This ambassador for the Oklahoma Pork Council is upending pig farming stereotypes with young leadership
Tre Smith is not a typical hog farmer. During a FaceTime call, the 22-year-old Black senior at Oklahoma State University wears a gray, long-sleeved Carhartt shirt. “Someone can be better than me,” Smith said, “but they’ll never be better than my outfit.”
In January 2022, he accepted an offer to serve as an official ambassador for the Oklahoma Pork Council, traveling the state promoting pork industry opportunities to students and young professionals and using his “fashionable, savvy leader” persona as a tool, said Kylee Deniz, executive director of the Oklahoma Pork Council.
Smith represents a minority in agriculture — and not just in terms of his clothes. In the United States, 1.7 percent of farms are Black-owned and operated. Just 1 percent of those raise pigs. (By comparison, 13.4 percent of the U.S. population as a whole is Black.)
A desire to continually learn, a trait gleaned from his educator parents, led Smith to pursue opportunities within the Sand Springs High School FFA chapter. During those years, he became interested in the commercial swine industry after getting several opportunities to visit pig farms and experience different production-methods first hand, as well as gain insights in how the industry markets function. So he applied and was accepted to the Oklahoma Pork Council’s 2016 Youth Leadership Camp, where he was exposed to even more of the diverse sectors of Oklahoma pig production.
“I feel like I can be a game changer,” Smith said.
Before starting his freshman year at OSU in August 2018, Smith said he was “hounding” Scott Carter, an associate professor and the OSU Swine Research and Education Center facility supervisor, about working at the unit. Smith was hired as a farm hand to do daily animal care and farm upkeep, but he had to commute almost two hours roundtrip from Sand Springs to Stillwater multiple days a week that summer.
“You have to have that fire in your belly,” Deniz said, noting that she and Smith have a motto: “Can’t stop, won’t stop.”
He didn’t. He worked for $7.25 an hour at the unit and bagged groceries at a local grocery store to pay for gas to get to Stillwater. Not uncommon with so many people in the agricultural industry having off-farm jobs, Smith found that he had to work another job to afford to work the job he loved.
In 2019, Smith participated in the National Pork Board’s #RealPigFarming Student Social Forces team. It was his opportunity to connect with people both inside and outside the industry.
“That’s where I started to bridge gaps ,” he said.
He completed another media internship as well as one with the Animal Agriculture Alliance. Then, in August 2020, he was named a Rising Star of the Swine Industry by National Hog Farmer, the swine industry’s most recognized magazine.
However, recently the monumental moments have gotten bigger, Smith said. He started as the Oklahoma Pork Council’s intern in May 2021 — and the rest is history.
Smith is still in the early stages of what is promising to be a dynamic career supporting the state’s pork industry. Although he enjoys his time on farms and in classrooms statewide, Smith also loves breaking the farmer stigma. The Oklahoma Pork Council’s office is in downtown Oklahoma City, where Smith can be found sporting snappy jackets and designer shoes in his office .
And his opportunities to advocate for this industry continue to grow.
Smith was included in a 2021 children’s book called, Pigology: The Ultimate Encyclopedia. Princeton Architectural Press picked him as one of four U.S. swine experts to give feedback on book manuscripts.
“I grew up reading, and in that moment, it was like, ‘People from Oklahoma aren’t in books,’” Smith said.
Another high: a text from the Young Farmers Coalition, asking him to speak with White House staff about young leadership in agriculture in November 2021. The opportunity to speak on the industry he is passionate about was “crazy,” he said.
Deniz describes Smith as “all gas, no brakes” — and it shows.
Why does Smith do it all? The answer: to connect with the people who see him as a role model.
Growing up, “[I] didn’t have someone to look up to, to relate to,” he said. “I wish I had those people.”
With a grin, Smith recalled a fellow OSU student stopping him on campus to tell him “thank you” for inspiring them to pursue a degree in agriculture. The student had seen Smith on a Facebook post from the Oklahoma Pork Council.
“He’s a connector,” Deniz said in describing Smith’s transition from intern to official ambassador. Smith “is a leader from that perspective,” and she’s seen how the Oklahoma Pork Council Board of Directors supports Smith and nurtures his ideas.
Smith’s future plans are not set in stone. He said he is ready to be done with school and is expected to graduate in December 2022. “I’m just doing what I love to do,” Smith said, which seemingly must translate to “doing everything.”
Deniz predicted Smith will end up in a major leadership role. She even said she may work for him someday. “The cards are flipped today, but they could flip tomorrow.”
Braeden Coon holds dual degrees from Oklahoma State University in agricultural communications and animal science and is a graduate journalism student at Northwestern University. He grew up in agriculture and has interned at the National Swine Registry and Animal Agricultural Alliance.