Illinois pig farmer and Faces of Farming & Ranching Thomas Titus talks with dietitians and nutritionists at the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE) about the sustainability of today’s SMART farms.

By: Thomas Titus, Illinois Pig Farmer

Two years ago, back in November 2014, five agricultural enthusiasts across the country began a journey together of further developing and defining ourselves as advocates for the agricultural community. The U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) selected each one of us for the experience of a lifetime by being the voice of agriculture as a Face of Farming and Ranching.

Traveling from coast to coast, we participated in a productive dialogue, answered challenging questions and had the opportunity to gain a better grasp of ensuring we meet consumers’ demands. We accomplished this on various occasions by sharing our level of acumen about today’s farmers growing and raising a sustainable food supply and highlighting what we do on our own farm. 

Personally, I had the opportunity to interact with several food influencers at conventions, farm tours and share our farm story on a broad and diverse stage. What began as a meager social media stunt posting merely a few pictures on Facebook hastily evolved into something so much more. Advocating for American agriculture may not always be an effort that impacts a farm’s bottom line, but rest assured, it safeguards our next generation to continue farming and utilizing the tools and technologies that help us be the most efficient in our endeavors.

As farmers, we are not able to be at every conference or food discussion in the supermarket to be a resource of knowledge of what actually happens on our farms. In a world where Google, Bing, or even Siri are the greatest sources of information about food, we always need to consider our role in the food chain and every farmer’s capability to advocate for our profession. I encourage everyone (no matter the level of activity, number of posts or followers one may have) to make an impact in what sometimes seems like a sea of inaccurate headlines and food company statements against production practices. We truly have the potential to influence the food buying decisions of those around us.

Oftentimes, we reference the cliché phrase of ‘conversations about food can happen anywhere because we all eat – farmers and consumers alike,’ which is ultimately true. Some of my fondest interactions are with taxi and Uber drivers, restaurant waiters or in a bit more extreme case – an encounter with a vegan activist group outside of Harvard University. Real conversation such as these leave a lasting impression and impact, many times because it’s their first time meeting a farmer.

Shishko, who’s a taxi driver I met in New York City, still reaches out to me to this day, and we’ll commonly discuss food trends that he is seeing. Think about the number of fares and passengers he has every day, the many conversations he’s had, and the ultimate reward when discussing food and agriculture with others – Shishko has a resource.

These past two years have been a whirlwind of opportunity and immense learning while interacting with today’s consumers. Though, frustrating as it may seem to admit, my parents we right, the more we age, the faster time passes. As it seems merely yesterday we began this journey, this phase has reached its conclusion. We are all a bit more experienced and well versed in discussing how we grow and raise food, but the most important takeaway has been the influential lifelong connections we’ve made.

The chance USFRA took on five farmers and ranchers, representing pigs, cattle, corn, soybeans and many other commodities, is an opportunity I’ll always be grateful for. Though, the greatest appreciation goes to an extremely supportive farm family, especially my wife Breann Titus, who at a moment’s notice is able to pick up ALL of the slack while I’m on a food-infused rollercoaster across the U.S.

Thomas Titus, a member of the second class of Faces of Farming & Ranching, is a pig farmer from Illinois.

Over the last 52 years, Thomas’s 240-acre farmstead has grown to support four families, three full-time employee families and two part-time employees. Thomas primarily manages the operation of Tri Pork, where they market 12,000 pigs annually. With roots in 4-H, FFA and youth development, they have 50 sows for show pig production, sale and exhibition. This allows their children to learn the joys of showing livestock and helps them develop character-building values.

All opinions expressed are the writer's own. Funded by one or more checkoff programs.