Ontario Pork Congress organizers say attendance was up for this year's event.
Andrea De Groot, the Ontario Pork Industry Council's managing director, said around 1,400 spectators came through the Stratford Rotary Complex Wednesday, approximately 200 more than opening day 2016.
“Which is fantastic,” she said Thursday during the event's second and final day. “There's a lot of optimism in our industry, so there's been a lot of good conversation and overall we're really happy with the show.”
Day two is typically not as busy, she said, estimating a crowd of about 1,000 would walk through the facility. That number, however, did not factor in several hundred people participating in a live hog show behind the agriplex.
“That usually brings in more, and we had two extra 4-H clubs that came in with 50, 60 people,” De Groot said.
After the event, coined the OPC, nearly collapsed just over a decade ago due to economic- and disease-related issues plaguing the industry, organizers are pleased to see this positive trend.
“There was concern, producers did not want to come out, so at that point attendance was very, very low, so the fact we revived it as an executive and the executive before have really done a good job,” she said.
Tying in special events has helped revitalize the OPC, making it more than just a trade show. An international workers tour and guest speakers on topics such as animal health and succession planning drew crowds. Taste the Best, a competition among several chefs, was also a popular part of the show.
“It was amazing,” De Groot said. “We had six amazing different kinds of food, it was absolutely packed in there.
“When I walked by a couple of times there was literally no room, we actually made it bigger, we had about 10 extra tables in there this year and it was just jam-packed, it's probably becoming one of our favourite events
Each year – Taste the Best has been around for six years – guest chefs work with a different cut of meat. This time the feature was ground pork.
“The chefs every year don't let you down, they always come with different ideas,” she said. “It is a bit of a competition and chefs like to put their personal stamp on it and try to figure out exactly what they're going to do.”
There was another featured chef Thursday as Stratford's Arron Carley, a recent winner of the Food Network's Chopped Canada, gave a butchering and cooking demonstration. The afternoon session was tied to education.
“The reason we reached out to him was to teach young kids how to cook and the reasons they butcher a pig the way that they do for the end product,” De Groot said.
In general, the carcass was a theme for the 44th annual OPC.
“Why we do what we do at the farm, what we do with our pigs that actually falls right down to the consumer,” she said.
Day two began under heavy rainfall, but it tapered off by lunchtime.
“We'd rather not have the rain, but so far so good,” she said.
Meanwhile, over 400 runners participated in the Hog Jog Wednesday night, raising about $42,000 for Optimism Place Women's Shelter and Support Services.
Although the OPC is over, for pork lovers the fun continues as Stratford Blues and Ribfest begins Friday. The three-day event, featuring live music at the Veterans Drive bandshell, runs through the weekend.