Farm-to-fork, with a twist
From farm to fork, Vinita FFA members serve up fresh, healthy options from their food truck and catering business.
They catered more than 4,500 dinners last year, including about 20 weddings. They have a successful farm-to-fork food truck. They even have their own farmers market, where they sell fresh produce, meat, dairy products, eggs, baked goods and their own homemade salsa.
A company like this would be no big deal in a metropolitan area, but this company is a pretty big deal. It’s based in a town of just over 5,000 people, and its employees are high school students. If the company had a CEO, it would be Carolyn Piguet, who also happens to be the agricultural education instructor and FFA adviser at Vinita High School.
Vinita’s FFA chapter purchased the food truck in 2017, and from March to September Piguet and her students set up each week at the student-run farmers market. They offered made-from-scratch breakfasts, including their now-famous homemade fritters. Once customers tasted the peach, blueberry, apple and pumpkin pastries, they were hooked.
Piguet hasn’t always taught agriculture. Before coming to Vinita’s ag ed program she taught science and was a school counselor, testing coordinator and even a school principal. This latest chapter in her career unites all of her passions.
“I love agriculture,” she said, “and there’s not a better scenario in which to build leadership, independence and project gratification than in agriculture.”
More than corn and crops
The food truck and farmers market are built around her chapter members’ individual projects. They bring their products to the market and receive payment for their efforts. In addition to agricultural concepts, they learn planning, production, catering, marketing and communication.
Piguet also has students involved in vinyl sign-making, welding, wood projects, wildlife and more. She says she tries to help students find projects that match their interests.
“We’re breaking the stereotype that everybody has to have an animal or everybody has to be growing a crop, because there are so many more things in agriculture than just the production end of it,” she said.
There is quite a bit of growing going on, however. The FFA chapter uses land provided by a community member to grow a chapter garden each year. Last year the farmers market sold close to 500 pounds of tomatoes, 11,000 ears of corn, nearly 200 dozen eggs, three beef carcasses and more than four pork carcasses, sold by the cut.
Through the farmers market and the catering business, students learn money management, record keeping, licensing and customer service. They take health department food-safety classes as well as chapter instruction to learn how to prepare, present and market their food products, all the while tying it back to agricultural education.
The FFA members aren’t the only ones learning through the farm-to-fork program. The Vinita community also benefits, according to Piguet, through increased availability of clean products and awareness of healthy foods. The farmers market also provides a community event the whole town can enjoy.
The farmers market is closed for the winter, but the Vinita FFA catering team offers several year-round menu options for special events. You can order the traditional pulled pork and barbecue brisket dinner, of course, but they can also take it up a notch. One sit-down dinner option includes smoked tri-tip, rosemary chicken breast, baby bakers, bacon-wrapped green bean bundles and wedge salad with blue cheese and balsamic reduction. And of course they’re prepared to satisfy a diner’s sweet tooth, with offerings such as butter cake with chocolate ganache and chocolate molten cake.
Oklahoma FFA is one of seven co-curricular student organizations associated with the Oklahoma CareerTech System. These organizations provide opportunities for personal growth and scholastic achievement, as well as developing skills in public speaking, planning and organizing. The other organizations are BPA, DECA, FCCLA, HOSA, SkillsUSA, and TSA.
The Agricultural Education Division, of the Oklahoma Department of CareerTech, administers agricultural education offerings in 360 high schools. These programs prepare students for careers in production agriculture, agribusiness and other emerging agricultural-related occupations.
The Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education provides leadership and resources and assures standards of excellence for a comprehensive statewide system of career and technology education. The system offers programs and services in 29 technology center districts operating on 58 campuses, 395 comprehensive school districts,15 Skills Centers campuses that include three juvenile facilities and 30 Adult Basic Education service providers.
The agency is governed by the State Board of Career and Technology Education and works closely with the State Department of Education and the State Regents for Higher Education to provide a seamless educational system for all Oklahomans.