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Nelson County Pigs Cooperative takes care to be a good neighbor

LAKOTA, N.D. — Pavel "Diesel" Danil knows how good the pork industry is in the U.S., and that's part of the reason he's so adamant about telling the story of pig farming and how it's a good neighbor.

Danil came to the U.S. from Moldova about 10 years ago on a cultural exchange visa. He liked it so much that he came back on a work visa to work for Nelson County Pigs Cooperative. Eventually, he got a green card and now he's working on becoming a U.S. citizen.

He says the U.S. pork industry's environmental protections are vastly superior to what he was used to in Moldova, as is the knowledge and technology in the industry. Manager Todd Erickson explains that the barn gives off very few odor emissions, thanks to technologies like deep pit and pit additives. Those kinds of environmental measures, combined with the opportunities present in the U.S., have kept Danil here.

"We are producing a healthy, safe food for our customers," Danil says.

Nelson County Pigs Cooperative is owned by farmers in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa and raises pigs from farrow to weaning. The facility, located between Lakota and Michigan, ships out two loads of piglets per week. Erickson says they produced 141,000 baby pigs last year.

At Nelson County Pigs Cooperative, Danil is the farrowing supervisor. But he is more than just an employee there. He's also a valued part of his community. He serves on the North Dakota Pork Council board of directors and on the volunteer fire department in Michigan, N.D. His wife works at a local daycare.

"We try to be good members of the community," he says.

Being part of the community has been an important part of Nelson County Pigs Cooperative since it began in 2006. The barn has 18 full-time employees, making it one of the larger employees in the area. Erickson says offering full-time jobs, rather than part-time or seasonal positions, has been a point of pride for the cooperative. While some of the employees have come, like Danil, from other countries, all of the employees live in the communities around the barn.

"We live here. Our employees live here. We're not bringing people in from other communities," Erickson says. "We take pride in our community. And we want to be good neighbors."

The cooperative sponsors Nelson County 4-H Achievement Days, along with contributing to the local rural fire departments. Along with Danil's work on the Michigan Volunteer Fire Department, another employee serves on the Lakota Volunteer Fire Department. They are allowed to leave work anytime there are calls, Erickson says.

"We take pride in the fact that if the call comes, they can go," he says.

On Oct. 19, Nelson County Pigs Cooperative was being a part of the community by serving as one of 20 sponsors for Lakota Octoberfest. Each sponsor made a batch of chili and served microbrew beers.

The Danils cooked a fragrant batch of chili, which included pork shoulder and bacon, for the recent Lakota Octoberfest. The chili was named the winner of the event. Nelson County Pigs Cooperative has been a sponsor of the event since it began several years ago. Danil says being part of community events is part of building and maintaining trust in the community.

"We try to be good neighbors in our community and be a part of every event we possibly can," he says.

"We feel like we belong here," Erickson says.

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