2024: Nancy Hovel

 

The Minnesota Pork Board recognizes Nancy Hovel as this year’s Pork Promoter of the Year Award recipient.

 

Nancy Hovel’s pork promotion efforts go back to the early 1990s when she first started to help organize the Goodhue County Pork Producers Food Stand at the Goodhue County Fair. Today, she has overseen the huge undertaking for nearly 30 years and is well-known around the county and surrounding areas for her countless hours of giving towards the pork industry and all of agriculture. Hovel’s ability to advocate for pork and unify all, from those in her own community to the public alike, is what earned her this year’s Pork Promoter of the Year award. 

A Ripple Effect

Growing up in Hastings, Minnesota, Hovel did not have a background in agriculture. Her husband grew up helping his uncle on his dairy, and after marrying Gary in 1980, the couple purchased their farm in 1986 near Cannon Falls. While raising their three children on the farm, the Hovel family was and continues to be united by agriculture. Each child continues to live near the farm to raise their own children, with seven total grandchildren forming the next generation. The Hovels farm pigs, cattle and crops as well as owning Hovel Farms Trucking.

Hovel became involved in 4-H when her children were of age, volunteering as the club’s Cloverbud leader. From there, peers noticed her leadership and generosity, encouraging her to volunteer in more ways than she could have ever imagined. Hovel was approached by a founding member of the Cannon Valley Fair Board of Directors asking if she would be interested in serving on the board. She has now been an active board member for 25 years, coordinating all the open class exhibits including livestock shows, horticulture, baking and much more. She also creates and publishes the fair handbook. 

Hovel was drawn to the county fair atmosphere because of her experience seeing youth and families grow, leading to her involvement at the pork producers stand. While her children grew more active in 4-H, Hovel spent many hours at the Goodhue County Fair during fair week. She began helping at the Goodhue County Pork Producers Stand nearly 30 years ago, which has grown into the ultimate destination for delicious pork and good company thanks to Hovel’s leadership and passion for the pork industry and for others.  

“Though her name is really Nancy, most in Goodhue County just call her ‘Ma,’ and no other name could be more fitting to describe a woman who takes in all people, both young and old, and cares about them as if they were her own kids,” commended Madison Hokanson, Goodhue County 4-H alumni and fellow pork producer.

A Community Affair

In the early years of the stand, the item offered was a sliced ham sandwich, which consisted of cooking and slicing ham for the sandwiches. Later, cheese was added, and items continued to be gradually added, expanding to a full menu of items today. The stand serves thousands of pounds of fresh pork to fairgoers each year.

The stand features breakfast, lunch and dinner, opening at 7:00 a.m. and closing after the grandstand events conclude, usually around 10:30 p.m. Hovel supports local businesses as much as she can, ordering many of the items from businesses in and near Goodhue County. Something unique about the menu is the ‘Big Oink’ challenge, which features a pork burger, pork chop, barbeque pork and slice of ham all on one sandwich that one must finish to successfully win the challenge. Those who finish the sandwich are rewarded with a t-shirt, a sought-after prize for fairgoers and exhibitors at the fair. Participants in the challenge vary in age. When one may think this meal could be too much for a 4-H’er, Hovel assured there is an appetite for it. 

“Kids at the fair work hard all day, they’re ready for something to eat,” Hovel stated.

Aside from food items, Hovel keeps the stand fully equipped with promotional materials for fairgoers to take home, and those working in the stand are encouraged to hand out the items to the stand’s customers.

Many helping hands are needed to make the stand a success, and there is no shortage of community volunteers who step in to take shifts. The aim is to always have at least one pork producer at the grill and one serving customers, and from there many community members fill shifts. 

“Our motto is, if you are not a pork producer, all you have to do is know one,” Hovel shared. “We welcome everyone.”

Those who voluteer include members on the Goodhue County Pork Producers Board of Directors, area bank employees, the Goodhue Lions Club, members of area FFA chapters, and of course, Goodhue County pork producing families and 4-H exhibitors. 

“Many kids peer over to see if the stand needs help, and if it does, they step in. They are there anyway with their livestock, so they like to have something to do. And they get fed!” Hovel laughed.

Each person who works a shift wears a Goodhue County Pork Producers t-shirt they get to take home. Pork promotion happens in many forms, and proudly wearing a pork t-shirt, by people of all ages, makes an impact. Hovel shared she often sees people in the community representing by wearing shirts from over the years.

“I was told by one mother that all three of her kids wore their pork producers shirt to the first day of school,” Hovel said. 

Not only does this show the next generation is excited about the pork industry, but it also is a ‘walking advertisement’ for pork and the good work that is happening in Goodhue County. 

Another way the stand involves community is the donations it provides. Whether it is funds or pork products, the list of sponsored events is long and impressive. Hovel and the Goodhue County Pork Producers aim to keep funds going to 4-H, FFA or similar organizations. This includes sponsoring animals at the 4-H auction and donating to the county 4-H hog roast fundraiser. In 2016, the organization also donated funds to update the penning in the fair’s show barn to improve the show ring’s functionality.

Other donations include the meal at area FFA chapter banquets, the Goodhue County American Dairy Association (ADA) Breakfast on the Farm, the Goodhue Soil and Water Conservation District dinner and providing pork at the county’s tractor safety day camp. 

For the past three years, the pork producers have also served the meal for the Goodhue County Coop Electric annual meeting. Starting in 2021 with a drive through meal including her famous dish, ‘Ma Hovel’s pork riblet patties’, chips, bars, and malts from the ADA, the meal continues to be a hit. 

New in 2023, the Goodhue County Pork Producers served the meal for the Minnesota FFA advisor yearly convention held in Red Wing. Here, Hovel and team served 268 meals, hauling the grill to again serve her famous pork riblets.

It’s evident that with Hovel’s efforts, the possibilities of sharing pork the product, pig farming and impacting young people are endless.

“Anytime there is an opportunity to work with 4-H and FFA, we’ll try to do it!” Hovel added. 

Developing the Next Generation

In addition to donating to agriculture youth groups, Hovel has a passion for working with youth one-on-one and developing their leadership skills for future success.

Together with the county ADA, the local radio station KDHL broadcasts live from the Goodhue County Pork Producers Food Stand each morning from 7-9:00 a.m. Hovel recruits exhibitors and fair staff alike to take turns recording 10-minute radio interviews. She aims to highlight a variety of topics, including 4-H’ers speaking about their livestock and static projects, dairy princesses, extension staff and livestock and dairy judging teams. 

“Even if it may be easier to go to the same ‘go-to’ kids each time or just skip the extra hassle all together, Nancy sees the potential in people of all ages and does all she can to help them grow in agriculture,” stated Hokanson.

“If there’s someone in the stand that just happens to come in, I’ll say ‘why don’t you come over and try it once? See how you like it,’” Hovel explained.

When asked the value she sees watching people be interviewed, Hovel touched on the growth and pride seen after someone went outside of their comfort zone. 

“The fear of public speaking is improved. The kids are talking on the interview, reaching out to how many people, and they are so proud of that,” Hove recalled. “They’ll call their grandma after or before their interview airs and excitedly say, ‘turn on the radio because I’m going to be on!’” 

She also noted how this experience opens the eyes of youth to understand this is one form of communication that reaches people. Hovel also helps lead the county’s Pork Ambassador Program, a role she has been in for the past two decades. 

Both the radio interviews and ambassador program are experiences that leave an impression at a young age. Developing skills of public speaking and professionalism set one up for success. Hovel has provided countless young people with experiences and skills that not only help set up the pork industry and agriculture for success, but the next generation as a whole. 

“Nancy is the kind of person who attracts and brings people to our industry,” Hokanson said. “It’s people like her who make me confident in our ability to continue growing and thriving as an industry for years to come because of the groundwork she is willing to do along the way.”

Passion for Promotion

In her nearly three decades of involvement, Hovel has promoted pork in dozens of ways, including ‘pop up’ stands in the community. Prior to the 2020 pandemic, Hovel would hand out pork samples at local grocery stores. Each year after the 4th of July, Hovel sets up a stand at the local Merchant’s bank in Cannon Falls ready to greet people with promotional items for all ages to enjoy such as resources from Minnesota Pork like pork recipes, pencils and coloring books.

Hovel spruces up local storefronts by rotating promotional signage for passersby to read and be reminded of the role farmers play in our daily lives. Promoting in the community allows people to learn the presence and importance of pork and agriculture.

The signs contain catchy phrases with a simple tagline. One of the signs is also found at the county fair stand reads, ‘Once in your life you will need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman and a preacher, but every day, three times a day, you will need a farmer.’ A second reads, ‘Thank a farmer for your food, fiber and future.’

Both sayings speak to the purpose Hovel carries with her for her numerous efforts of pork promotion. Reaching people in their daily life within the community harnesses the message that pork is not only good to eat, but farmers care for and raise their pigs well.

Pig farming, sharing farmers’ stories and instilling leadership in the next generation are Hovel’s true passions, making her an exemplary recipient of the 2024 Pork Promoter award. When asked what keeps her coming back to manage the stand, and continuing to actively promote pork, her common theme is community.

“I love to see and work with people, that’s why I do it. It’s a gathering of generations – which is really fun to watch and be a part of,” Hovel reflected. “Agriculture is a great way of life. It’s very rewarding, it’s hard work and we feed the world. We take pride in what we do.”