Zach Perkins

Zach Perkins at the Illinois State Fair’s swine birthing center, where he hopes to be this year as the 2020 Illinois Pork Ambassador if the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t force cancellation of the event. 

It’s natural that Zach Perkins would be drawn to a job growing things, as his family owns a 200-acre nursery and garden center. He has chosen a different venue, one that includes animals.

“I’m not from a pork family,” said Perkins, who grew up in Millbrook, a small community in northeastern Illinois.

An uncle raised a few show pigs. That exposure to hogs hooked Perkins’ interest. He and his brother started showing Duroc and crossbred pigs through 4-H and FFA.

“I fell in love with pigs,” he said.

Now he is the 2020 Illinois Pork Ambassador.

After earning an associate degree in ag business from Joliet Junior College, where he was a member of the livestock judging team, Perkins transferred to Illinois State University where he will enter his senior year with a double major in animal industry management and ag business this fall.

He is on the Illinois 4-H Livestock Ambassador Team, is a member of the Illinois State University Collegiate Farm Bureau and is a member of the school’s Hoof & Horn Club. 

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has altered his summer job as an intern at the Illinois Pork Producers Association, he is still looking forward to the experience. While some of the trips to other states for shows and events are postponed or canceled, he hopes to make adjustments, including holding a webinar for Ag in the Classroom instead of an in-person meeting with kids or teachers.

In August, at the Illinois State Fair, the plan is for Perkins to be in charge of the birthing center to teach children about pigs, but the details of that event are still to be determined as pandemic cancellations continue.

“There’s no doubt that this summer will look different for all of us. With so many canceled events, we are finding creative ways to reach farmers and consumers in a virtual space,” said Jenny Jackson, IPPA director of communication who will be working with Perkins this summer. “Zach will gain real-time industry experience as we all navigate these unchartered waters together, as well as bringing in a fresh and young perspective to help us through.”

As Pork Ambassador, Perkins earns a school scholarship of $4,500. In the future, he hopes to work in an agricultural business, perhaps at a feed store and mill or with a hog confinement operation, he said.

Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.