From a live-birth webcam to farm-to-school pork on their plates, an Indiana school has fallen in love with pig farming thanks to the ingenuity of their FFA chapter.
“I am in my 18th year of teaching and I have never had students more engaged and active in their own learning,” said Cory Scott, Paoli Jr. Sr. High School Agriculture Science and Business teacher and FFA Advisor. “They find things that they want to try and solve their own problems. It is a fun way to teach.”
Through their farm-to-table program, Scott and the other agriculture teacher at Paoli have not only turned on the school’s 1,400 students in K-12 to agriculture, but also secured 180 students in agricultural classes and in FFA. And as Scott says, it really all happened by accident three years ago.
“The increased focus on testing and technology usage in schools made it hard to get students to understand the applicable skills used in agriculture,” Scott said. “I decided to bring a gilt onto campus to show them how agriculture and technology could be used together.”
The venture took studying genetics and animal husbandry to real world … and it worked. A website was created to document the learning that they were doing with the gilt, fondly named Ms. Boots.
“The entire school fell in love with her and wanted to be able to see her give birth, so the students came up with attaching a webcam to our website so that anyone could check on her, and the babies, at any time,” Scott said.
After just a couple months, the pig cam ended up getting over 15,000 views. All of her babies were eventually sold to Paoli students to be shown at the county fair.
The chapter then decided to go for a second year in pig production, purchasing two of Ms. Boots’ daughters. But at the end of the year, the Paoli FFA didn’t have any buyers for the sows, so it was mentioned that the chapter could just process them and use them at school.
“We decided to try one because we were not sure how this would be received by the students because they knew each of the pigs,” Scott said.
The pig was soon sent to USDA Certified processor, Sanders Processing in Celestine, Indiana, where it became sausage and BBQ.
“It ended up being the largest lunch day of the year,” Scott said. “We quickly realized that we were on to something.”
The next year Paoli FFA kept two of the daughters and also brought in two purebreds. The horticulture students also wanted to get more hands on, so they came up with growing lettuce to be used in the cafeteria as well.
“This year we have one sow and six gilts,” Scott said. “We are producing enough lettuce to cover our school’s needs, plus some other local partners.”
The farm-to-school program is paying off for the Paoli FFA chapter. They are now able to buy all of their own inputs by selling the products. And in addition to selling to the school, the chapter has also been selling pork and lettuce to retailers and restaurants in the community. Their next goal is to raise enough money to build a new animal science lab, as the chapter has found it quite difficult to expand their pig production in the school greenhouse.
While Scott said it is hard to measure just yet if the farm-to-table program is turning more kids to an agricultural career, more kids are returning to ag classes for a 2nd, 3rd, and now 4th year.
For other FFA chapters around the nation considering a farm-to-table program, Scott says be flexible.
“Use problems that arise as teaching tools. Let the students take things where they want to go and learn about,” Scott said. “You’ll find that they end up covering standards and reaching levels that you can’t do in a regular classroom set up.”