CAMERON - The new Cameron High School building has been praised for many of its unique aspects, but one of its best kept secrets is the state-of-the-art meat lab tucked away in the back of the building.
Students in the school's agribusiness program use the lab to learn the steps of processing meat, from raising livestock to packaging a finished meat product to sell.
Although the lab is mostly empty for the summer, during the school year, the lab's walk-in coolers are filled with hanging hog carcasses in various stages of processing.
Photo by Sarah Harmon
Cameron High School agriculture teachers Hattie DeBolt, left, and John Lockhart stand with hanging meat in a walk-in cooler in the school’s meat lab.
Agriculture teacher Hattie DeBolt said one of the best parts of the lab is its overhead rail system, from which a carcass can be suspended in a cooler and then taken out onto the tables, saving students from carrying large carcasses around the room. The lab also features several walk-in coolers, one of which can both heat and cool meat, a band saw for slicing bone, slicers for parts without bones, grinders for making sausage and ground beef, scales and a vacuum sealer for packaging.
Before the class begins, DeBolt said students are required to purchase a hog to be raised on a farm and later butchered for the class. The hog carcass is then cut in half and sent to the lab for processing. After cooling for a few days, students make cuts for ham and bacon, which then are smoked with woodchips in a computer-programmed indoor smoker. After the smoking process, the ham and bacon cuts are weighed, packaged and frozen in a walk-in freezer. The cuts are later graded by outside judges and then sold.
"Students seem to love the class," DeBolt said. "Several of them have asked for a second year course."
Newly hired agriculture teacher John Lockhart said he expects butchering skills will be in-demand in the near future, as locally grown food grows in popularity and more stores and restaurants hire butchers to work on site.
"You're seeing more local and retail stores having a butcher at every store," Lockhart said. "You're also seeing restaurants wanting local foods. Doing your own processing can save you a large butcher bill. If things keep going in that direction with the locally grown craze, I think it'll keep being popular."
Lockhart said students pick up more than just butchering skills in the class - learning how to make different cuts of meat also make it an animal anatomy and physiology lesson.
DeBolt said the school has received several requests from the community for students to process an animal.
For a donation, students will process the meat and send it back to the family as a learning experience. DeBolt said this only happens of a limited basis, however, since the lab isn't a business.
So far, only hog and cows have been processed in the lab, however, DeBolt said they hope to add other species, such as lambs and goats, to the program in the future.
According to Lockhart, West Virginia is one of the few states in the country that have meat labs in high school buildings.
He said the closest high school meat lab to Cameron is in Hundred
"Not many states do this," Lockhart said. "In West Virginia, it's prominent. It's something we should be really proud of."