This Little Piggy Goes to the Market

Posted on April 17, 2017

At one area high school, students learn about life and business–in the barn.

Photography by Jason Sinn

There's a wonderfully sarcastic but poignant meme currently making the internet rounds: “I’m glad I learned about parallelograms instead of how to do taxes. It’s really come in handy this parallelogram season.”

Almost everybody can relate to the idea that formal education often fails to prepare you for the real world, but Pleasant Grove High School, in Elk Grove, is giving students the opportunity to learn skills that can’t be gotten out of a textbook.

In 2011, Pleasant Grove completed construction of its agriculture facility, including a greenhouse and two barns, offering students the opportunity to raise livestock to show at the Sacramento County Fair. Many of the students don’t fit the typical boots-and-Wrangler-wearing agriculture mold.

“We’re a really diverse group of students, some from the city, that haven’t done this before, like sports players, people in band and in drama,” says Jenna Swenson, instructor and head of the agriculture program. “At first, they’re excited and think the animals are cute, but then they realize there’s actual work involved: cleaning and feeding, checking to make sure they’re healthy.”

Besides caring for the animal until the fair, students are financially responsible for their project, which costs about $70 for a chicken, $600 for a hog and $2,500 for a steer. But there’s incentive: Auction follows the fair, and nothing motivates a student (or adult) like the prospect of making a buck. So how much can students make?

“That’s always the question students ask, and you never really know,” says Swenson. “Some have lost a couple hundred dollars or just broke even, and other students far exceed their break-even point. We have one student whose project evolved over her high school career, from raising one market hog to owning and breeding multiple swine, and she always donates her proceeds to Make-A-Wish Foundation.”

Students hope to turn a buck, but even when they don’t, they’re getting skills that will help them prosper in the near future, says Swenson. “They’re learning how to manage time and finances, and learn life skills that they’ll need.”

Last year, about 150 Pleasant Grove students participated at the fair, showing steer, swine, sheep, goats, turkeys, rabbits and chickens. Swenson expects just as many to participate at this year’s Sacramento County Fair, May 24–29. 

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