Have you ever gone to the meat section of a grocery store and wondered where those nicely wrapped packages come from?
Well, freshman Adam Ketchum can tell you exactly where that meat comes from and how it gets there—and probably much more.
Ketchum participates in the worldwide organization 4-H, a club designed for young people between the ages of 5-19 who are interested in learning about agriculture.
The club was created in the late 19th century when the United States Department of Agriculture realized that farmers were not adapting to new ways of farming and established programs to teach the techniques to younger people instead.
Nine years ago Ketchum joined the ranks of 6.5 million other 4-H members in the United States.
But Ketchum doesn’t intend to be a farmer when he grows up, he said.
So why join?
His interest began with his own family’s older generation.
Ketchum’s mother was a member of the club, and his grandparents live on a farm in Bieber, Calif. So as a child he learned how to feed cows, sheep and chickens.
“I loved taking care of the animals from the farm, but I really wanted to start raising an animal of my own,” Ketchum said.
Those who join 4-H choose one or two subjects on which they want to focus.
The subjects include plants, animals, healthy lifestyles, personal development, leadership, earth sciences, technology, citizenship, expressive arts, government and family sciences.
Counselors, who are in charge of the younger members, plan activities.
When he first joined, Ketchum participated in only the activities that his counselors arranged for him, like photography lessons, bicycle recycling and dog show training.
But recently, Ketchum decided to focus on raising, presenting and selling rabbits, since he wanted an animal that he could raise in his suburban backyard.
“Raising rabbits is rewarding to me because they are like pets that have an actual purpose in life,” Ketchum said.
Since he began showing his rabbits in seventh grade, Ketchum has presented seven: three for showing and four for meat.
Showing rabbits are judged on their appearance and weight while the owners give them a routine health check. After the rabbits are ranked by the judges, they go home with the owner.
Meat rabbits are judged on only their weight. After being ranked, the rabbits are sold at an auction.
The potential buyers are allowed to know the weight of the rabbits and are able to see the rabbits when they are being presented by their owners.
After all of the meat rabbits at a fair have been sold, they are sent to the butcher later that day and given to the highest bidders from the auction.
The minimum bid for a rabbit is $25, but Ketchum has sold his for up to $150. The money earned goes toward the costs of raising the rabbit.
According to Ketchum, selling his meat rabbits wasn’t difficult. To avoid getting attached, Ketchum jokingly named them Rabbit, Stew, Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Each had white fur and blood-red eyes, and scratched Ketchum frequently.
“Since they were mean and looked possessed, I never had second thoughts about selling my meat rabbits,” Ketchum said.
Do animal rights advocates ever step in to save the animals? Ketchum said no. Although they can try to save animals by buying them, butchers take the animals away immediately.
And 4-H parents are advised not to try to buy their children’s animals for the same reason, Ketchum said.
In the Sacramento region, the biggest events for showing and selling animals are the Sacramento County Fair and the California State Fair.
Ketchum presented his current greyish-brown rabbits, Samoa and Chestnut, at the county fair May 23-27, as show rabbits. He also presented his white rabbits, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, as meat rabbits.
P.E. teacher Michelle Myers was also a member of 4-H for four years.
In high school, Myers raised lambs on her grandparents’ farm.
When the lambs were ready for showing, Myers would take them to the Siskiyou County Fair in Yreka, Calif.
When Myers was 15, she owned a lamb named Miss Booboo. Since Miss Booboo was raised for her meat, Myers auctioned her off in 1976.
Coincidentally, Myers’s neighbor bought the lamb.
When her neighbor invited the Myers family to dinner one night, it wasn’t until after the meal that Myers realized that she had just eaten Miss Booboo.
“I was so horrified,” Myers said. Myers said she still has Miss Booboo’s hide.
Although Myers never became a counselor, Ketchum is planning to be one this year.
If this happens, Ketchum may be the counselor for sixth graders Vittoria Van Vleck and Rene Quiggle and eighth grader Christian Van Vleck.
The Van Vlecks joined 4-H two years ago because their parents wanted them to continue family tradition.
The Van Vlecks sell their lambs at fairs for their meat. Their lambs are kept on their uncle’s farm, in Galt, Calif.
This was the first year that the Van Vlecks showed lambs at the fairs instead of just auctioning them off.
After joining four years ago, Quiggle and her family started to raise pigs for their meat. They are kept on her grandparents’ farm in Wilton, Calif. She also shows horses.
Although 4-H members that raise animals for their meat sometimes feel affection for those animals, that usually doesn’t affect their appetite.
Ketchum has felt compassion for some of the rabbits that he raised for their meat, but he said that hasn’t stopped him from eating rabbit.
“I have never eaten a rabbit that I have raised, though,” Ketchum said. “That wouldn’t seem right to eat an animal that was practically my pet.”