Family Pig Party
When you can’t leave the farm, the vacation comes home.
When you can’t leave the farm, you bring the vacation home.
It started 40 years ago, when two brothers, Dennis and Doug Seyb, invited a few friends over to their 1,000acre farm in southeastern Iowa for a Labor Day weekend fish fry. Dennis loved to fish and was looking for a way to share his catch of bluegill from the farm’s ponds. The brothers bought a few cases of beer, set up some lawn chairs, and a tradition was born.
The following year they invited a few more friends, who brought friends themselves, and the Seyb brothers started thinking: With this growing crowd, why not roast a pig? After all, they had hogs on their farm. From that point on, the Seyb Family Annual Pig Party became official. They even have T-shirts made, and each year they feature a new pig-themed design. A local ambulance driver who moonlights as an artist has helped with the design for years.
Because livestock farmers can never leave their animals—which means forgoing vacations—Dennis and Doug decided to turn the pig
roast into a short “staycation” for themselves and expanded the weekend’s festivities, along with the guest list. Friends and relatives from Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Canada and even Switzerland come to spend time with the Seyb brothers. I’ve had fun being a part of it for five years.
The pig party now starts Friday night with a supper of pork loin sandwiches for the early arrivals. (Guests park RVs next to Doug’s barn or sleep in “the bunkhouse,” the old family home next door.) Saturday includes a daylong float trip down the Des Moines River, with 20 kayaks, canoes and inner tubes all roped together in one big moving picnic, as the current carries everyone and their snacks downstream. Saturday night, the group gathers at the home of Dennis and his wife, Liza Alton, for a fish fry, a nod to the pig roast’s origin.
On Sunday, Doug gets up before dawn to fire up the roaster, and I hold a pie class starting at around 10 a.m. to guide a dozen or more party guests through the baking process, resulting in a smorgasbord of pies to serve at the evening’s big event. Liza has her hands in many of the weekend’s details—she rounds up the pig-themed decorations, helps make pies and spearheads the creation of new T-shirts.
The crowd starts to gather by 3 p.m. Guests bring their own lawn chairs, coolers and a dish to share. The granary, which Doug powerwashes and lines with temporary
food shelves, is filled with slow cookers and cheesy casseroles, appetizers, salads, homemade bread, barbecue sauce, brownies and “berry-licious,” a farm-famous dessert made of whipped cream and berries. A buffet the length of a semi gets overcrowded, but enough space is always reserved for the heaping trays of roast pork.
When the pig is off the roaster it’s heaved onto a huge slab of plywood supported by sawhorses. A team of volunteers in aprons and rubber gloves gets to carving while both guests and dogs hover around, hoping to get some juicy scraps.
Partygoers, dressed in shorts or overalls, stream in faster and faster, and the gravel road is lined with cars on both sides. They know the food is served at 6 p.m. and the band plays at 7. Folk musicians strum their banjos and play their fiddles on the porch while families dine around picnic tables and kids run around waving sparklers or playing tag, cornhole or volleyball. The whole scene looks like a miniature county fair.
The party used to stretch well past midnight and the beer kegs would run dry, but that’s changed a bit, too. Most local guests leave by 10 p.m. these days. But don’t let the early night fool you: There will be no stopping the staycation tradition. The Seybs—along with their children and a growing number of grandchildren—plan to keep it going for at least another 40 years. That’s going to be a lot of T-shirts.
MR. FRIENDLY, one of the farm goats, greets curious young members of the Seyb family.
FAMILY AND FRIENDS RELAX at sunset. The canoes in the back are still drying out from the previous day’s float trip.