FAIR OAKS | Executives and elected officials gathered at Fair Oaks Farms on Monday for the grand opening of its agritourism destination, Pig Adventure.
"It's literally the most unique facility of its kind in the world," said Gary Corbett, CEO of Fair Oaks Farms. "I think that Northwest Indiana can be truly proud of it."
The Pig Adventure is a joint venture between Fair Oaks Farms and Belstra Milling Co. Fair Oaks Farms is the nation's largest agritourism facility.
Visitors ride buses powered by a mix of cow and pig manure from the Dairy Adventure at Fair Oaks Farms north on Interstate 65 to the pig-production facility.
The 120,000-square-foot building houses both the pig facility and an enclosed, climate-controlled, interactive viewing area on the second floor for visitors to see the sows' life cycle, from artificial insemination to birthing and beyond.
Executives with Fair Oaks Farms and Belstra Milling Co. said they want to break down walls between farmers and consumers to increase education and dialogue about the food production industry.
Malcom DeKryger, president of Belsta Milling Co., recalled a conversation with Fair Oaks Farms owner Mike McCloskey about a possible partnership.
"The requirement was to be large enough to be relevant to the industry today," DeKryger said. "It also had to be able to stand on its own."
McCloskey, who is also a veterinarian, said the care of the animals and the safety of the food supply are what drive the operations along with a commitment to the environment.
"We do this because we have to have a conversation with our public about what we do and how we do it, without knocking down one more tree, while cleaning up every one of our streams, while treating our animals with the utmost respect and care," McCloskey said.
Speakers at the Monday event stressed the role of food producers in the economy and in feeding a growing, hungry world population. Projections quoted at the event point to 9 billion people on the planet by 2050.
"That's doubling the amount of food that we produce on this planet," McCloskey said.
U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., said food production facilities such as the Pig Adventure "will help off set our trade imbalance."
"We feed the rest of the world," Rokita said.
Indiana Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann said she was impressed with the technology, scope and educational elements of the operations.
"Many of us don't farm and do take that food production for granted," Ellspermann said. "Now, many urban students and possibly their parents will learn what really happens to their food," she said.
McCloskey said 500,000 people visited Fair Oaks Farms in 2012. His ultimate goal is for 2 million visitors annually, he said.
Rokita, who called the new project the "Disney World of Indiana," said he thinks McCloskey will achieve his goal.
"I think those 2 million people are coming," Rokita said.