Pork produced at Central High School was served by students in every McMinn County school cafeteria on Tuesday, Feb. 19.
Specifically, 100 students from the county’s FFA (Future Farmers of America) chapters were present at all nine schools not only serving the locally raised and made sausage, but also educating their peers about the process. Ten pigs raised at Central produced the 750 pounds of pork sausage that were served in biscuits during breakfast on the county schools’ campuses.
The pigs were conceived in May, born in August and raised for consumption through the help of animal science students and FFA members under the leadership of Central FFA Advisor and animal/veterinarian science teacher Annette Bryant.
“We’re so many generations removed from food production and for students to see the work that goes into it is very important,” Bryant said during the event. “There’s science, record keeping, vaccines and animal welfare — it’s important for them to respect the final product and people that get it there.”
FFA member Anna Sliger, a junior at Central, is a farm manager who was instrumental in this year’s farm to fork endeavors. With enthusiasm, she spoke about what she learned through the experience, while also adding merit to Bryant’s goal.
“I’ve learned that most people don’t understand where food comes from. They know the grocery store, but not from where it comes,” Sliger said. “I’ve enjoyed every single part — learning to take care of animals from the time they’re slaughtered until the time they’re served.”
Another component of the event was that FFA members worked with cafeteria staff members to measure the lean to fat ratio, ensuring that the meat was up to par with food service standards. The process was enlightening, according to Central senior and FFA member Erica Massaro.
“It’s exciting to get a chance to do this,” Massaro noted. “We’ve seen how the lunch ladies do it all and what they go through every day just to serve students.”
While students developed an enhanced respect and understanding of some of those responsibilities, cafeteria staff members were noting pride for students.
“We’re so excited about this,” Central Cafeteria Manager Maxine Roberts said. “It shows the FFA students the reward and excitement of their hard work and the kids get to taste something that their fellow students raised. We’re very proud of the FFA students.”
Roberts added that some students had never tasted fresh farm to table meat and that she was glad to witness the first time connection for those individuals.
Two Central FFA members commented on their experience of serving the sausage to younger students at Englewood Elementary School.
Summer Scott, a sophomore, said that many of her peers are confused about the source of food. According to Scott, educating others that animal welfare standards are prioritized was particularly important to her.
“It feels good to teach kids about how farm food works, especially instead of them thinking that we abuse animals,” Scott explained. “We let them know how we raise and treat them — we raise them humanely.”
Another member said that many offered feedback about being able to taste the difference between their locally made sausage and that which is typically served.
Julia Walker, a representative of Ag Central Farmers Cooperative, was present at Central during the breakfast. Walker offered her impression of the endeavor.
“It’s one of the best programs I’ve ever seen for connecting consumers more with where food comes from,” Walker said, adding that she believes there will be “tangible results years from now” with “kids being more conscious about the (food) process.”
As part of the educational outreach, during the event, FFA members were accompanied by local livestock specialists, with all schools having beef producers present and five schools hosting pork producers on site. Educational materials donated by Tennessee Pork Producers were also distributed at the schools.
Tuesday’s event marked the second time Central served their own grown meat, but was the first time the school served it to every cafeteria system-wide.
“I’m happy we’re doing it,” said McMinn County School Nutrition Supervisor Sarah Prince. “I’m glad for the students and looking forward to the partnership with FFA.”
The farm-to-table trend has been steadily sprawling the nation and even helped sprout the “farm to school” movement. In Tennessee, McMinn County Schools System is one of about 100 school districts embracing the movement to offer locally sourced food, according to the Department of Education.
However, while most participating systems nationally and statewide are serving local produce, statistically, far fewer districts are serving their own meat.
As Prince noted, “Central has its own farm which not a lot of schools have, so that makes it unique.”