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The Minnesota Pork Board recognizes numerous leaders and producers for their efforts in the name of the pork industry.

Kevin Schulz, Editor

February 21, 2024

4 Min Read
Nancy “Ma” Hovel, Goodhue County, Minnesota
SELL AND TELL: Nancy “Ma” Hovel has been promoting pork throughout Goodhue County, Minn., for the last 30 years at the pork producers food stand at the Goodhue County Fair — where diners get a good meal and some pork knowledge. Minnesota Pork Board

If you want your ham with a side of promotion, Nancy Hovel is the person to see.

For nearly 30 years, Hovel of Cannon Falls, Minn., has been promoting pork and the swine industry as she helps organize the Goodhue County Pork Producers Food Stand during the annual Goodhue County Fair. Her efforts earned her the title of Pork Promoter of the Year from the Minnesota Pork Board during the recent Minnesota Pork Congress.

Hovel has become such a fixture at the Goodhue County Fair that she has adopted the endearing moniker of “Ma.”

“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,” Madison Hokanson told those in attendance at the Pork Congress awards ceremony. Hokanson is a Goodhue County 4-H alumni and fellow pork producer, and her family nominated Hovel for the honor.

Hovel sees the importance of promoting pork, as she and her husband, Gary, contract-finish hogs for a Goodhue County producer. “I would like people to know what a good product it is, and how versatile it is to work with,” she says.

Pork’s versatility is evident at the pork producers food stand at the Goodhue County Fair, and the offerings have evolved from the lone ham sandwiches served in the stand’s early years.

“This will be our 50th year of having the pork producers stand at the county fair,” Hovel says. “And what they used to do was they would cook the hams, slice the hams and serve ham sandwiches. That was the only thing available. Now we do a lot of ham-and-cheese sandwiches, barbecued pork and boneless pork chops. So, we serve a variety of things, plus our breakfast.”

Of course, the top-selling item is Ma Hovel’s Pork Riblet, which is one-third pound of seasoned ground ham. “After the fair, people would go up to Greg’s Meats [in Hampton, Minn.] asking for the Ma Hovel’s riblet patties,” she says, “and some of the workers didn’t know what they were talking about. So now I have it labeled Ma Hovel’s riblet patty.”

In addition to providing a variety of pork meals, Hovel ensures that diners get a side of pork knowledge. Food stand workers include volunteers from the Goodhue County Pork Producers board of directors, area banks, the Goodhue Lions Club, area FFA chapters, and Goodhue County pork-producing families and 4-H exhibitors. Hovel, who organizes the work shifts, aims to have at least one pork producer working every shift so that consumers can have their pork production questions answered.

“We allow people to look out where the grill is,” she says. “We have meat thermometers out there and at all of our warmers to make sure everything is the right temperature.” Of course, that correct temperature is 145 degrees F, and diners can grab a meat thermometer and some recipes so they can replicate what they’ve learned in their home kitchens.

Over the years, Hovel has also promoted pork at local grocery stores and community events.

“We need to share how good pork is,” she says.

Other awards presented at the Minnesota Pork Congress include:

Distinguished Service. Dave Preisler was executive director of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association, serving nearly 28 years before retiring in June 2022. With a calm demeanor, Preisler led the association through a period of great change and evolution in the pork industry.

Environmental Steward. A Texas native, Jay Moore found his way to Minnesota in 2003 to become New Fashion Pork’s director of environmental services. Over the years, Moore’s work centered on meeting compliance requirements in the seven states within NFP’s footprint, along with being good neighbors in various communities.

Family of the Year. Building on what brothers August and Charlie Johanson started in 1889, the Anderson Family from Belgrade, Minn., works together to raise pigs, cattle and diversified crops in a variety of new and inventive ways. Like generations before them, the Andersons approach farming with a hunger for growth and efficiency, exploring niche markets and new ways of thinking, bettering themselves and those around them.

Swine Manager of the Year. Leading by example sets the standards on a team by building trust, creating a collaborative environment and forming a culture of accountability, and Aaron Hoffmann of Schwartz Farms Inc. works to instill that as a manager, employee and leader.

Legislator of Distinction. An agriculture background has served Bill Weber well as he became involved in local government and ultimately as state senator. Weber, a Luverne, Minn., native, has represented District 21 in the southwestern part of the state since 2012, and over the years has served on numerous committees advocating for agriculture.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

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