The Holmen School District wants to take the Coulee Region Farm2School program to the next level this fall by putting student-raised pork on the menu.
Beginning in November, students will enjoy the first of many pork dishes made possible by Farm2School and the school’s FFA chapter.
“We’ve taken the Farm2School definition and kind of moved it a little bit,” said FFA adviser and agriculture teacher Roger King. “It’s not like we don’t serve pork; it’s not like we don’t have the availability of good food products.”
He said the Farm2School program allows them to get pork from any number farms in the region.
The project gets students involved in all aspects of raising, processing and preparing pork.
“When we serve this, it’s also going to provide education about food, education about pork and education about nutrition,” he said. “I think we as consumers are removed from, ‘This is where that cut of meat comes from.’ “
King said it’s not just the FFA members who will benefit from experience either, all students participating in the school lunch program will get a chance to learn things like where each cut of pork comes from on the pig.
“To be honest, I think this is a no-brainer from the standpoint of the product,” King said, adding that unlike other products, pork is easily recognizable, and there are plenty of simple recipes for the school district to serve.
However, just because it’s a no-brainer doesn’t mean it’s easy. The products they bring in still need to be nutritionally complete and meet federal nutrition guidelines.
“It’s not as easy as one would say to bring it into school,” he said. “Anything that is served at school has to meet those nutritional guidelines.”
It’s not as simple as saying, ”Let’s have that for lunch,” he said.
Nutrition Director Mike Gasper said in many schools, lunch is only about feeding kids and nothing else.
“We’re getting involved in the educational aspect of it all,” he said.
Late last winter 17 pigs were purchased by the FFA for the school lunch program. Most were kept at senior Kaitlin Young’s family farm where she, with the help of her chapter members, learned to feed, weigh and cleaned up after the animals.
“I’d never really worked with hogs,” Young said.
Keeping track of the pigs weight was the biggest organizational hurdle. Otherwise, she said, “Hogs are pretty easy to raise up.”
When the animals reached maturity, roughly 300 pounds, they will be taken to Craig’s Meats in Mindoro, where they will be processed into pork chops, brat burgers, Italian sausage and barbecue ribs for students to enjoy during lunch.
The first handful of pigs were dropped off for processing the last week of September.
Young said it was hard to watch the first batch of pigs get loaded into the trailer for processing.
“It was difficult at first because they were my favorite group,” she said.
King said next week students will get a chance to visit Craig’s Meats to learn about the butchering process.
When the project is over, the hogs will generate thousands of pork chops for the lunch program.
Gasper said, more importantly, the project will provide an excellent learning opportunity for students.
“In the end, we’re going to try to get as many kids involved in as possible,” Gasper said. “That’s kind of been the way we’ve approached Farm2School.”
This isn’t Holmen’s first time getting students involved in producing their own meals.
Last year the FFA raised chickens which were served during a special school lunch day.
Gasper said the FFA only raised enough chicken for one meal, but this year the hogs will feed students for months.
“We’ve heard of districts raising one or two pigs (but) never this many,” he said.
Before the district ever put student raised pork or chicken the menu, students had been contributing to the lunch program through the district’s gardens.
For years students have harvested corn, potatoes and asparagus.
Last year the district’s cornfield yielded more than a 1,000 pounds of corn.
“We’ve been doing this kind of thing for a while now,” Gasper said. “The FFA program that we have has to be one of the best around.”
“When we serve this, it’s also going to provide education about food, education about pork and education about nutrition. I think we as consumers are removed from, ‘This is where that cut of meat comes from.’” Roger King, FFA adviser and agriculture teacher