SALEM, Ore. — Some thought it was chicken. Others thought it was bacon. A few simply said “meat.”
These were just some of the answers to the question of, “What do you think this beef pepperoni stick is made out of?” that Oregon Cattlemen’s Association employees asked students last week at the two-day Urban AgFest at Parrish Middle School in Salem.
At this event, OCA employees put together an educational booth to show students from the Salem area not only what the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association does, but what ranchers around the state do. However, it was quickly apparent that children in the area simply had not been educated regarding the finer points of the beef industry. During the event, OCA employees and Western Oregon University student Chianna Tolton cut up Hawley Ranch beef pepperoni sticks to give out to students who came to the booth to learn about the industry. When one of the students was asked if they knew how the beef pepperoni stick was made, they answered by saying, “at the store.”
“As an industry, and an organization, we need to do a better job in educating the public about our industry,” said OCA Executive Director Jerome Rosa. “We have such a rich tradition as an industry and organization and we do so much for consumers that these future leaders of America should have a deeper understanding of everything we do.”
Educating the elementary and middle school students was handled by OCA Communication Coordinator Scott Anderson, OCA Administrative Assistant Hailey Bragg, OCA member Kenzie Smith and Western Oregon University student volunteer Chianna Tolton. They put up a booth, had informational handouts and other pertinent information prepared for the students.
“Once they realized that the hamburgers, carne asada, lasagna and meatballs and other foods they eat regularly were actually made from cows, it was as if a light went off in them,” said OCA Communication Coordinator Scott Anderson. “Many of them had absolutely no idea how the beef they eat on a regular basis actually gets to their plate.”
Prior to the event, the OCA asked its membership for volunteers and received a few responses. Originally, the OCA was hoping for real-life ranchers to come to the event and show the students that these were real people who had the very real job of putting beef on the dinner plates of consumers.
“I think that would have made a huge impact on the kids,” Anderson said.
OCA employees and volunteers also handed out educational packets to the teachers of the students. They were also informed of the Adopt-A-Farmer program where the OCA could facilitate a rancher coming into their classroom to talk to students about what they do, and then follow it up with a field trip out to the OCA member’s ranch.
“After telling these teachers that they could take part in this program and that they could actually take their students to a working ranch, it really got their attention,” Anderson said. “I know teachers are trying to teach so many subjects in such a limited amount of time. If we provide them the information, along with something the students can really engage in by going out to a ranch, everyone wins.”