The usual response most people have to learning of a Virginia Tech-sponsored, student-run butcher is one of confusion and disbelief. Admittedly, it’s not in an ideal location for people to stumble upon it, as it’s located around the back of the Food Science and Technology Building. However, behind the thin screen door is a small room reminiscent of a Costco freezer section where you’ll find some of the best selection of fresh beef, lamb and pork products for miles around.
According to its website, the meat center “functions to support the teaching, research and extension needs and activities of the Animal and Poultry Science Department,” and functions as an almost entirely student-run, USDA-approved meat processing plant. Not only is the meat processed at Tech, but the animals are also raised on campus as well, making the meat the freshest available. They also provide a large portion of the meat that is served in the dining halls.
While they’ve been offering online orders since 2010, the meat center only recently expanded its operations to include weekly walk-in hours in 2016. The center is open to the public on Fridays from 2 to 5:30 p.m.
Going to the meat center for the first time, I was struck by how many locals do their weekly shopping there — many of them regulars. It’s easy to see the appeal; the prices are comparable to those from conventional supermarkets, but the quality is second to none in my opinion. It also has monthly specials where it drops the price on some of its most popular products.
Besides acting as a community butchery, the meat center also provides jobs for students.
“I came here initially just because I needed a job, but I fell in love with it, and I’ve been exposed to larger plants within the industry though the center,” said senior agriculture and business management major Madison Venhuizen.
The meat center also functions as a lab that researches how different environmental conditions can affect the certain properties of meat such as color, shelf life and taste.
“We also work with other departments around campus that do biomedical research,” said Jordan Wicks, manager of the meat center. “They’ll need a tendon, an intestine or a heart, and we’ll help them get those samples.”
As for my own personal experience with the meat center, I’ve found that it becomes surprisingly busy every time it opens its doors. There has always been a line stretching out into the parking lot in the minutes before the center opens, and the variety of meat products inside is truly astounding. Personally, the sausage and bratwurst are some of the best I’ve ever had.
“At the end of the day, the reason why we raise animals is to feed people, so understanding how that goes from the field all the way to the consumer’s plate is very important in tying everything together,” Wicks said.
Part of the appeal of the meat center is how hidden it is; it almost feels like a secret place, around the back of a building on the fringes of campus, where you can get fresh meat. If you have the chance, and the appetite, I would highly recommend checking out the meat center next time it opens its doors to the public.