Last week it was in the hands and under the knives of students in Cross County Community Schools teacher and FFA advisor Joe O’Brien’s students. “The FFA Meats judging team was able to use the processing to learn about wholesale and retail cuts, as well as how different cuts are picked,” O’Brien explained. “It was also used on the classroom side so that the students were able to see the process and get an opportunity for some hands-on learning.”
Like many small-school endeavors, this unique lesson was made possible by generous members of the community. “Grant Miller, an FFA parent and grill-master, bought the hog from a local farmer and thought it would be a good thing for the students to learn from,” O’Brien said. “We agreed and the project grew from there.”
Other community members stepped up to help make the project possible. “We had community members that helped along the way. Perry Noyd, who is a local supporter let us use his facility to let the pig hang for 14 days and helped with the beginning processing part.”
The students, however, were the ones who were hands- and cutlery-on. Except for selecting and harvesting the animal, students played a role every step of the way, O’Brien said. “The students were able to help in various ways from nearly the beginning to end. Most of the experience was in the cutting into the wholesale pieces and some retail cuts,” he said. “There is a lot of work that goes into the processing of animals it was good that the kids got to take part in it and realize just how much work it is.”
Many students in ag-related classes like O’Brien’s have a strong understanding of where our food comes from, but O’Brien said this project took the learning experience to an even greater level. “Putting classroom knowledge into action gives the kids an even better grasp of the concepts.”
It’s a concept evermore important to learn in the midst of smaller-scale meat processing demand in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. O’Brien said he himself has experience processing hogs but that he was only part of the project.
O’Brien said experiences like this are only made possible by community members and the school itself. “Any chance to get students involved with community members to get hands on opportunities is great experience for our [FFA] chapter and its members,” O’Brien said, adding: “We are lucky enough to have great community support and a great administration to let us explore opportunities like this.”