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Fred Crittenden: A long way from Hardyville

Fred Crittenden (above, right) traveled the world exporting breeding stock hogs to 32 countries. The photo above was taken in the late 1960s at a hog show in Franklin.

by Tom Chillemi

Fred Crittenden of Hardyville was inducted into the Virginia Livestock Hall of Fame on September 22 in a ceremony at the Virginia Tech Alphin-Stuart Livestock Teaching Arena on the Blacksburg campus.

Crittenden, 84, was a founding member of the Virginia Pork Industry Federation, which later became the Virginia Pork Industry Association. Crittenden and other hog breeders persuaded the General Assembly to start the Virginia Pork Industry Board, said the board’s first and current director, John Parker, who moved from North Carolina to head it.

Parker recalled the first time he saw Crittenden was in a show ring in North Carolina in the early 1970s. “I thought to myself, that guy coming down here from Virginia means business. He wanted to win blue ribbons to promote his farm and his purebred Duroc hogs. I’ve never seen a more competitive guy.”

Parker and Crittenden’s professional and personal relationship spans decades. They traveled to foreign countries to promote the Virginia swine industry. “He went about the pig business the same way he played baseball . . . he played to win,” said Parker. “He didn’t let staying up all night get in the way of him getting the best breeding stock or doing the best job he could.”

Parker recalled how the Central Bank of the Dominican Republic contacted Crittenden and had him organize a swine seminar in its country, with veterinarians, swine specialists and marketers to exchange ideas. “They picked up a lot of very valuable ideas,” said Parker.

Parker said Crittenden has the unusual ability to be able to talk to people of any level or social status from “dignitaries to farmers.”

Crittenden was the first exporter of live swine for breeding stock from Virginia, Parker noted.

In 1967, Crittenden and other swine organizations started Virginia Purebred Livestock International, an idea that was later copied by other states.

The hogs had to be shipped by airplane, said Crittenden, explaining he worked with the Foreign Agriculture Service and Virginia Department of Agriculture to facilitate the shipments of live animals, which was a tenuous task.

He said buyers would come to the United States to inspect hogs, and he always wanted to provide the best quality hogs. As the idea grew, there was a need for more hogs. “We needed to have good quality and a large supply,” said Crittenden.

This portrait of Fred Crittenden will hang in the Virginia Livestock Hall of Fame at Virginia Tech.

Of course, Crittenden would try to get them from Virginia first, but as demand increased, he would get them from farms in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, and even shipped them from New York state.

He traveled extensively and got to most state fairs on the East Coast, and judged a lot of hog shows, including the New York State Fair for two consecutive years. His many contacts and show judging helped him find quality hogs. “After a while you knew whose quality was the best, and who you could trust,” he said.

Crittenden traveled the world promoting East Coast hogs, and even judged a hog show in Brazil, where a lot of hogs were shipped. He was involved in shipping hogs to 32 different countries—and there were adventures along the way. He dealt with customers in unstable countries in Central America, and on at least one occasion Fred was told to duck down in the car seat to avoid being seen.

Once he and his wife Jane were flying over the Andes Mountains when the plane they were on lost an engine. 

Crittenden would travel for weeks. “We were always glad when he came home,” said his oldest son Tommy.

Crittenden said his business dealings were positive, but he knew of others that were not so fortunate. “One thing you learn real quick—get the paperwork and money straight first.”

Crittenden served on the National Board of Hog Breeders for several years.

Closer to home, Crittenden served on the Middlesex Board of Supervisors for 32 years from 1980-2011 and the Middlesex School Board from 1971-79.

Parker said Crittenden was “cool” under pressure and recalled a plane flight during which the plane lost some of its hydraulic controls. The pilot dumped excess fuel and prepared for an emergency landing. “I began to compose my will,” said Parker. “I saw a stewardess with tears in her eyes.”

The plane made an emergency landing at Dulles Airport with fire trucks stationed along the runway. “Fred never winced,” said Parker. “I wish I could be that cool.”

Perhaps Crittenden drew strength from his faith, said Parker. “He always put his family first and never wavered from his Christian beliefs.”

Crittenden was among 10 persons to be honored by various Virginia livestock associations at the September 22 ceremony at Virginia Tech.

posted 10.03.2012

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