Cal Poly’s meat processing program is gearing up for Thanksgiving by promoting its “holiday hams,” which come from pigs raised on campus and are processed entirely by students in meat processing classes.
Meat processing center manager Matthew Livingston said this is part of one of the center’s holiday promotions.
“We have our holiday hams that we do every year, so that’s either a half or a whole that you can pre-order,” Livingston said. “We’ve got a few extras that we are selling right now, so we have not sold out but we have two days left of sales.”
Though Cal Poly Meats is usually only open for business on Thursdays and Fridays, they are making an exception this week to accommodate those who wish to buy a ham for Thanksgiving. The meat processing center is open Tuesday before Thanksgiving break begins so customers can pick up their pre-ordered hams.
According to Livingston, the hams are unique because they are processed in a very traditional way different from most mass-produced hams.
“It’s an old fashioned way of making the ham where we brine them for two weeks and then we’ll bring it out and smoke it,” Livingston said. “That’s a tradition we’ve been doing for over 20 years here at Cal Poly.”
In addition, Cal Poly-processed hams are different from most because they are processed by students in classes. Cal Poly’s meat science program adheres to the school’s “Learn By Doing” philosophy by offering the opportunity for students to process the meat themselves. Animal science sophomore and meat processing center employee Samantha Smith said this is one of the reasons Cal Poly Meats gains loyal customers.
“It’s all done by students, and I feel like that’s why a lot of the people who are customers here love it so much, because it’s all local and it’s all about the learning experience,” Smith said.
Livingston agreed customers appreciate Cal Poly Meats for its unique production.
“It’s kind of knowing where your meat comes from, knowing that it wasn’t mass produced,” Livingston said.
And it seems the community is responding — Livingston said they usually see about 50 to 100 customers per week, but sales jump drastically during the holiday season.
“We’ll actually do about six times as much business with the hams than we would normally do,” Livingston said. “We just moved up here from down on campus, so we lost a lot of business in doing that, but we’re slowly starting to get the business back, folks are starting to learn where we are again.”
By “up here,” Livingston refers to the new meat processing center’s location as of its opening in October 2011, at the far edge of campus past the crops unit. The new meat processing center provides state-of-the-art equipment for meats to be prepared for sale. In addition, it was built with Cal Poly’s educational goals in mind.
“The facility was designed with teaching in mind, and the way the central hallway is designed is so that people can watch and learn what we’re all about,” Smith said. “If a class is going on, people can just come up here and watch through the window, and I think that’s really good for people that don’t necessarily know a lot about what we do here.”
Another advantage of the new facility is the fact that it provides the potential for expansion in products. Graduate student Steven McLennan, who is heavily involved in sales at the meat processing center, said the center is looking to add to its Thanksgiving options, which currently don’t include the holiday staple, turkey.
“Next year we’re looking at having some Cal Poly raised turkey for Thanksgiving,” McLennan said.
The main purpose of the meat processing center, however, is simply to aid in the learning process. Facility employees love the work they do because it provides the opportunity to dabble in all aspects of meat processing. Employee and animal science junior Allex Brandon said she does everything from breaking down the carcasses to processing sausage and managing sales.
“It’s nice because I get to do a little of everything,” Brandon said. “I was here over summer and there weren’t many people here so I really got to experience everything.”
Livingston said the holiday ham promotion is just one of multiple promotions by Cal Poly Meats. A “Sausage Fest” will be held on campus Nov. 30, in which students can sample sausages created by animal science students.