Fairgoers at the West Virginia State Fair look forward to being part of a tradition that traces back to the 1950s. And one particular tradition happens have the savory taste of pork. Originally created by the West Virginia FFA Association, the Ham Stand has been fully managed operated by Greenbrier East FFA. In 2017, the chapter brought the stand through its second renovation and continues to serve their growing fanbase.
True to its name, the Ham Stand specializes in all things pork — the menu includes classics such as pork tenderloin and sausage sandwiches. The latest addition is “The Pig Out,” which includes ham, tenderloin, sausage, gravy on a biscuit and topped with bacon.
“Our best seller is of course our famous ham sandwich,” says Grace Sealey, chapter vice president.
“Best seller” may be putting it mildly. This particular sandwich, by the way, was listed on FoodNetwork.com as West Virginia’s Best Fair Food just earlier this year, putting it in the national spotlight.
“Members are being taught more than how to fry pork, package sandwiches, and pour drinks. Learning customer service, inventory, calculating totals quickly without calculators and learning to work as a team are all skills every members develops and perfects during their hours of service to the organization,” says Beth Massey, chapter advisor and ag teacher. “Raising funds for their activities is important, but these communication and work ethic skills are what’s most important for our members … it’s the skills learned that are the real profit.”
Herself an FFA member in the 1980s, Massey worked the stand and has a firsthand appreciation for the valuable skills and life lessons the experience gives back. “It’s too important not to make sure it happens.”
Responsibility to keep the Ham Stand up and running through the 10 days of fair is no easy feat. Members all volunteer to work at least three shifts of eight or more hours throughout the long week. The resulting funds go toward all of the chapter’s needs throughout the school year. This includes travel expenses, conventions, and educational and recreational trips. This year, the chapter plans to attend the Ohio Farm Science Review, Columbus Zoo, and WV Farm Museum.
The regional agriculture community is also very much a part of the stand and its ingredients. “The ham comes from Sun Crest Farms in North Carolina, the sausage comes from a farmer named Steve Evans in Ohio, the tenderloin comes from a local grocery store, IGA, and is cut fresh daily,” says Tiersa Helvey, chapter president. “Our biscuits are made fresh daily by a local restaurant, the Meeting Place, who donates them to us each year.”
Years of quality and dedication has earned the little stand customer loyalty of the highest caliber. “Our customer numbers are growing. We even have customers who come to the fair just for a ham sandwich,” Helvey says. “We always get complimented on our service and food quality.”
Massey notes that among those customers are alumni who return to show their support and talk FFA. “It’s the passing of the ‘spatula’ from one generation of FFA members to the next, and it’s amazing.”
What the Chapter is saying …
“A passion for Agriculture, hard work, working together and becoming a family is what the FFA Ham Stand means to me.” — Ikesha McMillion, member.
“Working at the Ham Stand comes with a lot of stressful mornings and nights but also a lot of fun and memories.” — Allison Wickline, member and Assistant Historian
“Responsibility and team work are what make a dining establishment and family work.” — Kiah Hill, member and Chaplain
“There is never a dull moment between the laughing and smiles and everyone knows the food is made with lover from our chapter.” — Cheyenne Cochran, member and vice president
“The Ham Stand lessons are be on time, be prepared and be respectful.” — Jack Hanna, member and reporter
“To me, working the ham stand is a chance to give back to the community by serving them their once a year treat.” — Hallie Grim, member.
Jaclyn Krymowski is a recent graduate of The Ohio State University with a major in animal industries and minor in agriculture communications. She is an enthusiastic “agvocate,” professional freelance writer, and blogs at the-herdbook.com.