Chico Agritourism & Locally Grown Farms

Chico State Meats Lab

Agri­cul­ture is big busi­ness in Cal­i­for­nia, and it’s an espe­cial­ly impor­tant eco­nom­ic dri­ver in Butte Coun­ty. Farms, ranch­es, and orchards of all types pop­u­late the area and yield crops and goods vital to the local econ­o­my. At Chico State’s Meats Lab, stu­dents join this agri­cul­tur­al com­mu­ni­ty in a hands-on, USDA-inspect­ed pro­cess­ing facil­i­ty, learn­ing valu­able real-life skills and serv­ing up retail cuts of meat for locals to enjoy.

The Chico State Meats Laboratory

At Chico State’s renowned agri­cul­ture depart­ment, a less­er-known vis­i­tor oppor­tu­ni­ty awaits meat-eaters out at the Uni­ver­si­ty Farm, in the form of the Chico State Meats Lab­o­ra­to­ry — or, sim­ply put, the Meats Lab .

It’s a real­ly unique facil­i­ty in that we are set up to do a lit­tle bit of every­thing. It’s a very diverse lab, and not a lot of meat pro­cess­ing cen­ters do all the things we do,” said Haydn Clement, the Meats Lab man­ag­er. The goal here is to give peo­ple rare, super-valu­able skills as meat proces­sors and butch­ers, and once they have those skills, they can tru­ly go anywhere.”

Dur­ing the semes­ter, stu­dents from three dif­fer­ent lab sec­tions , includ­ing the Beef Unit, begin at square one,” Clement said, pur­chas­ing ani­mals, weigh­ing them, sell­ing or har­vest­ing them, pro­cess­ing, and break­ing down the ani­mals into food. Though the farm’s live­stock units have more prof­itable goals — the swine unit, for exam­ple, aims to sell show pigs to young 4H and FFA mem­bers — in the off­sea­son, live­stock goes to the Meats Lab and its customers.

The Meats Lab is a USDA-inspect­ed facil­i­ty, and all of the sev­en agri­cul­ture stu­dents on staff are under con­stant super­vi­sion to ensure qual­i­ty and process con­trol. All tem­per­a­tures, san­i­tary mea­sures, and ani­mal pro­cess­ing tech­niques are super­vised as stu­dents pre­pare prod­ucts for dis­tri­b­u­tion and sale. Slaugh­ter is heav­i­ly reg­u­lat­ed by USDA, which over­sees the entire process, per indus­try standards. 

Whether you buy meat at the farm­ers mar­ket or the gro­cery store, those [USDA] stan­dards apply to our stu­dents and these ani­mals, too,” Clement said. Both from a qual­i­ty stand­point and a humane stand­point, our stu­dents come to know the val­ue of treat­ing the ani­mals right.”

Live­stock: Care and Use

Clement has helped his fam­i­ly ranch in this process his whole life, and said it’s impor­tant to impart the appre­ci­a­tion for prop­er har­vest­ing tech­nique through­out the whole process. Ani­mals processed through the Meats Lab stay in com­plete­ly shad­ed hold­ing pens with con­stant access to clean water and weath­er shel­ter to min­i­mize ani­mal stress.

Ani­mal com­fort and care is supreme here, espe­cial­ly at the live­stock unit,” Clement said. Every­one out here has a love for ani­mals. Even though these aren’t pets — they’re food ani­mals — there’s no rea­son we can’t treat them their best.”

Get Goods from the Meats Lab 

The nose-to-tail” con­cept of har­vest­ing the com­plete ani­mal is in full effect at the Meats Lab. The facil­i­ty pro­vides ser­vices for a cou­ple of high-vol­ume sub­scrip­tion box­es, like Bradley and Son in Durham, and Field to Fork Tehama, locat­ed in near­by Red Bluff. The lab receives beef trim from those farms and process­es it into sausage and pep­per­oni snacks, in addi­tion to mak­ing pat­ties (some of which are turned to burg­ers at Big Chico Burg­er) and cre­at­ing smoked products. 

We like to help local farm­ers sell dif­fer­ent prod­ucts local­ly. That’s what local farm­ing is all about,” Clement said. Our stu­dents get to be involved in that process direct­ly, and learn how impor­tant it is to be part of it.”

Vis­it the Meats Lab

Twice a week, on Thurs­day and Fri­day from 8am to 5pm, the Meats Lab is open to the pub­lic, which can pur­chase a large vari­ety of meats includ­ing tri-tip roasts, steaks, pork chops, baby back ribs, lamb chops, 22 dif­fer­ent fla­vors of sausage, jerky, and more. Vis­i­tors can also watch stu­dents work­ing in the lab through the view windows.