Celebrate Pork Month with The Pig Farmer and a Classic Tenderloin



Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey in October 2017 presented Barb and Leon Sheets with the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award. The Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award recognizes Iowa livestock producers for their commitment and dedication to the environment, their community and their livestock. Photo credit: Iowa Soybean Associatio

Quiet Environmental Leader. Good Farm Neighbor. Survivor. 2011 Iowa Pork Producers Association President.

Many titles could be used to introduce Leon Sheets of Ionia, Iowa, who is also a devoted husband, loving father and doting grandfather. Most folks simply know Leon as “The Pig Farmer,” who also was named 2017 America’s Pig Farmer of the Year.

America’s Pig Farmer is awarded each October during National Pork Month by the National Pork Board. This award recognizes a farmer who excels at raising pigs using the “We Care” ethical principles and who also connects with today’s consumers about how pork is produced.

“There’s no one better to tell our story. Farmers are trusted and respected by consumers, who are concerned about how their food is produced because they’re so far removed from production agriculture,” explains Leon. “My comfort zone is in the barn, but we must meet consumers where they are. Chat with your neighbor in the church foyer on Sunday morning. Talk with a young mom in grocery stores who need information, so she isn’t jumping from food fad to food fad.”

Many farmers get riled when consumers ask them challenging questions about sow housing and antibiotics use, but Leon offers a different perspective.

“Consumers want to come across as knowledgeable. They might ask you about sow housing or antibiotics because that’s the last thing they remember seeing or hearing,” says Leon. “When you take time to listen and talk, you begin to realize that most consumers are interested in hearing how you care for your animals and how you protect the environment.”

Animal care and environmental sustainability are the primary focus on the Leon and Barbara Sheets’ farm in Northeast Iowa. Leon has a 3,600-head nursery barn and finishing space in four barns for another 3,600 head. He and his son, Jarrod, partner on 600 acres of corn, soybeans and cover crops.

“My love for pig farming was instilled in me by my father and grandfather,” says Leon, who grew up near Britt, Iowa, and then earned a degree in Animal Science from South Dakota State University. He worked in swine industry after college and moved to Ionia, Iowa, to manage a 700-sow farm.

“You might say I grew into ownership,” adds Leon, who acquired more and more ownership of the operation throughout the years until 1988 when he bought out the other partners. Production techniques have certainly changed since Leon began farming, just as consumers’ lives have changed throughout the generations.

“We want consumers to know that agriculture has changed just as their home lives have evolved. We’re not asking them to give up the remote or go back to watching a small screen, black and white TV. It’s important that consumers understand how technology contributes to a safe and nutritious food supply.”

As October Pork Month kicks off, the winner of Iowa’s Best Tenderloin contest and the famed Tenderloin Trail will be announced. There are many places where you can sit down to this classic sandwich, and you can also make them at home.

Below are tips from The Pig Farmer on what it takes to make a winning Pork Tenderloin sandwich:

  • Fresh, never frozen tenderloin, cut to the chef’s (or home cook’s) specifications.
  • Handmade on site.
  • Tenderized at least once, hand pounded, or both.
  • Batter dipped at least once.
  • Frying time and temperature are key. The tenderloin should come out golden brown, not too dark, not too light, with uniform even coloring and texture.
  • Breading should be moist, not dry, not brittle and not falling off.
  • Condiments are optional. It all comes down to your personal preference or taste.

“Too much of our pork is overdone and then we complain about it being dry,” says Leon. “Lower the cooking temperature to 145 degrees with a 3-minutes rest, and I’m sure you’ll be surprised by how moist and juicy your pork is.”

To help kick off your October Pork Month celebration at home, we’re sharing a recipe for Food & Swine’s Classic Iowa Tenderloin, which is available from the Iowa Food & Family Project. Additional pork recipes are available from www.Pork.org/inspiration.

Classic Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich


  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons seasoned salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 sleeve Chicken in a Biskit crackers, crushed
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 4 boneless pork loin chops
  • 1 quart peanut or vegetable oil
  • 4 large sandwich or Kaiser rolls, split and buttered
  • Dill pickles, ketchup, mustard, thinly sliced sweet onions


Combine the flour, cornstarch, seasoned salt, and pepper in a shallow baking dish. Remove and reserve 2 tablespoons of this mixture. In a second shallow baking dish, whisk the eggs and milk together until well-blended. In a third dish, combine the crushed crackers and panko, plus the reserved flour/cornstarch mixture.

Butterfly each pork chop and pound between sheets of plastic wrap with a meat mallet to ¼-inch thick.

To coat, first dredge each piece of pork on both sides in seasoned flour, shaking off any excess. Dip into the egg mixture to coat both sides, then dredge in the crumb mixture, pressing gently to coat both sides evenly. Transfer the pork to a clean plate and repeat the process with the remaining pork. Allow the pork to rest for 20 minutes to give the breading time to adhere to the meat.

In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet heat the oil to 350°F. Fry the breaded pork until golden brown on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. The pork is cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 145°F on an instant read thermometer. Transfer to paper towel-lined plate.

In a skillet, toast the buns over medium-high heat. Serve pork loin on buns with condiments of choice.

Nutrition per serving: 791 Calories, 26g Total Fat, 188mg Cholesterol, 1,788mg Sodium, 86g Carbohydrate, 3g Fiber, 51g Protein