- Associated Press - Monday, October 31, 2016

REDMOND, Ore. (AP) - Two Redmond High School FFA students will know exactly the work that went into a few cafeteria menu items coming soon to Redmond schools. The two teens raised hogs they later sold to Redmond School District’s nutrition services department, and the meat will be used to make dishes including breakfast sausage, carnitas and pulled pork.

Lance Hill, who teaches agriculture and leads FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America) at Redmond High School, connected with Keith Fiedler, general manager of nutrition services for the district, months back. The two were discussing eventually having kids grow produce for the district, when Fiedler said he’d be interested in buying local meat as well.

“I said, ‘We’d be open to purchasing livestock,’ and (Hill) said, ‘That’s interesting,’” Fiedler said.

Hill kept Fiedler’s pitch to purchase pigs in mind, and called him a few months ago to see whether the school district would want to buy three hogs.

“He said, ‘I have some students that if they don’t sell at fair would like to sell to you,’” Fiedler said.

Taylor Blankenship, 17, a junior and FFA member, said she’d call her past season of raising pigs, from early spring to late summer, an “unlucky” one. She wasn’t able to sell either of her pigs, Princess or Precious, at the Deschutes County Fair. She showed Princess at the fair, but her pig came in under the weight required to be sold. She didn’t bring Precious to fair at all, since she knew that porker wouldn’t “make weight.”

Although Taylor named the animals, the pigs aren’t pets; the goal is to sell them for meat, and without the opportunity to do so at fair, she felt at a loss.

“We weren’t sure what we would do,” Taylor said of herself and her parents.

To her delight, Taylor’s two pigs, and a pig of her classmate’s, ended up being bought by the school district.

“I honestly think it’s cool,” Taylor said of knowing the meat will be eaten by her fellow students.

Jake Pickering, 18, a senior and fellow FFA member, didn’t have the unlucky year Taylor did, but selling one of his pigs to the school district was still a win.

The animal he ended up selling was one he had shown at the state fair. He won some prize money with it, which was a plus, but at the state fair, he couldn’t sell his animal for meat.

“It was nice because it definitely cut my expenses a lot,” Jake said of selling the pig to the school district. He also likes the idea of the meat being used in school lunches, he said, because students will get to eat “homegrown pork.”

Fiedler, who was an executive chef in the past, has always preferred using local produce and meat, even before it was trendy.

“Throughout my whole career, I’ve always bought local, long before there was a term,” he said. “It’s always been important for several reasons, first of all you’re supporting your local economy, second of all there’s a certain excitement about who grew your food . thirdly, there’s a really good chance it’s better or fresher.”

Redmond School District’s nutrition services also buys organic potatoes from Juniper Jungle Farm in east Bend and meat from Painted Hills Natural Beef in Fossil. Fiedler would like to expand the amount the district is buying local; he’s interested in finding local apples and peaches, when they are in peak season.

The district paid $4 a pound for the pigs, at carcass weight, directly to the students. Hill said $4 is above the $2 average a lot of pigs might bring, but below what kids can get at the fair, where community members are especially generous in support of the kids.

The $4 per pound the district paid reflected its appreciation of the quality of the animals, Hill said, which are healthy, locally grown and treated humanely. Over summer Hill checks in with the students about once a week: they all bring their livestock to a local designated farm where Hill can help check their weights and health. Having the animals travel once a week allows them to feel at ease when it comes time for the fair.

“What are the pigs doing when you see them at fair?” Hill said. “Sleeping.”

That’s because the animals aren’t stressed out by the travel they went through or their new environment. That’s his students’ goal: to give them a happy, humane life.

Although a pig for a family would stock a freezer for quite some time, the amount of meat that comes from three pigs isn’t all that much for a school district with thousands of students. The three pigs ended up yielding about 800 pounds of meat. Fiedler said most of it will be served at Redmond High School and Ridgeview as the sausage, carnitas and pulled pork Cuban sandwiches as soon as next month.

“The beauty of creating a tradition of doing these things is the word spreads,” Fiedler said. His hope: to get more local food into students’ stomachs.

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Information from: The Bulletin, https://www.bendbulletin.com

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