I am in my senior year at Sterling and took the Value-Added Products course this semester, not only because it’s required for my major (Sustainable Food Systems), but also because I was interested in learning about making value-added foods. Over the past ten weeks, we’ve pressed apples for cider, made kimchi, broken down a whole hog, and made cheese. In addition, we’ve also done site visits to numerous farms and producers of these products, including the Vermont Creamery.
It’s a lot to learn in the span of ten weeks, but it was all fascinating.
This class complemented a lot of the experiences I’ve had in recent years through international travel and my recent summer internship in Alabama.
During my internship, I was working with my supervisor on how to transform their pork into sausage which could retail for a higher price than the regular ground pork.
I’ve done a fair bit of travel in the past four years, and everywhere I’ve been, I’ve seen some sort of value-adding practice done by the local cultures.
In Israel, I saw a farm in the Arava Desert, just south of the Dead Sea, producing delicious farmstead goat cheese.
In Scotland, I worked on a farm that turns their milk into ice cream.
In France and Italy, I’ve seen the wonders of charcuterie.
And now, after all these years of experiencing these areas and their products, I’ve learned, in this class, how to make them.
I’ve enjoyed learning about all aspects of value-added production that we’ve gone through this semester, but one day that stuck out to me was the day when we had Cole Ward, a local master butcher, teach us how to break down a hog into primal, sub-primal, and retail cuts, as well as how to make a variety of sausage.
In addition to these specific skills, I’ve also taken a larger message from this course, which is that value-added production is a good option for farmers and producers looking to increase the value of their products.
In all of my agriculture and food-systems courses thus far at Sterling, I’ve heard a lot about how the farmers struggle to make ends meet. When I’ve been on farm visits, I’ve invariably heard farmers talk about how the bulk price they get for their product isn’t nearly enough, and it’s for this reason that many producers are willing to try adding value.
Per the discussions I’ve had with producers, making cheese or yogurt can provide much higher returns for a farmer than would selling to the local dairy coop and putting the milk on a truck.
I must include a note at this point to acknowledge that fluid milk sales form the backbone of Vermont’s dairy economy, and without it, we’d have nothing to put in our coffee. Therefore, cheese-making dairy farmers are a niche section of the market.
But for that niche, it’s proving to be a great success.
And in this course, through our sample products, I’ve learned that for a small scale product, it’s possible to value-add, and be profitable.