For many students, FFA instills a work ethic within the students that is unmatched. Carolyn Piguet, advisor for the Vinita FFA Chapter in Oklahoma, has set her students up to do exactly that. Through their food truck, catering business, and Gold Table, the students receive hands-on experiences by running a business and the work ethic that it takes to be successful in life.
With prior experience working in an alternative school, Piguet had the idea and equipment to start a catering business within the FFA program. The FFA program created the perfect pairing — hard-working students with the ability to source food locally. With the equipment from prior grants, the Vinita FFA catering was open for business.
Piguet really wanted the catering business to be a project for the students to participate in a farm-to-fork program. The catering business was a great opportunity to pair with their SAE projects. Throughout the past nine years, the FFA catering program has done events throughout the state of Oklahoma and Arkansas. Their most popular events to cater are weddings, at some of the biggest venues in the area.
Having the catering business has also taught the students a lesson of feeding a growing population. This helps them to be centered around food production and the process it takes take a product to get from farm to fork. By seeing the customers face-to-face, it allows for communication direct from provider to consumers.
Piguet says having the catering business has two benefits: It sparks an interest in food production and the culinary field for students who want to follow their passion. Secondly, the catering business provides fundraising for their chapter while also creating great work ethic for the students.
Through the nine years of their catering business, the students have created a large following within the community. Piguet said social media has also helped spread the word of their services outside of the community.
To be successful, the students not only have to have an interest in food production, but also correct handling of the products. For an average event, the students prep the food during their ag classes. The chapter follows all the Oklahoma State Health Department regulations . The students must meet all the regulations while cleaning vegetables, peeling potatoes, cooking, cleaning surfaces, etc. For the actual event, 10 to 12 students accompany Piguet.
In addition to their catering business, Vinita FFA continues to try new things to stay relevant. The newest revelation is Gold Table, which is their meal kit prep program (like Hello Fresh). Students did multiple flights throughout this past year. Students use fresh vegetables from the chapter garden and student’s personal garden, and the meat from the same individual from the catering business. This experience connects the consumers to the origin of their food.
This opportunity allows the students to learn packaging, marketing, delivery, and so much more. Piguet, along with the students, even create the recipes. Gold Table has been successfully running for one full year. They do a summer, fall, and winter flight.
Piguet says, “We are trying to be a little bit ahead or on the fringe of things. I try to teach the students you have to stay up on the trends, what is marketable, and what your consumers want. Most people don’t understand what the agriculture industry is. You have to put yourself out there so consumers can understand.”
While operating a catering business and Gold Table, the Vinita FFA Chapter also runs a food truck. The students are able to incorporate their SAEs. With an interest in a food truck herself, Piguet wrote a grant for the food truck. Without grants, Piguet says they would have never been able to buy the food truck, aquaponic system, or a new greenhouse.
In their second year of having the food truck, they attend community festivals and the food truck event in their community. Students market the product while also keeping up with the trends and what is popular. The trailer has a huge FFA emblem on the side, which sparks conversations with the public. This shows the public that FFA is here to educate and feed the growing population.
The best part of the catering business, food truck, and Gold Table is that all of the food is locally sourced from the students projects. One FFA student sources the pork and beef for all the events. This is a part of his SAE and he learns how to sell his products to customers.
The students of Vinita FFA have such a great learning opportunity on their hands. “The commitment level of students is huge,” Piguet says. “When they learn that early on, I believe that makes them a better employee and business owner because they understand it takes extra.”
Students can see hard work really pays off. The Vinita FFA Chapter has been a national three-star chapter four different times. Of those four times, they were also a finalist in one of the premier groups three times. They have also won the National Model of Innovation award during Piguet’s second year of teaching.