In a small town in Southeast Missouri, the Oran FFA Chapter took a leap to help out their community and to expand their education. As a strong FFA Chapter in shop, starting up a livestock interest was a new endeavor for the chapter. However, that seemed to be part of the appeal to the officers — expanding their horizons and learning something new. A vital part of the experience of FFA is getting out of your comfort zone and learning a new side of agriculture.
With a new-found passion and curiosity, the officers set out on a new mission. Through the Living to Serve grant with the National FFA Organization, the officers set out to achieve their goal of feeding their community.
The Living to Serve Grant program is facilitated through the National FFA Organization and is open to all chapters in multiple forms. Chapters can apply for one day, semester-long, or yearlong grants. These grants take a lot of preparation and dedication from officers and advisors, but when completed correctly and purposefully, these grants come with great rewards.
The Oran FFA Chapter first applied for a semester-long grant in 2017. The plan was to raise 4 hogs to harvest weight, butcher, process, and distribute to low income families in the community. By the time paper work and logistics were worked out, the hogs came the day of Christmas break.
What would be a time of relaxation and a break for most students turned into responsibility for the Oran FFA Chapter. With the new hogs they knew it would be a learning experience, but did not realize to what extent. During the cold winter days, students where outside breaking ice, feeding, and adding bedding to ensure comfort for the hogs.
The students had a lot of help from the community in many ways. A local hog farmer helped the students get on their feet, farmers helped with feed, and parents helped to ensure the students were able to be there for their responsibilities. It was truly a community effort.
As they took care of the hogs, the students were able to have hands on learning, instead of from a text book. The Living to Serve Grant allowed the students to expand their experiences and knowledge outside of the classroom.
The students raised the hogs from the end of December into mid-February. The harsh winter was a true test of the student’s responsibility and commitment to the project.
Once the hogs were at weight, the students were able to decide the next steps in the process. As so many first projects do, there was a learning curve to the butchering process. Not wanting to make a mistake, the meat was taken to a USDA inspected butcher instead of a local one. Although not a mistake, it was an extra cost that wasn’t necessary due to their end goal of donating the meat. In Missouri, if meat is donated and raised locally, it does not have to go through an USDA approved facility.
After the students were able to experience the responsibility of raising hogs, they were able to learn more about the butchering process, a true start to finish experience.
After they were able to have the hogs processed, the project was able to come full circle. Oran schools partner with the local food bank for the Backpacks for Friday program, which sustains a family of four during the weekend. With the student’s hard work and dedication, eleven local families were able to have six pounds of fresh, locally grown pork, until supplies ran out. This was a huge help for the students and the community. Through the process, the backpack program had over 460 pounds of pork to hand out!
With a successful first semester-long grant, the students were eager to try again, but this time with two steers. Again, with help from local farmers and the student’s hard work, the chapter was able to acquire another Living to Serve Grant.
With another new endeavor, the students were up for the responsibility and the challenge. This adventure was not without its own challenges. What started with two steers, sadly reduced to one. For an unknown reason, one steer died which left many questions for the students. How will this affect the grant, what are the next steps for the project, and how to handle the death. The students came up with a solution and continued their journey.
They decided to sell beef jerky to help with cost of the remaining grant and then donate the other half of the steer. The chapter was once again able to help the community and give back. With meat from the steer, they were able to help feed nine families for five weeks. With the meat, the chapter sent home recipes to help cook delicacies, such as cow liver.
Eftink said, “Work wise, I was very pleased with these students who came in and helped out after school and during the summer with the calves. We got the fence rebuilt, got the calves moved in, and they where there to help out.”
With the Living to Serve Grant, the Oran FFA Chapter has helped their community while also getting hands on experience that will last them a lifetime.