Wetumpka High School students will soon know what it’s like to eat from the farm to the cafeteria lunch table after efforts by a school program.
The 250-plus students participating in agriscience class at Wetumpka High School recently got a first-hand look at what livestock farmers experience on a daily basis while running a farm as a business.
Agriscience teacher William Norris took the farm to table concept and integrated into the school’s lunchroom by allowing his students to raise livestock as part of a Farm to School program.
“We had some professional development programs on the farm to table program,” he said. “I thought it would be a good idea to raise livestock and sell it back to the school.”
This fall, students were charged with the responsibility of raising and caring for two hogs and a cow.
“There’s educational value in the students participating in this process. Some think meat just comes from the grocery store,” Norris said. “Some have never seen cows or seen this from beginning to end.”
Norris said USDA-approved Clark Brothers in Ronaoke will process the livestock in the near future. He estimated the project will yield 480 to 600 pounds of meat.
“Both on a calf and a hog, you’re getting about 60% of product versus the live weight,” he said.
The school system will purchase the processed meat from the agriculture program for approximately $2.50 per pound, according Elmore County Schools child nutrition director Cacyce Davis.
She said the meat will be served at Wetumpka High School and majority of the meat will be used during breakfast.
Norris said the program has several benefits.
“The money the school system would have spent buying food from someone else, we almost get to spend it twice,” he said. “The money brought in by the agricultural program will go directly into the program for the students. It’s a win-win.”
Norris said he shared his idea with Davis before the school year started.
“I immediately thought it was a great opportunity,” Davis said. “Child nutrition programs are regulated by the USDA. USDA has its own Farm to School initiatives and encourage these activities.”
Wetumpka senior Matthew Pate said the program taught him what it takes to keep a farm running.
“It’s really taught me how to care for things and the importance of teamwork,” he said. “You cannot get the animals one day, sell it the next day and hope it makes a lot of money. It takes a good while for that to happen. It takes time and effort to do this.”
Davis is a proponent of Norris’ efforts.
“The goal of Farm to School is to also support local farmers,” she said. “An activity like this encourages students to go into farming. They immediately see the outcomes of their work when they actually see the product they worked on benefitting their classmates. Plus, we’re able to purchase foods a little less expensive.”
Davis said one of her department’s goals for the coming years is to form direct relationships with local and regional farmers.
She said she is actively looking to form those relationships and wants farmers to contact the school system if they are interested in forming a partnership.
Norris said the agriscience program continues to expand.
“We just got 10 more acres added to our land,” he said. “I got a $5,000 grant to fence in the property. That will allow us to expand our livestock presence at the school.”
Davis said the USDA offers grant programs that would allow Norris to increase the reach of the school’s efforts.
“Typically, there are several years of grant funding they provide,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to help with that growth and something we can work toward.”