Across the state, high schools offer career and technical education to give students a leg up in their fields before graduating. These programs can include skilled trades like welding, shop classes, or even meat processing.
Tucked away in a New Martinsville 4-H Camp, two auctioneers stand on a small indoor stage, denim clad and wearing cowboy hats, securing bids on something a little unusual... ham, bacon, and eggs.
It’s a culminating event for high school students in Wetzel County who have overseen the entire ensuing meat and poultry process. Magnolia High School agriculture instructor Scott Ash explained that twenty kids are in the program.
“They all take an animal, and raise it from young all the way through the process to about 250 to 300 pounds” Ash said. “Then we send the animal to a USDA slaughterhouse and here in the meat lab we break down the carcass. We process the hams and the bacons.”
The auction is part of Wetzel County’s career and technical education (CTE) program, which like many similar programs throughout the state, gives students a chance to learn hands-on career skills while still in high school.
One of these students is Bailey Fayad, who said she loves the life lessons this program has taught her.
“It’s honestly a great thing to get involved in because it shows you a lot of responsibility outside of school, and the environment and stuff like that. It is definitely a great impact on kids that they need to do,” Fayad explained.
Wetzel County 4-H and FFA Ham Bacon and Egg Sale
Along with students from Magnolia, Hundred, and Pine Grove high schools, Fayad entered her ham and bacon to the Wetzel County 4-H and FFA Ham Bacon and Egg Sale.
This event has become an institution in the county. In its 51st year, the auction attracts prominent buyers including law offices, banks, and other prominent businesses from the community.
The products can go for quite a bit of money, too. Ash mentioned it wasn’t unusual to see hams go for around $25 a pound.
All proceeds are passed back to the students, who invested the time and their own money into the product.
“Prime is kind of like a ‘way to go’, and choice is still pretty good, and then there’s your grands and your reserves,” Fayad explained about the various meat grades. “Grand champion is first place, and reserve champion is second place. And I actually received grand champion bacon, and I received prime on my ham this year.”
Fayad received the top prize for bacon in the county this year. This is her second time doing so, which earned her a new nickname, Bacon Queen.
Last year, when she was a grand champion, the Bacon Queen’s meat went for about $2,000, but prices vary a lot depending on attending buyers on any given year. This year she made even more money.
“No, I did not expect $500 a pound. That was incredible,” Fayad said shortly after the bid closed on her grand champion bacon. “I actually feel pretty awesome right now.”
Fayad’s bacon weighed 6.7 pounds, fetching a final price of about $3,400 — a new record for the auction.
As the night went on over a hundred items were auctioned off, the ham and bacon were auctioned by pound and the eggs were sold by the dozen.
Each of the highest bidders has the option to keep their prize, donate it to the fire department’s yearly dinner, or donate it to be sold again in a fundraising event for Future Farmers of America and 4-H scholarships. All told, the auction can bring in as much as $75,000 for students.
After the county auction, students prepare for the state auction in Charleston where they will join students from all the other counties with similar meat processing, and FFA programs.