Career center launches meaty new program

MIDDLEBURY — The Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center next Tuesday will launch a new program aimed at beefing up the state’s meat processing industry.
The Oct. 2 launch comes as the developers of a proposed new meat processing facility slated for Middlebury’s industrial park acknowledged a delay in construction. But said they are confident they will break ground on the new facility before the end of the year.
That facility is to provide one of the training grounds for the career center students.
At issue is the career center’s “Skilled Butchers and Meat Cutters” curriculum, developed in collaboration with Vermont Technical College. The two-year program, being offered in association with Vermont Technical College, includes several courses designed to teach students (18 and older) all they need to become certified in the state as butchers or meat cutters. Courses at the career center’s North Campus will include “Food Safety and Sanitation,” “Meat Processing and Fabrication,” “Meat Technology,” “Meat Processing and Merchandising,” “Advanced Livestock Processing/Safety Analysis,” and “Poultry Processing.”
Year two of the program calls for the students to be placed in paid internships in meat cutting facilities throughout the state. Career center Executive Director Lynn Coale said his institution has verbal agreements for internships with Ferrisburgh-based Vermont Livestock, Randolph-based Royal Butcher and Black River Produce in Springfield.
“They are going to be professional butchers and meat cutters when they walk out our doors,” Coale said on Monday.
“It’s pretty exciting.”
The state is in need of more qualified people to fill the dwindling ranks of meat cutters and butchers who have been hard-pressed to keep up with the growing demand for Vermont-raised beef, pork and lamb. Many of the state’s meat cutters are nearing retirement age and there haven’t been many programs to bring the next generation into the profession.
Noting these job opportunities, the Hannaford Career Center last year established a 13-member advisory committee to put together a curriculum for aspiring meat cutters and butchers. The committee — made up of slaughter facility owners, retail butchers, custom meat cutters, representatives from VTC and state agriculture officials — also helped identify equipment needs, potential employment opportunities, and hands-on training sites. The Legislature, as part of the 2011 Jobs Bill, earmarked around $25,000 toward development of the new Hannaford offering.
Coale is pleased to report that the Skilled Butchers and Meat Cutters program is fully enrolled at 15 students, with a waiting list of five. Enrollees hail from throughout Vermont and indeed other New England states, according to Coale, who as part of his research traveled to Eastern Oklahoma State College in Wilburton, Okla., to consult with Meat Lab Instructor Gaylan Brannon. The college provided all of its curriculum, syllabuses and lesson plans to help in the development of the Vermont program.
“Without the aid and support of the advisory committee and the good folks in Oklahoma, this program would not be possible,” said Coale.
A key component of the new program has already been wheeled into place behind the career center’s Mainelli Road building. What by outward appearances looks like a basic car trailer is actually a mobile poultry processing unit. Purchased recently from G. Stone Motors, career center staff and students will outfit the trailer with partitions, sinks, overhead lights, aluminum walls, cold tanks, a vacuum sealer, scales, electrical outlets and another door so that it can be used for processing chickens from slaughter to packaging. Students, under the direction of  instructor George Eisenhardt of Vermont Livestock, will learn how to process birds in a professional, sanitary and humane manner that will pass state inspection. Students will also learn about the anatomy and physiology of the animals, along with knife skills.
Plans call for the poultry processing unit to be ready for use by Oct. 20. Career center instructors and students will retrofit it for the slaughterhouse function in order to save the center as much money as possible. The processing unit will not be taken to farms, but will be taken to VTC and other participating vocational-technical centers. The mobile unit will remain the property of the career center, which has invested $20,500 in the $47,000 facility. Fees received from poultry processing and leasing agreements with clients will help pay off the asset, Coale said.
Among the first birds to be processed at the mobile unit will be 100 chickens being raised by Agricultural Science students at Middlebury Union High School, according to Coale.
Students will move from poultry to larger animals that they will learn how to humanely dispatch and carve into the cuts of meat one finds at the supermarket.
“This program is a critical step in developing Vermont’s meat industry and ensuring that the craft of meat cutting is taught to the next generation,” Vermont Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross said in a written statement. “Butchers play an important role in the food system, and this program will help build a skilled work force.”
Meanwhile, Vermont Livestock officials said they are optimistic they will soon be able to expand their operation with a new, 11,442-square-foot slaughter- and meat-processing facility on a 5.1-acre parcel in Middlebury’s industrial park. Organizers had hoped to break ground on the facility back in May, but have had to delay due to financing issues.
“We have all our permits,” Vermont Livestock owner/operator Carl Cushing said. “We are a little short on money. (Construction) costs went up over what we had planned.”
The Castanea Foundation, a Vermont-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to support state agriculture, has been helping Vermont Livestock in its expansion efforts. The foundation is now looking for more resources to help fill the financing gap and Cushing is hopeful for a groundbreaking later this fall.
For more information on the Hannaford Career Center’s Skilled Butchers and Meat Cutting program, log on to www.hannafordcareercenter.org/adult-educationor call 802-382-1012.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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