsibility and work ethics, community, values and all manner of good things that come from doing it yourself. Great post enjoyed reading about your adventure into pigs. The lessons learned will last a life time. Long live small farms and the people who love the life.

  10. Tony
    Tony says:

    When you can write, “I watched the Farmer watch _our_ son”

    veils like “The Farmer” & “Citygirlfriend” have surely outlived their usefulness.

  11. Kari
    Kari says:

    So great. And I love love love the pictures – especially the one with the pig getting sprayed by the hose – looks like he’s smiling! (Ignorance is bliss….)

  12. Karynne
    Karynne says:

    Penelope, I’ve been reading your posts for probably a year now and have laughed, cried, occasionally cringed…but never moved to comment. This morning I read this post and it tugged my heartstrings. Thank you so much for showing us that the best writers connect in the way you did with this beautiful story.

  13. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Just had to comment because the post made me cry. Simply fantastic. What a great experience.

  14. Anna
    Anna says:

    Dear PT,
    You are not PW. Please go back to being yourself, instead of trying to be someone else. Thanks.

    • Jessica
      Jessica says:

      She lives on a farm. Her son raised a pig. He sold it. She shared the story. Good points about letting child do the work himself. How is this NOT being Penelope Trunk? You may not have liked the post but it is presumptuous to assume in sharing this part of her son’s achievement, that she is not being herself.

  15. David McKnight
    David McKnight says:

    Congrats to your son. Thank you for sharing and your own enthusiastic support to recognition the value this experience brought to your son. Our experience as farmers where with goats. The experiences and confidence of caring for those animals for my boys were priceless…and dad enjoyed himself too.

    Huge experience for career development! And life too.

  16. Leah McClellan
    Leah McClellan says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. I grew up on a farm too, with pigs, though it was only a small farm where my family just grew or raised stuff for our own consumption. But that helped me picture it all (have been to a county fair, too). It really is great to grow up on a farm–so many things to learn. Congrats to your son and his ribbon!

  17. Brian
    Brian says:

    Moving post, Penelope. Thanks for sharing.

    Tangentially, the pig story reminded me of a book, The Good Good Pig, which is about a woman who took in a runt that grew to become a member of the family. Perhaps not the best recommendation for a farm family, but it’s a heartwarming story, too.


  18. Kay Lorraine
    Kay Lorraine says:

    My favorite part of this post was where, after talking about “my son” many times, you slipped and said, “I watched the Farmer watch our son.”

    “Our son.” You’re makin’ progress, Penelope. And the Farmer is letting you post his picture. He’s making progress, too. Congratulations on the way your family is shaping up.

    Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing.

  19. Walt Darson
    Walt Darson says:

    another wonderful post. i think yours must be the most meaningful blog posts on the ‘net. they’re so dense with emotion and insight; they’re musical, in that they strike chords all over the place.

    your son’s got your beauty. wow, what a face!

    and a thousand thanks for your beautiful book (and the sweet inscription!). i’m using it to help me Figure Out What I Should Be Doing With My Life.



  20. Stephen Friederichs
    Stephen Friederichs says:

    Oh man does this post ever take me back! I did this for ten years I’m sure – every summer. It was great fun. It’s bad form on the white ribbon though. For those who don’t know, white means ‘third class’ not ‘third place’ and that’s not a third class hog by any means – it’s just not a high-powered show hog. I’m glad your fair had a division for family farms though. At least there’s still some respect for that.

  21. Bob Devine
    Bob Devine says:

    I just found you through a link on one of my favorite blogs. Five Feet Of Fury. Great post and I will be stopping by regularly I think.

  22. Smiley
    Smiley says:

    One of my favorite posts so far. Love it! You’re right – when you work with people you love, it doesn’t always feel like work because you’re with the people that mean the most to you. But, sometimes it does also feel like hel1. That’s okay, don’t give up! Working through the difficult parts helps to get you to those wonderful moments of sweetness, and they feel even sweeter because of what you have overcome together, how you see each other try, sometimes fail, recover, and finally -succeed. I am so happy I found your blog, it really changed my life.

  23. beth
    beth says:

    Loved this post. I have long since left the farm, but grew up in WI showing animals at the fair and many of those lessons I still use today, 40 years later….

  24. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    This is my first time commenting, but I’m a long-time fan. What a great post! I’m sure this experience will be one that your son treasures, forever. And you can just SEE the confidence in the later pictures when he’s showing the pigs!

  25. laurs
    laurs says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while, this is my first comment–this was a really touching post. It makes me want to live in a great community like yours. Congrats to your son!

  26. Tiffany T
    Tiffany T says:

    Greetings! My Uncle reads your blog and sent me this link knowing that I would enjoy it – and I loved it! We are in Florida and our kids show animals, too. And while our pig shows are nothing like you get to experience in your neck of the woods, they are what we have and we enjoy every second of it – from all the blood, sweat and tears at home to all the blood, sweat, and tears at the show. It’s a great family event and you are so right that it teaches the kids more about hard work and responsibility than it does about getting a ribbon or a check. Keep up the awesome work with the show animals – and I think you’ve just gained yourself a new reader.

    (While I have a blog I have not been blogging much lately. Reading your blog makes me want to get back in the swing of it!)

  27. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “There is huge variety in the amount of help parents give their kids in these projects.” and “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.”
    I definitely agree it was a good idea to allow your son to do most of the work. It allowed him to own any success (or failure) as a result of his own efforts. It reminds me of a model size, soap box derby car I built when I was a kid. I got some help from my Dad. There were some cars, though, that I had to race against that looked like they were designed and built in a professional workshop. Never thought that was fair. Nonetheless, it was a good experience.
    All the photos are good. Quite a marked contrast between the last two photos – the girl pulling on the cow and your son leading his pig.

  28. Amy Gibson
    Amy Gibson says:

    Brought tears to my eyes, thank you for sharing xx
    When I have children I plan to raise them in a rural setting but your experiences give me that extra reassurance that it can work.

  29. Kara Schilling
    Kara Schilling says:

    When I saw the title of your blog my first thought was, that looks boring. But I love animals, so I was like, what the heck? I agree with others, it is my favorite post of yours to date (and the first time I have commented). The joy and happiness you exude in this post is uplifting.

    PS- It choked me up also. I was sitting here thing, I am crying reading a blog. Great! :)

  30. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    I haven’t a comment on your posts until this one. Thanks for sharing an inspiring story with a great ending and future. Love that you & the Farmer are guiding your sons to follow through with any task that they start. It’s a great reminder for me in running my own business. Congrats to you son. I hope this is just the beginning of many more remarkable experiences.

  31. Dean
    Dean says:

    That is what it is all about Penelope – family and special moments in life, and slowing down enough to appreciate them.

  32. Tom
    Tom says:

    Super-awesome. After an amazing day in which I took the advice you post on here and had it succeed, this post takes it for fun.

  33. Mullins Farms
    Mullins Farms says:

    What a great story. My sis was in 4H and eventually became the 4H president for her chapter. Her pig used to roll over for her on command so she could scratch it’s belly. :)

    4H rocks. Keep up with it. It’s an awesome sport…

  34. Ems
    Ems says:

    Thanks for a great post Penelope! I grew up on a farm myself (though not in the US) and my mum and dad were always helping us start up little projects like growing watermelons to sell at Market, starting a sheep stud, selling manure, growing trees etc. It taught my brother and I so much about work ethic and community values, something I am sure you children will get growing up on a farm also. Its been a long time since I have lived on a farm, but I feel that growing up that way continues to define how I approach my work and life.

  35. Katherine Suszczewicz
    Katherine Suszczewicz says:

    Can you stand just a little more applause? wow. how wonderful for all of you.

  36. fd
    fd says:

    my all time favourite post from you. i think your son is learning some wonderful lessons. i’m slightly jealous of his childhood right now.

  37. Sadya
    Sadya says:

    Now this is what good parenting is, especially from someone who isn’t the biological parent. Why cant more parents be like this.

  38. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Best blog post ever! It’s special because you can feel the emotion in this writing. Great photos, great writing! I love the photo of your son’s face; he’s absolutely beautiful.

    Congratulations to all of you!

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