Seeing how the other half works

December 01, 2003|by DON AINES

At the Franklin Hog Farm, employees and visitors must shower and change clothes before entering, while the shower on the way out is optional, according to Tom Sollenberger, the farm's manager.

The showers are part of the farm's "biosecurity" system, protecting the 16,000 or more animals from contamination, according to Sollenberger, who has worked at the Peters Township farm for seven years.

Largely computerized, mechanized and climate-controlled, the operation belies the popular image of the farmer slopping a few dozen swine in a pigsty.


Each year, as part of Farm-City Week, farmers and non-farmers take a day to see how the other half works as part of the job exchange program. The participants recounted their experiences last Tuesday at the annual Farm-City Week Banquet in the Kauffman Ruritan Center.

Farm-City Week, which officially ended last Friday, has promoted peaceful co-existence between rural and urban communities since established by the Kiwanis Club International in 1955, according to Dalton Paul, who has chaired the Franklin County Farm-City Week Committee for 32 years.

Promoting urban-rural accord, however, is something the local committee does all year, Paul said.

"I was expecting 'The Flintstones' and got 'The Jetsons,'" Franklin County Warden John Wetzel said of his day at Mercer Vu Farm near Mercersburg, Pa., a few weeks ago. Wetzel said he had not visited a farm since an elementary school class trip.

"There's no guesswork involved," Wetzel said of what he saw at the dairy farm, where Rod Hissong and his family milk about 900 head a day. From knowing how much each cow should produce to matching favorable traits through artificial insemination, Wetzel said the staff has it down to a science.

He was even a little envious of the farm's technology.

"Their security system had proximity cards, and here I am running a jail and we use keys," Wetzel said. "When you're jealous of a farmer's security system, you've got issues," he said recently.

"When you see cells made for one, or possibly two, people with three people in them, I know I wouldn't want to be there," Hissong said of his visit to the county prison, which has been setting records for inmate population in recent months.

"That should be enough to keep anyone out" of jail, Hissong said of the prison lunch he sampled.

Hissong said he was impressed by Wetzel's efforts at managing the crowded facility and both men noted similarities between their professions, which call for a high degree of regimentation.

"Cows like routine and people like routine," Hissong said.

At Tuesday's banquet, Hissong noted another similarity between the farm and the prison.

"You never leave the gate open," he said.

"We went over to a wetlands project in the Doylesburg (Pa.) area, my old stomping grounds," George Book of BAPS, an automotive painting business in Chambersburg, said of his visit with Terry Snyder, a farm game manager for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Book said he learned that Snyder works with about 800 farmers to preserve wetlands with man-made impoundments.

"It controls the water flow and makes a habitat for wildlife," he said.

"I work mainly on dairy farms and beef operations around the county, preserving small game habitats for rabbits, pheasants" and other wildlife, Snyder said recently. The program also helps keep land open for public hunting, he said.

For his part, Snyder learned there is more to automotive painting than picking a can off the shelf. BAPS uses a system that photographs a vehicle finish and puts the information into a computer, which then produces the desired formula for mixing.

"There's some rather exotic paints and some of it is rather expensive," according to Book, who said some specialized shades can run $400 or more a gallon.

Sollenberger gave a tour of Franklin Hog Farm on a recent day, showing off a completely enclosed operation where 10 employees are able to breed, wean and raise thousands of hogs. The farm has about 2,800 sows and approximately 4,000 piglets are being weaned at any one time.

After the piglets reach 21 days, they are transferred to the nursery "for a little more TLC before they go to the finishing floors," Sollenberger said. About 12,000 young swine are raised to about 70 pounds in the nursery before going onto the finishing floors, which are company-owned or contracted feed operations that raise them to a market weight of about 250 pounds.

In the other half of the exchange, Sollenberger went to the Franklin County Courthouse, where he saw a man convicted of attempted homicide and robbery sentenced to a minimum of 38 years in prison.

"It was very interesting to see how the procedure worked," Sollenberger said of the sentencing. He also experienced going through the courthouse metal detector and security checkpoint for the first time.

While less than 3 percent of the people in Pennsylvania are farmers, Paul said, "when you take in what I call agribusiness ... then you get involved with thousands of more jobs."

Striking a balance between agriculture and development promotes "a good solid economic community with diversity," he said.

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