Author: Written by Karin Poellinger, Staff Writer
September 14, 2020

In April, Pax Christi parishioner Aric Fier learned that friend and farmer, Steve Van Keulen, was in a painful predicament. Large meat processing facilities in Worthington, Minnesota, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, had shut down after a number of their workers became infected with coronavirus, backing up the supply chain. While shoppers experienced shortages of meat at grocery stores, hog farmers like Steve had a more serious problem: animals needed to be harvested but no facilities were available to slaughter and process the meat. Unless Steve found an alternative distribution channel, he would need to euthanize his stock to make way for baby pigs that he was contractually obligated to purchase. A group of fellow Minnesota high school classmates that maintained close ties over the years sprang into action. Even if they couldn’t prevent the euthanization of all the hogs, they would do whatever possible to help Steve. Mutual friend, Brett Van Vooren, coordinated the effort and launched “Operation Bacon.” 

Since many farmers were in the same position as Steve, smaller, local butchers were already overwhelmed with processing requests. After calling more than 20 butchers within a 50-mile radius, Brett was able to find a local farmer who had a slaughter business and a butcher willing to partner with “Operation Bacon.” But they still needed a distribution channel for the meat and a market of individuals willing to make sizable purchases of half or whole hogs. Aric and his friends stepped in to make it happen. To support the distribution efforts, Aric made phone calls to friends, neighbors, and family for orders, created flyers, and coordinated the collection of money along with product delivery. Aric secured orders for 22 hogs and in July, a refrigerated truck pulled up in front of the Fier home where customers took delivery of their orders.

Operation Bacon has been a huge success with 420 hogs sold so far. Steve didn’t need to euthanize a single one of his stock. Further, what began as one friend’s dilemma has grown into a newly formed distribution channel benefiting many in rural Minnesota. Aric’s friend Brett has created a company, Operation Bacon Pork Products, to continue sourcing hogs from Steve and other Minnesota farmers who need help. The additional volume is resulting in an expansion for the butcher, Hutchinson-based Benny’s Meat Market. And while some large processors—Smithfield in Sioux Falls and JBS in Worthington—are subsidiaries of overseas entities, Operation Bacon provides locally raised, processed, sold, and consumed meat, keeping hard-earned money in the state.

Aric feels fortunate that the pieces came together to assist Steve. As someone who has always been very intentional about maintaining connections with friends, Aric says that personal relationships supported the outreach efforts to help. Those connections, his background in farming, and his faith journey at Pax Christi, where the community fosters looking out for those in need, merged together to support this cause. In the midst of the pandemic, the situation gave Aric a sense of control and something actionable to help a friend who was going through a very dark period in his life. Aric says that Steve was overwhelmed with gratitude that so many people stepped up to help a person that they didn’t know. The experience taught Aric about people’s innate sense of generosity and reaffirmed his faith in the goodness of others.

Pax Christi Catholic Community

12100 Pioneer Trail
Eden Prairie, MN 55347


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