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From left, Lauren Connolly with her bacon buddy Danica Westerhold at the Iowa State Fair.

Lauren Connolly, champion of multiple hog shows, took part in a charity event at the Iowa State Fair known as Bacon Buddies. First started in 2019, Bacon Buddies pairs Special Olympians with 4-H and FFA swine exhibitors to provide opportunities for those children to interact with livestock and show pigs.

“In Bacon Buddies, we work with the Iowa Special Olympics,” said Connolly. “A bunch of other mentors and I applied to it through 4-H and got paired up with the kids to teach them what it’s like to show a pig. The year before COVID-19 was their first year doing it, but I just watched it that year. I thought it was a really good opportunity and wanted to try it.”

The event took place Aug. 14 at the fair and lasted between 2.5-3 hours. For Connolly, it was a fun first-day event before she focused on her pig showing.

“We were already there showing the pigs, but this was a thing we were planning for,” she said. “Before the State Fair, the head of the fair’s Swine Committee sent out applications and we got to apply through that.”

Each mentor was paired with a disabled child to walk through the steps of show preparation. In Connolly’s case, her pairing already had some previous experience with the event.

“I was paired with a younger girl named Danica who had Down’s Syndrome. We showed her how to show a pig, and she told us she’d done it before. We basically just walked through the steps of what it’s like to get a pig ready before the show. We brushed the pig off, washed the pig, walked it around and gave it a few little treats.”

While Connolly enjoyed the experience, she said she’ll be unable to do it again next year due to the large number of other applicants who wanted to be involved.

“Next year we can’t because there were so many people who applied that we can’t apply for a year so other kids can do it.”

With the pork industry such a large part of Iowan commerce and culture, Connolly believes one of the main purposes of Bacon Buddies is to provide these children with a more well-rounded experience outside of just seeing Special Olympic sports at the fair.

“Showing pigs is a big part of Iowa, but there are lots of people from Iowa who don’t know what it is. I think what they really wanted to do was get people who live in Iowa who don’t know about it and show them something different. You have the Special Olympics and there’s basketball, volleyball and all those kinds of things, but I think they wanted to show them something different.”

Connolly also said she appreciates the educational nature of the event and said it aligns well with what she said the pork industry must always aim for in educating the wider public about the reality of pork farming.

“It was really fun and cool because it’s good to show people who usually don’t do this what it’s like to show a pig. We had a lot of fun with it and she was so happy and excited. That’s what we like to shoot for in this industry, to make people happy and teach them about this industry. A lot of people don’t know what we do, so it’s good to shoot for that goal and show them.”