Ridgewater College plans to open meat-cutting program in fall 2022
Minnesota used to have a number of training programs for meat processors, but there are none left. Ridgewater College in Willmar and Central Lakes College at Staples are planning to bring back college credit training for people interested in the profession.
The three-certificate program will provide training that is not currently available in Minnesota. With the program taking shape, the college’s next step is to get the word out to prospective students about the new opportunity.
The program came together over the past year from internal discussions about ways to expand the school’s agriculture offerings, said Ridgewater Dean of Instruction Jeff Miller.
The school received input from local and regional advisory committees, and heard from a variety of businesses and trade organizations.
"These folks really help guide us and tell us what our courses should look like and the courses we should offer,” Miller said.
“We need to work at anything we can do to improve access to small- and medium-scale meat processing for farmers,” he said.
Pastures a Plenty is a three-generation, family-owned livestock and grain farm which sells pork, beef, chicken and eggs directly to consumers and restaurants. VanDerPol said the business uses a variety of processors to custom-cut its products.
Each certificate in the program will build on the knowledge of the previous one, Miller said. Graduates will be qualified for a variety of careers in meat processing, including owning their own business.
A student who completes all three would spend a total of about a year and a half in school part-time, Miller said. Some instruction would take place in classrooms, but a majority of it would be hands-on training.
The curriculum is designed to allow students to be in classes a couple evenings a week and maybe one weekend a month. “We don’t want to take people out of the local economy,” Miller said. “Especially if they are working in the meat-cutting industry, we want to keep them working.”
The first certificate, Beginning Meat Cutting, will include courses introducing students to food safety, tool use and safety, and animal physiology. Students will learn basic techniques in meat-cutting and some wild game processing.
The Advanced Meat Processing certificate will offer courses to expand skills to custom meat-cutting, curing meats and smoking. Students will learn to process other animals, like bison and elk.
Meat-cutting Entrepreneur is the third certificate in the program. “It teaches people how to be a business owner,” Miller said. Students will learn about regulatory compliance, business planning and human resources.
The program will focus throughout on food safety, the safety of people processing meat and humane treatment of animals, he said.
A mobile slaughter trailer from the Washington-based company Friesla will be used by the program in partnership with a trade organization, a private owner, Ridgewater and Central Lakes College in Staples, which is also starting a meat-cutting program.
The two schools were developing their programs separately, but when Miller and a dean from Central Lakes met at a meeting, “we decided it doesn’t pay for us to do our research independently of each other,” MIller said.
While the schools are sharing information and seeking funding opportunities together, the programs will operate autonomously.
Ridgewater plans to work with an established meat processing facility that has all the required licenses and certifications, Miller said.
Working with outside facilities allows the college to keep startup costs low and could allow the school to offer the courses around the state, Miller said. There will be no slaughter or meat processing on the Ridgewater campus.
VanDerPol said mobile slaughter facilities are being used at farms in remote areas. “It helps quite a bit with stress; transporting an animal can be pretty stressful on them,” he said. “It makes for better quality meat in the end.”
Training programs were more common years ago, VanDerPol said, but with meat processing occurring on a larger scale, workers were trained to perform certain tasks and didn’t learn how to process a whole animal.
“I think from our perspective, Ridgewater College has an obligation to the industries and communities we serve to provide workforce development and talent development,” Miller said.
The main question now is whether students will be interested, Miller said.
He said he hopes people will understand “what a great career this could be for many people,” he said.
“There’s so much demand for this industry that people could be employed for the rest of their life in an industry that could be very rewarding,” he added.
With this program, “students will be able to do it from beginning to end,” VanDerPol said. “It’s important that people know where their food comes from.”
Prospective students may fill out a form expressing interest in the class at ridgewater.edu/academics/areas-of-study/agriculture-veterinary-technology/meat-cutting
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