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Tom Andres, left, applies a cast to the broken front leg of a lamb while high school students assist him last week at the Missoula County Public Schools Vo-Ag Center on South Avenue West in Missoula. Andres, the Vocational Agriculture program director, is charged with preparing Missoula high school students for careers in the industry.

The sole bond improvement for Missoula County Public Schools’ Vocational Agriculture Center would be to add a processing kitchen to complete the cycle for students who raise livestock through the program.

Tom Andres, head of the agricultural education program, said the kitchen, which would be referred to as a “food science lab” would include a full meat-processing center.

“Our intention is to take our livestock from the farm right to the table,” he said.

Currently, Missoula high school students breed, feed and raise animals, then sell them. The new kitchen, which would be paid for using about $600,000 of this fall’s proposed $70 million MCPS high school bond, would mean Andres could add classes to teach students how to process their own meat.

“It’s value-added agriculture. We could take a $300 hog that we raised and turn it into $700 or $800, which would generate more money for the program,” he said.

Students would learn how to make their own sausage, bacon and other smoked meats, Andres said, because the margin on those products is better.

“We could also process Thanksgiving turkeys that are locally raised and never left the farm. It’s truly local agriculture,” he said.

Andres said similar processing kitchens are being installed in agricultural education programs around the country. Some of them even process wild game brought in by hunters, and Andres  said he thinks that would be a possibility for Missoula's Vo-Ag Center.

“Also, because it’s a full commercial kitchen, we could make other things like jams and jellies and sell them at the farmers markets,” Andres said.

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