Pigs often get a bad rap. They eat a lot and have no problem with their strong odor. But none of that matters to the FFA kids in Streator, Ill. They know the hogs that they are raising have a specific purpose—they are going to feed people in their community who would otherwise not be able to afford increasingly expensive protein in their diets.
Each night at the Parcher family farm near Streator, you can find some, if not most, of the FFA students that help care for 20 head of hogs that will be processed and donated to local families in need of food assistance. A few of the animals will be donated to specific families, but the majority of the meat will be distributed through the local food banks and charities around Streator, Ill.
Usually, FFA members choose individual activities to complete their Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) projects. These learning projects can vary widely—from field crops to working at the local fast food chain.
But what started a family project for the Parchers has grown much larger. In the fall of 2011, Tom Parcher’s sons, Jordan, Riley and Josiah, raised and butchered five hogs, as part of their SAE project. "When we were done butchering in December of 2011, we had more meat than we could use. The boys decided to donate the meat to a few people in the area that needed food," Tom says.
That goodwill kept multiplying. This year, Riley, Josiah and their friend Keegan Brown wanted to raise more animals—and give more meat to needy families. They gathered together their friends in the FFA chapter and other community members to help refurbish a barn and build larger pens for the 20 feeder pigs that their father Tom and Luke Wilken helped them purchase the animals.
Local businesses also joined the action. GRAINCO FS, Exelon Nuclear and Lostant Feed Mill donated feed for the hogs. A local butcher is offering the students a reduced rate in processing the animals. Money for the rest of the processing is being raised through a raffle for some of the meat.
"It went from being a small idea to being a whole community project," says Riley Parcher, 16. "There are a lot of people that are in need. It’s just the way we were raised is to give back."
Top of the class. With several students involved in the project that do not have experience raising hogs, ag teacher and FFA advisor Nick Shaner has devoted some class time to helping the students learn how to properly care for market hogs.
"This is the largest community service project our chapter does," Shaner says. "Even in our rural community, not a lot of kids have experience with hog production. In class, students are learning how to give iron shots to baby pigs, properly administer vaccines, and the terminology of hog production by putting it into practice."
With most of the corn and soybean meal donated, the students got a unique lesson in understanding feed rations. "Most kids that have livestock projects purchase a pre-made show ration. These kids are actually learning there is more to feed than just what is in a bag," Shaner says.
"We’re a mission-minded community. The kids needed a project and the FFA kids needed some excitement," Parcher says. "This project is working out so well and many people are going to be fed."