Greenbrier and Monroe County 4-H and FFA members are hard at work preparing for the 66th Annual Greenbrier Valley 4-H & FFA Ham, Bacon and Egg Show and Sale, which will be held Thursday, Mar. 24 at the West Virginia State Fairgrounds in the West Virginia Building beginning at 6:30 p.m. All items will be judged and placed into show and sale order according to placing as assigned by the judge from top to bottom. Sale order will rotate items by selling the top ham (selling first), the top bacon (selling second) and top dozen eggs (selling third). The sale order will rotate back to the second placed ham, bacon and eggs. This live auction will continue until all the ham, bacon and eggs are sold.
You are invited to experience this unique and one-of-a-kind event, “art of salt-curing hams and bacons.” This tradition has been passed down through generations of Appalachian families since the days of the pioneers. Modern methods of storing and curing meat combined with the reduction of farm families producing meat for consumption has virtually eliminated the need for this dying art to be passed on.
In 1950, former 4-H Agent Jimmy Johnson started the Ham, Bacon & Egg Show and Sale in a small show room at the Pioneer Hotel in East Rainelle. The program served Pocahontas, Monroe and Greenbrier counties. In 1984, Pocahontas broke away from the Greenbrier Valley Sale. Records show in 2015 a tremendous increase in participation from both members and buyers since 1984; thus showing a demand and need for the program. In addition, the community support and the financial impact the program has had on these communities is astonishing. Furthermore, the traditions and heritage of the Appalachian culture that has been past down through the generations is significant.
The culmination of the project is the opportunity for members to sell their products to corporate sponsors at a premium. The members use this project to better their skills in this subject area, as well as to grow their project budgets or college savings accounts.
FFA and 4-H Ham and Bacon project participants are given the opportunity to learn the proper methods for curing meat using humidity, salt and temperature; trimming meat; calculating cure mixture; optimum smoking times; quality assurance; proper cleaning and disinfecting procedures; marketing their product; and to view a demonstration of trimming hams and bacons for show.
The Ham, Bacon and Egg Show gives approximately 150 Greenbrier and Monroe County 4-H and FFA members an opportunity to exhibit and auction their home grown products that they have spent several months on preparing and to develop one of Seven Pillars of Character, “Responsibility.” This project is unique and one-of-a-kind to all 4-H and FFA projects across the United States. The ham and bacon part of this project starts in May and continues until March of the following year. First, the youth member selects a young market hog either by purchasing or raising their own and feeding that animal to reach a desired weight somewhere around 225 to 295 pounds. This usually takes about three-to-four months, depending on the feed ration and schedule. After the three-to-four month feeding period – May to August or September- the market hog is then slaughtered and prepared for the curing process.
Beginning in September or October, the 4-H and FFA members begin to learn and experience the step-by-step state regulated “Country Cure” process in a state-approved facility. This process involves dry rubbing hams and bacons with a country cure, soaking and rinsing meat after cure, hanging meat in a temperature regulated environment, trimming meat to look presentable and then smoking it for that fine smoked taste. This project is very time consuming and a huge undertaking of responsibility. Each individual spends on average of 135 hours in participating in this project. These youth are taught the importance of food safety, food handling and the importance of raising a good quality product along with good presentation.
The egg project is very similar. The 4-H and FFA members begin this project by obtaining ownership of a laying flock by either raising their own or purchasing the flock. The member then keeps records of their egg production. Depending on the number in their flock they begin collecting eggs about three weeks before the show and sale. The member at this point begins to choose their best dozen. An egg workshop is offered so the individual can learn and be refreshed on how to choose a uniform dozen. The youth are educated on what meat spots and blood spots look like, finding cracks in the shell and choosing 12 uniform eggs by size and color. Again, we see how much time and responsibility is put into this similar project.
For further information on how your child can take part in this character building opportunity through 4-H or FFA, and for more information related to the sale please contact Greenbrier County Extension at 304-647-7408, Monroe County Extension at 304-772-3003 or your local high school FFA Advisor.