By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV
The 72nd annual Greenbrier & Monroe Ham, Bacon, & Egg Sale was held this past Friday evening at the West Virginia State Fairgrounds. Hosted by the WVU Extension offices in Greenbrier and Monroe counties, the Future Farmers of America (FFA), and local 4-H clubs, the sale gives young farmers the opportunity to take their farm-grown products to sale in front of local bidders.
All of the money raised goes directly to the students. Sales this year totaled $112,874.66.
History of the sale
According to the WVU Extension Office in Greenbrier County, local 4-H agent Jimmy Johnson started the first Ham, Bacon, & Egg sale in 1950. It was held in Rainelle at the Pioneer Hotel. Students from Greenbrier, Monroe, and Pocahontas all participated together until 1984, when Pocahontas branched off to start their own sale.
WVU Extension Agent Josh Peplowski says, “It takes a team to put the sale together each year.” In addition to the extension offices, local 4-H club leaders, FFA students and agricultural science teachers, Peplowski credits Greenbrier Meats for processing the meats each year. “He does three straight weeks of ham and bacon for us. If we didn’t have that, it would make it very difficult.”
Peplowski says the whole process unfolds over the course of a year, before culminating in one night at the sale. “We tag hogs in June along with state fair animals to get an idea of what our numbers looks like. We work with our processor and our students and advisors to line out processings for everyone. Then you’ve got to trim and get ready for the sale. It’s a sequence of events.”
Buyers usually include local businesses and citizens who want to support youth agriculture. They pay top dollar for ham, bacon, and eggs. A dozen eggs can range from $400-$1,000 depending on how the bidding goes. Bacons cost anywhere between $600-$900. Hams total from $1,400-$2,400. These prices are the highest in the state, significantly above even the sales generated at the state sale.
Why is that? According to Peplowski, “Business realize it’s a good investment to invest with the kids. That’s why they come back each year.”
Greenbrier and Monroe counties are the heart of agriculture in the state of West Virginia, and the community works to keep it that way by supporting young farmers.
Peplowski says these sales are unique to West Virginia. “From what I can gather (talking to colleagues nationwide), this isn’t happening other places. They used to do it, but don’t any more. Ours is one of a kind. Virginia does a peppered ham, Kentucky does a salt cured bacon. But none carry the fundraising and community aspect the sales in West Virginia do. It’s pretty special that we carry that Appalachian tradition that our kids are still doing today.”
Students say: ‘It’s really satisfying’
Jagger McNeely is President of the Greenbrier East FFA. He started 4-H in the third grade and has participated in the sales ever since he was old enough (age 12). “It’s really satisfying,” he says. “Trimming your ham is the best part, because you get to see the end result of all your hard work.”
McNeely names his animals the same thing each year–Ham and Bacon. “I drive to get them, bring them home, feed them, care for them, sell one at the fair and save one for this sale each year,” he says.
“All of the money I make,” he shares, “goes to buying feed and my next round of animals.”
Carli Shaffer of White Sulphur Springs is a sophomore at West Virginia Junior College. She works full-time, goes to school full-time, and continues to be highly involved in FFA.
“I’m not a big farm girl,” she says. “I’m really shy and didn’t try showing an animal for the first time until I was a sophomore.”
But the first time she gave it a try, she was hooked. “I fell in love with it. The animals are what make it worthwhile.”
The first time she sold an animal she raised, she said it was difficult. She formed a close bond with her pig. But she knew what she signed up for. “It’s about livin’, lovin’, and sellin’.”
This year is Shaffer’s first time selling at the Ham, Bacon, and Egg sale. Her eggs placed 13th in the prime category. “I’m nervous. Being in front of so many people will make my heart race. I’m just gonna picture being in the ring showing my pig, and I can knock it out of the park.”
Like McNeely, Shaffer reinvests the proceeds of any sale into her animals. She puts the proceeds of her sales at the state fair into her college fund, but all other sales go directly into feed for her market pugs, market sheep, and purebreds. “I wouldn’t trade being in FFA for anything,” she says.”
‘Something to be proud of’
The 2022 sale was the second largest in history with over $124,000 in proceeds. The 2023 sale was not far behind with more than $112,000 in proceeds. A full list of winning bidders will be publicized by the sale organizers in the coming days.
“If you’ve never been to it, you need to come,” says Peplowski. “It’s a great environment.”
Approximately 200 people attended this year. The Smoot Smokies 4-H Club served ham and bacon biscuits, in addition to drinks, snacks, and desserts. Students dress professionally in their FFA gear or show gear. Local auctioneers donate their time to sell the products. Parents and grandparents sit in the audience, cameras ready to capture the moment their beloved makes a sale.
“It’s a cool product,” Peplowski says. “It’s a shelf stable, authentic country cured ham that can be consumed or hung to store for several more months. And again, this isn’t happening other places. It’s something to be proud of.”