Those of you who have visited us on the mountain know that we have a deep freeze full of meat, well beyond what we could consume ourselves in a year. Yet, we do not purchase meat at the store. Much of our stock comes from fund raisers, such at the FFA (Future Farmer’s of America) Ham, Bacon, and Egg sale, which occurs at the high school, each March. This a combination of an educational experience for the students and a redistribution of wealth from the local businesses to potential future employees and customers. Being neighbors with the high school ag teacher, we started attending about 10 years ago. Now we schedule the next day off to enjoy the event without needing to go home early.
The FFA participants come from 4 nearby schools… well, as nearby as you might find schools around here. Pocahontas County students travel over an hour to get here. Each student raises at least one hog for the year. These are slaughtered at a registered slaughter house, then butchered, trimmed, and prepared by the students at the schools. Curing includes a salt-brine soak and the smoking at the schools smoke house. This is what winter is for. The week of the sale, all of the schools send their hams and bacons for judging. They are classified as Prime, Choice, and Good categories, with Champion and Reserve Champion selections for each category. Usually a couple of students submit a dozen eggs, so that someone can have a really expensive breakfast.
Each of the items (211 this year) are auctioned by local auctioneers while the student stands holding his product. Most of those attending and bidding are local businesses, politicians, or someone wanting notoriety. We baffled them the first few times we purchased items, as they did not expect personal names. To make this more clear, when you arrive, you register and pick up your number. We think Rodney stacked the deck when they went to a computerized system a couple of years ago and our number became “1″. Hmmmm. Everyone who participates picks up a list of the items for sale. This includes the weight of the item (hams run from 24 to 14 lbs), and the student’s name and the high school they attend. When someone wins the bid, their business name is announced. The bid and the name get recorded numerous times, and that becomes reason to support a business later on (or not if they purchase a ham from a different school, but not yours). Hence, when they do not have a business to announce, they scratch their heads. But, we have become known in the community for supporting the FFA. The bank tellers, folks at the firehall, postal workers, et al., in fact more people whom we do not know, greet us with, “How’s the ham….”.
Half the fun of the auction is not winning a bid (ouch to the wallet, as hams go for $12 – $30 per pound), but watching the social dynamics. Who is bidding on whom? Who drops out early, and who will outbid anyone else regardless of the escalating total cost. Remember the auctioneer is saying something like “I have 15, 15 ,15, who’ll give me 16. I need 16. 15, 15, 15 give me 16. There’s 16. Now make it 17, 17, 17…” in rapid fire speech in a West Virginia dialect, in a gym with lots of reverb.b.b.b.b.b. We learn lots of stories about students (who is a hard worker, and who left his hog for his grandmother to feed) by the way bidding goes.
The money from the sales goes to the students at the end of the year. This may become seed money for next year’s hog, savings toward college or work after graduation. We could easily purchase some country ham slices at the grocery store for much less. But, we consider the value of teaching students how to raise and process food, how to demonstrate a work ethic, and how to manage the money earned. Redistributing knowledge and values is as important as wealth.
Bring a cooler when you visit. County fairs will be soon enough.