In this topsy turvy, too-tumultuous time, don't let your guard down.
Avery late and soggy harvest, the seemingly endless barrage of H1N1 influenza stories — too often inappropriately associated with swine — and the financial pressures loaded on by two years of losses are taking a huge toll on nearly every pork producer I bump into.
It's easy to become distracted and preoccupied with the trials and challenges around us.
Just the other day, I ran across the story of Amanda Vittetoe, an athletic young woman from a well-established pork-producing family in southeast Iowa. Amanda is field supervisor for the family's contract grower operations.
Amanda's story begins on a typical day as she arrives at a contract grower site at about 8 a.m. to help place a trailer load of pigs in their grow-finish pens. With the trailer already in place, she noted a gap between the trailer and the chute, so she went in search of a mat to bridge the gap so the pigs could move safely into the barn.
Circling the chute, she took a few steps and suddenly plunged into the black, murky contents of a nearly full manure basin. Unbeknownst to her, the lid to the 8½-ft.-deep pit had been removed.
Writing about her experience in a Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers (CSIF) newsletter, she describes the experience this way: “I was very much in control of myself when I realized what had happened, but it wasn't like I had any chance to take a deep breath before I fell in. It was pitch black and there was no ladder. I had no idea if anyone even knew I was there or if anyone would come to help.”
Her mind raced. She struggled to push herself upward, hoping to grab the edge of the pit. She missed and sunk back into the murky sludge.
“The manure was more than 8 ft. deep,” explains the 23-year-old. “It's a completely different consistency than water. There was no coming up for a breath (of air). I didn't have time to think. I was just trying to survive.”
Luckily, the driver of the truck and trailer heard what he described as “a strange gurgling sound.” Then, hearing it again, he rushed to the pit just in time to see Amanda's fingertips sink below the surface.
Quickly, he reached for her hands, but they slipped from his grip as she struggled against the sludge that surrounded her. His frantic calls for help were fortunately heard. Soon Amanda felt the tension on her shirt choking her as she was pulled from the pit.
Her mother, Heidi, and the quick-thinking truck driver immediately headed for a nearby hospital, where Amanda was thoroughly examined and released to her parents.
As her strength returned, her memory of the incident lingered.
“I felt physically fine a few days after the incident, although I did miss running,” explains the avid jogger. “I'm mentally dealing with what went through my head while I was under the manure and (the thoughts of) whether I was going to get out. My challenge is to now find ‘normal’ again. It might be hard, but I will get there,” she says confidently.
The support of family, neighbors and friends are helping restore a state of well-being, but her mind still returns to the feelings of helplessness during those few dark minutes.
“I see it as a gift that I was given a second chance at life,” she reflects. “Even though it's a difficult story to tell, I'm sharing it because the next person might not be able to. I want to do what I can to help make sure there isn't a ‘next person,’” she says.
In her CSIF-published story, Amanda acknowledges how the stress and strain of harvest adds to the dangers around the farm.
“Get plenty of rest,” she urges. “Don't rush. Be aware of your surroundings. Carefully scout your farm for potential hazards and eliminate them. Follow your instincts. If something looks or sounds out of place — like a gurgling sound — investigate it immediately.
“Being able to tell my story is another of the gifts I was given from all of this. It's an opportunity for me to promote farm safety,” she adds.
This is Amanda's story. As you go about your daily chores, harvest your crop, pump manure pits and prepare for winter, take a moment now and then to pause and collect your thoughts. Think about Amanda's story and be careful out there. Please.