From Pigs to Politics: Meet Adrian Austin

( Provided by Adrian Austin )

She remembers her first exposure to the swine industry vividly, toddling behind her older brother Kane as he walked one of his pigs in their big, grassy yard. Armed with her own blue PVC pipe, she had no idea what she was doing, but she loved every minute of it.

“I definitely wasn’t thinking about how showing pigs would expose me to a future in the swine industry,” says Adrian Austin, 20, of Mt. Vernon, Ill. “I just knew I was having fun, loved my animals and really wanted to be like my brother.”

Although her family has never owned more than 10 sows at a time, she says she’s fortunate that her parents allowed her to experience what it takes to raise pigs.

“Our dad always told us that what we were doing was not about the pigs, as he knew we weren’t large scale enough to make a living off of raising hogs,” she says. “Instead, raising and showing pigs allowed us to learn, grow and develop a passion for the industry. Ultimately, our small operation was really just a platform for developing the skills needed for a future career.”

Ready to Serve

For the past 15 years, Adrian has been involved in the National Junior Swine Association (NJSA). Today, she’s a junior at Kansas State University serving as secretary of the nearly 12,000-member national youth swine organization that reaches from coast to coast. She says she’s always looked up to the members of the NJSA Board of Directors since those early years when she began participating in NJSA events. 

“As a junior board member, I know that I have an opportunity to serve as a positive example for others,” Austin says. “I truly believe that this program can change the outlook someone has on life and a future career.”

She says this became evident after a conversation she had with a young lady at the NJSA National Youth Leadership Conference (NYLC) in March. 

“She told me that attending NYLC for the first time in 2018 altered her future plans,” Austin says. “She had been going to school for nursing, but after attending NYLC, realized that she wanted to pursue a degree in agricultural communications. She had grown to understand that she was passionate about promoting this industry and helping others comprehend what we do in and why we do it.”

Serving others has taught Austin many important life lessons – including “the world is run by those who show up.”

Austin says it’s hard to make a connection with someone or spark a positive change if you don’t make yourself available to serve.

“To make a difference, you have to be present,” she says. “And you have to listen once you’re there. Ultimately, people just want to feel like they are being heard and appreciated.”

Ellen Knauth, Director of Junior Shows at the National Swine Registry, has known Austin for many years and works with her now on the NJSA Board. She believes Austin’s greatest strength is her ability to connect with people.

“She is able to find a connection with about anyone she meets,” Knauth says. “She is able to talk to exhibitors whether it is their first year showing in the NJSA or if they are senior members at their last event. Adrian has seen a tremendous amount of success in her life, yet she remains humble. NJSA members want to look up to her.” 

There’s no question that serving others has taught Austin a lot about being humble, she says. 

“Accolades and recognition will never be as rewarding as the feeling of being there for someone who needs you,” Austin says. 

Amity Bratt and Adrian Austin

There’s Room for You

Austin is proud to be a part of developing future leaders for the industry and believes NJSA is developing some of the best and brightest youth who will someday make an impact on the entire swine industry.

“There seems to be a common misperception that the show industry and the commercial industry have nothing in common,” Austin says. “In reality, I view both of these industries as two sides of the same court. We all are passionate about pigs and the future of agriculture, regardless of the scope of our operations.”

She believes the show industry serves as a platform for kids in her generation to become invested in the swine industry and be exposed to global swine industry opportunities. 

“The commercial swine industry should maximize on the talent and potential that young people who have grown up showing pigs have to offer,” Austin says. “The commercial industry has a tremendous wealth of knowledge and career opportunities to be shared with young people who show pigs.”

As a junior board member, Austin had the opportunity to serve with adult NSR members on the Commercial Involvement Committee. They worked together to develop a proposal to the NSR Youth Advisory Board about how to develop more industry exposure at NJSA events. 

“While many of the ideas in that proposal may take more funding or time to come to fruition, there have been some immediate changes, especially generating more commercial industry discussion at NYLC,” Austin says. “I was proud to be a part of this committee, especially after seeing the positive reactions of the youth to getting more industry exposure. Our members want to learn, so we need put a wider variety of career opportunities in front of them.”

Austin’s NJSA involvement has allowed her to interact with several commercial industry leaders. One of her role models (who is likely unaware because she has never told him) is the National Pork Board’s assistant vice president of sustainability, Brett Kaysen. 

“Brett is someone who is excited about life and what he does for a living, and he is committed to turning young people into better leaders for the future. The impact Brett can and has made on our industry is something that inspires me as I think about the kind of person I want to be and what I want to be remembered for,” she adds.

Role models like Kaysen have also taught her that anyone can have a place in agriculture.

“You don’t have to come from a big commercial background or, in some cases, even an ag background,” Austin says. “If you are a hard worker that wants things done the right way, and you are passionate about feeding people, then there’s room for you in this industry.”


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