Grant County Agriculture Students Talk Turkey, Literally

Posted on Nov 6, 2020

Both students and community members are benefiting from turkey project

While there are differing stories about how turkey became a traditional food for the Thanksgiving holiday, students in Grant County High School’s agricultural program have made an annual turkey sale a tradition of their own at the school and in the community.

Each summer, students receive live turkeys and raise them in the school’s outside barn area. This plays a vital part in their animal science education, as they learn to feed and care for the birds throughout their life cycle.

Once the time comes for the turkeys to be processed, they are taken to Kentucky State University to use their mobile processing unit right before Thanksgiving. By this time, word is out in the community, and if the history of the program is any indication, all the turkeys will be sold out to community members long before Thanksgiving week arrives.

Grant County agriculture teacher and FFA advisor Erin Butler brought the tradition to the program three years ago when she transferred from Harrison County. She said the students in her current program have really taken to the project.

“Having raised turkeys in the Harrison County program, I brought the idea here,” she said. “The program at Grant County had been involved in raising broilers before, but never turkeys. It has taken off since that first year and has been hugely popular with my classes.”

Butler added that as popular as it has become with the students, the community has really taken to the idea, as well.

“We usually sell out by the time the turkeys are ready for processing,” she said. “The community has been very supportive of this program, and it helps to raise money for our FFA chapter.”

Butler said in addition to teaching her students about caring for the birds, there is that component of learning to tell their story to others when it comes to the processes involved in animal agriculture.

“When I first get my students as freshmen, one of the first things I teach them is about ag literacy,” she said. “There is so much misinformation in the public about animal agriculture, and we work to get the false information out of the way. I also tell them from day-one, they may not major in agriculture, but my job here is to make them a better and wiser consumer.”

Logan Hollen, Tyler Clemons, Lexi Hoehn, and Kendall Clark are all junior students in the Grant County ag program and have taken active roles in the processes involved in raising the turkeys from the time they arrive, to the time they are processed and sold.

Hoehn spoke of the teamwork it takes to make this project a success.

“It actually does take a lot of teamwork and cooperation as a chapter to do all the things that go with raising 46 turkeys,” she said. “For instance, we all take part in putting up the fencing for the turkeys, which involves a lot of work. This allows the birds to move around and freely go in and out of the barn. There is so much that goes into this… you just don't realize when you're looking at your turkey sitting on the table on Thanksgiving.”

Clark said the project has helped to lend to the chapter’s activities as ag advocates.

“I feel that being involved in these kinds of projects, where you're really trying to promote your product, really makes you want to advocate for those projects and what you're doing in agriculture,” she said. “It really makes you want to put yourself, your chapter, and anybody involved out there to educate people, explaining to them where their food really comes from.”

Clemons said the project gets a lot of attention in the community with word going out as soon as the turkeys arrive.

“We even have several customers waiting all year to get their names on the list to get a turkey for Thanksgiving,” he said. “Normally, we sell out within the first two weeks once the public hears about it, and it is really a good buy for them, getting fresh turkeys that are raised and processed locally.”

Butler said the school program was lucky to get the baby turkeys, called poults, this year because of increased demand.

“There were a lot of growers who were unable to get poults this year, and I was afraid we wouldn’t,” she said. “I put our order in last March, and we were lucky enough to get our birds on time.”

Hollen said the turkeys have become the unique thing about their chapter.

“You see lots of other chapters throughout the state that have their own, I guess you could say, cool thing that they do, something that's unique and different to their chapter,” she said. “For us, our turkeys are the thing, and people recognize us as the ‘turkey people.’ And that has been just great for us to be able to get our chapter name out in this way and expressing what we do on a daily basis. We take great pride in that.”

Butler said she is very proud of the way her students have become involved in this project throughout the whole process.

“The students have had fun with this project, but they have also taken it very seriously and put in a lot of time for it,” she said. “I know they will further their careers after high school, and they’ll be strong advocates for agriculture. I'm super blessed with the students here at Grant County High School.”