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Butcher Knows Best

Giving back to the Ontario beef industry, one butchery class at a time.

It’s Tuesday night, and the VG Meats butcher shop is full of eager young students ready to learn. There’s Ishmael - a butcher from our staff, Troy - the Fanshawe College instructor, some college students and recent high school grads, plus a few members of the food industry with an interest in expanding their skill set. The class runs from 5-9 pm (yes, it’s a four hour commitment) and covers everything from disassembly and cutting to equipment use and sanitation. It takes up a good chunk of our time, and it’s not a profit center for us - in fact, we close operations early to make these events happen. It may sound crazy, but we know what we’re doing: contributing to the food and agriculture community by sharing our expertise with the next generation.

These students have come out to the shop on Monday and Tuesday nights throughout the month. On day one, we spent a lot of helping the participants get familiar with different cuts. We explain the importance of sanitation, and how our shop is designed with this in mind. With instruction, they disassemble the carcasses and become comfortable preparing different cuts of meat. It’s not something you become good at overnight. In this business, repetition is key - it’s how you learn butchering skills and master them. We learned this from our father, and he learned from his father before him - and now, we use our years of collective experience to help newcomers to the industry.

The participants also became familiar with each other, holding discussion on farming, food and the butchery industry. Not only are they learning the butcher trade, they’re networking and developing camaraderie with their peers. Some of the men and women here are butchers in training, and others are chefs looking to expand their knowledge. It’s a great (and interesting) group of people.

We observe product in the carcass cooler and discuss the levels of quality. Many of the students are surprised by the size of each carcass when viewed up close - these are big animals, after all, and often seen from a distance. After a few hours of hands-on education and a tour of the shop, including all equipment used in our butchering process, we let the students observe our sanitation process. Pride of workmanship is so important, and the VG team tries to instill this message to everyone in attendance.

As I stand back and watch the scene unfold, it’s clear why we run these events. Yes, from a business perspective it may not be obvious why we devote so much time and energy to students who will not necessarily work for us in future (in fact, most of them won’t). But at VG Meats, quality is everything, not only in our shop but with Ontario beef across the board. As we strive to put Ontario on the map as the world’s best beef, we have to support each other and help develop amazing farmers and butchers in our communities. Butchery is not a strong trade or an easy business to get into - the majority of butchers in the business have, like us, inherited the trade from family. There are not many training programs around, which limits non-farming people interested in pursuing butchery as a career. The old perspective that “a good job is at a desk” still holds a lot of weight, and makes it hard for farmers and agriculturists to grow their industry. If you don’t come from a farming family, where do you even start? It’s not easy. We want to change that!

Our farm hires the very best skilled labour, and more so, we help nurture the talents of butchers in our community. By investing in people, we are investing in our industry and contributing to society and the environment just as we’ve always hoped. Consider this an investment in Ontario beef, and the people who feel like we do. It feels good to give back, and we know we’ll cross paths will these people again some day.