Laboratory wasn’t a word that worked for Valerie Cannon. The director of the OSU Clark Meat Center on campus inherited the name “meat laboratory,” but soon realized that people weren’t interested in buying their steaks from a laboratory.
“They asked, “What have you done with this meat?” she said with a laugh, as if it had the potential to make them glow in the dark.
A better way to view the Clark Meat Center is as an experiential learning center, Cannon said, where OSU students get the chance to learn the skills of meat processing from butchering to sales.
And the only “experimenting” done on the meat is when students get a little creative with the jerky flavorings. For instance, a mocha-flavored jerky is currently in the smokehouse, awaiting a taste-test.
The meat center, which is operated by the department of animal sciences, serves a variety of purposes on campus, from being a training center for students to learn food safety, to a place where students can collect meat tissue data for research, to offering a shop where students, faculty and staff can purchase inexpensive steaks and pork tenderloin, much of it from animals raised by OSU students.
Each term, Cannon has between 10 and 13 students who work at the center, processing meat, packaging it and operating the retail store on site. Additionally, a number of classes use the center for a variety of projects.
Animal science students learn how to butcher carcasses and where different cuts of meat are located on the animals. Anthropology students bring in stone tools they’ve created in class, and try to cut meat the same way that early humans used to do. Other classes simply tour the facility to learn more about meat processing.
So much is going on at the facility that Cannon said part of the lesson for students is balancing the demands of a bustling processing center. Students must learn how to handle different kinds of meat at the same time, how to track meat from when it arrives to when it leaves the retail store, and how to make things like jerky, steaks and sausages, all of which are inspected by the USDA and are approved for sale.
Most of the meat coming into the center is from OSU facilities either on campus or connected with the university. However, there is so much demand for product, and such a great need of a variety of meat for students to use, that Cannon supplements her supply from nearby Carlton Farms.
One of Cannon’s favorite projects for students is operating the retail store, which is only open Thursday and Friday afternoons each term. Although the center also supplies beef patties and ground beef to Arnold Dining Hall, a majority of their products are distributed through the retail center.
“I love it,” she said. “It gets students involved with the community.”
She has seen the shyest students blossom as they work at the retail center, learning customer service techniques and gaining confidence as they share their knowledge with shoppers.
“I let students do marketing and new product innovations. I try to let them do everything,” she said.
And in addition to keeping prices low on their main products, because there are occasional mistakes in packaging, labeling or cutting meat products, there is also a special “starving student” section where all the meat is $1 a pound. The meat, which is still perfectly safe, is available to anyone who comes in and requests it. Products in the “bargain bin” range from pepper bacon that has been mislabeled to steaks that are cut at a slightly wonky angle.
Her student workers often help teach visiting students, which Cannon said helps drive home lessons.
“When you teach someone, you learn ten times faster,” she said.
Senior Jake Tilden-Browning, who has been working at the meat center since September 2007, agreed that practicing what he learns has been helpful.
“You do it every day,” he said, and it sinks in. He also likes having ready access to some high quality steaks.
Cannon offers weekly updates and information on sales and specials through a by-request e-mail newsletter. To find out more about the center or to request to be placed on the e-mail list, go to http://clarkmeat.ans.oregonstate.edu.
The retail store is open from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays. The Clark Meat Center building is located directly behind Motor Pool and next to free parking off Campus Way.
~ Theresa Hogue
Humans aren’t the only ones benefiting from the work of the Clark Meat Center. There are plenty of tasty bones, pig skin curls and other dog-friendly treats available for sale at the center, and for the last two years, a particularly addictive dog treat has been added to the repertoire.
Beef liver jerky is almost obsidian-like in its color and consistency, and for some reason, can bring most canines into absolute raptures. Local behaviorists and trainers are starting to purchase the jerky to get difficult dogs to obey, and it’s been working.
Candace Croney, associate professor in animal sciences and a dog behaviorist, said the slightly salty taste and rich flavor make it a winner with the dogs she works with.
“When dogs are forced to hunt to feed themselves, they usually go for those fatty, salty, energy rich parts first — the vital organs,” she said.
Clark Meat Lab Director Valerie Cannon got the idea from her parent’s butcher shop in Pennsylvania, where liver jerky was quite popular with dog owners. She said students were excited to try it because they always mourn wasting large organs like hearts and livers, which human consumers aren’t that interested in.
“Beef livers normally weigh between 13 and 15 pounds,” Cannon said. “They’re pretty huge, and you hate to throw them away.”
But since dogs literally eat them up, it’s become both a way to use every bit of the animal, and new cash source for the retail shop. Croney said it’s becoming so popular with the training community that she’s convinced the meat center could make a profit on the liver jerky alone if they made larger quantities.
The liver jerky sells in three-ounce bags for $1.75 each. Smoked bones of various sizes are also available, as well as pig skins.