Butcher programs grow at community colleges

By AACC 21st Century Center Staff

Even before the pandemic, meat processing delays had become a growing problem in our country. Many farmers have to book nearly three years in advance to get a butcher. Last May, Madison College in Wisconsin launched a new artisanal modern meat butchery program in hopes of speeding up the process.

“That’s a huge deal, because those animals are investments and they need to be processed,” Madison College Chef Paul Short told Spectrum News last year. “And every day you go past a certain timeline that’s costing the farmer a lot of money.”

According to the program website, the artisanal modern meat butchery program offers students an opportunity to “learn about the entire lifecycle of an animal from an agricultural, meat production, and culinary arts perspective.” Students learn about farm practices and can apply the “pasture-to-plate philosophy” in the college’s culinary and meat production facility.

Madison College even has a retail butcher shop, where students identify, inspect and process carcasses, as well as prepare and package meat for sale and interact with customers. The shop now offers favorites such as bacon, brats, bologna and Kasenkrainer – a spiced brat filled with Swiss cheese.

Students can complete the program in as little as a year.

GateWay Community College in Arizona also has a butcher shop and deli staffed by students. The apprentice meat cutting program at GateWay is the only one of its kind in the state of Arizona.

In Minnesota, there have been no college-level meat-cutting programs. Central Lakes College and Ridgewater College are aiming to fill that void.

“As a regional leader in agricultural education, we are very connected to our industry partners and local and regional producers, and they’re struggling to have accessible options for getting their animals slaughtered and processed for consumers,” said Jeff Miller, one of Ridgewater College’s deans of instruction.

Ridgewater’s program will begin this fall. To make the courses convenient for working students, the college will offer the courses two evenings a week and one weekend per month with both online and in-person learning.

A meat processing program at Miles Community College (MCC) in Montana developed from a partnership between the college and Montana Farm Bureau.

“A meat cutter program is ideal for a community college because it’s good career technical training. We knew there was a need and knew that a community college could fill that void,” Kim Gibbs, agricultural instructor at MCC, said in a 2020 press release. “We considered building a new processing facility, but the cost of that was prohibitive.”

MCC is partnering with area meat processors to provide students with hands-on training. Students can complete their core classes—either online or classroom—through MCC and do rotating internships by traveling to three or four different processing plants.

“Not many career technical programs are set up so a student gets paid to do an internship while completing their training; these students will,” Gibbs said.

MCC’s program was helped along with a $117,000 Montana Meat Processing Infrastructure Grant, as part of the $7.5 million of coronavirus relief funds awarded by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and the Montana Department of Agriculture.

AACC 21st Century Center Staff

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.