When driving down the gravel driveway to reach the Kahler Farm just outside of Cambridge, Iowa, in early August, the Iowa iconography is undeniable.
Rolling green hills accented with a touch of gold, patches of oak and maple trees still clinging to their summer youth and the farmhouse with a barn in the foreground.
It is no wonder that Iowa Pork Princess Katlyn Kahler fell in love with agriculture growing up in a place like this.
Kahler, who is entering her sophomore year at Iowa State, is comfortable as she exits her home in jeans and cowboy boots to go along with her rhinestone ISU T-shirt. Kahler is just one of many ISU students participating in the Iowa State Fair.
It is a short walk from Kahler’s front door to the barn where four 300-pound pigs lay out as though they were at the beach— it is almost 90 degrees after all.
“These are my state fair pigs,” Kahler said. “They like to lounge around all day.”
Luckily, the pigs’ lazy behavior has not rubbed off on their owner. Kahler is not only the Iowa pork princess, but she is also active in Iowa State’s Block and Bridle program, an executive member of the Bacon Expo team and an active member of Sigma Alpha Professional Agriculture Sorority.
Kahler became Iowa pork princess in January when she finished runner-up to Iowa Pork Queen Sarah Wall of Iowa City at the Iowa Pork Congress in Des Moines. The two-day event tested contestants' interview and public speaking skills, along with their knowledge of the pork industry.
There was even some undercover reconnaissance going on at the event.
“They had two secret judges following us around to see how we interacted with people,” said Kahler. “They were kind of spying on us.”
Kahler’s faculty adviser, Dr. Jodi Sterle, Harman endowed professor of animal science, believes Kahler has a bright future.
“Her personality and her work ethic really stand out when you talk to her,” Sterle said. “She’s one of our rising stars even though she’s only a sophomore.”
Kahler is quick to give others credit for helping her along the way.
“My parents have been great,” she said. “Iowa State has opened up a lot of opportunities I didn’t know existed. I don’t think I would have won my crown without the help of former winners at Iowa State.”
Sterle touts Kahler’s enthusiasm for anything she is doing as the key to her success.
“She’s passionate about Iowa State,” Sterle said. “She’s passionate about agriculture and she’s passionate about the swine industry. She’s the kind of student we love.”
The Iowa State Fair runs from August 7 through August 17, and Kahler will be there everyday representing the Iowa Pork Producers Association and Iowa State. She says she “loves talking with different people” and is ready for the event.
“Oh yeah, I’m excited, stressed, nervous and ready to be done all mixed up into one,” Kahler said. “I’m most looking forward to seeing all my friends from college that I haven’t seen in awhile.”
Kahler may not have time to be stressed and nervous during the fair because of the hectic schedule planned for her.
“I’ll be at a multitude of places,” she said. “I’ll be in the parade Wednesday night, [Aug. 13]. Thursday, [Aug. 7] until Tuesday, [Aug. 12] I’ll be handing out ribbons at the 4-H shows and the FFA hog shows. I’ll be spending a lot of time in the Animal Learning Center teaching people about the swine industry and I’ll be serving at the pork tent.”
“I’ll be a little bit of everywhere,” she said.
Kahler, a 2013 graduate of Ballard High School in Huxley, Iowa, has few pigs entered for prizes at the fair but her favorite is Kevin, 290-pound gilt. A gilt differs from a sow in that it has not yet farrowed or given birth. She will compete in the “Derby Show” at the fair.
Kevin struts around the barn, seemingly unaware of her inevitable fate. Kahler prods her from place to place with her “show stick” used to get indifferent pigs from one place to the next.
“She was named after my boyfriend,” Kahler said. “It’s a big inside joke based on the movie ‘Up.’ He doesn’t really like it.”
The future is wide open for Kahler, but she has recently considered attempting to earn a Ph.D. because of her experiences at her summer internship at Boehringer Ingelheim. Boehringer Ingelheim produces human and animal pharmaceuticals.
“I’m interested in getting my Ph.D. because I think it’d be kind of cool to be able to make new vaccines,” Kahler said. “But I love talking to people, so it would be hard to work in a lab all day.”
The immediate future is clearer for Kahler. She’s looking forward to the new school year, especially reconnecting with her friends in Block and Bridle and working on the second annual Bacon Expo.
“Last year we were named the Iowa State Campus Event of the Year,” she said. “It’s a family-oriented event where we try to teach people about the pork industry.”
Kahler believes in following the guidelines set up for pork farmers by the National Pork Board.
“In the pork industry we try to follow good practices,” Kahler said. “We want to keep the environment clean, be involved in the community, keep the pork safe and keep our animals and workers safe.”
Kahler says she has enjoyed everything about being the Iowa pork princess, but there is a minor drawback.
“People give me a hard time if they see me somewhere other than a pork event and I’m not eating pork,” she said. “I do eat beef, chicken and turkey, but I prefer pork. I do actually eat other meats.”
What is the million-dollar question everyone has to ask Kahler? What her favorite pork product is of course.
“That’s a really hard question,” she said. “I love it all, but my favorite is pork tenderloin. It’s prime. It’s awesome.”
Kahler is looking forward to serving people great food and educating people about the pork industry during the fair.
“Definitely stop by if you're out at the fair,” she said. “Stop by the Iowa Pork Tent, we’d be more than happy to answer any question you have.”