Unless you've built a chicken run in your yard, you probably haven't tasted an egg raised right here in Orange County. Locally raised beef and pork is even harder to find unless you know where to look.
At Buena Park High School, students of the Agricultural Sciences program produce all that. They raise Black Angus cattle, Yorkshire hogs, grow fruits and vegetables, raise chickens and sell all their produce at the school's farm store.
Jessica Fernandes is the faculty instructor of the Agricultural Sciences program, now in its fifty-second year. Its long history is a reminder that Orange County was largely productive farmland past World War II. In more recent decades, the school's farm program went to seed. “This is my fifth year,” Fernandes says. “When I started, the farm was knee-high with weeds, and had only 85 to 100 students.”
Since then, grant money was raised, land cleared, and new animal pens and a greenhouse were built. The students own their animals and tend to them every day. They show their animals at county fairs, hold leadership positions, and learn life skills they couldn't get in any other educational class. Fernandes notes with obvious pride that “now we have 335 students, two teachers, fully usable classrooms, animals everywhere and a farm store.”
The student-run farm store is open to the public every Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. during the school year. Vegetables are sold at bargain prices. On a recent visit, only a few dozen eggs were available and had sold out long before I arrived. So I went home with pork shoulder steaks and chorizo, carefully packed in butcher paper and flash-frozen by the butcher that processed them.
The pork shoulder steaks looked darker than the usual bland-white-meat from industrial farms, and had a noticeably more prominent dark meat flavor. Fernandes attributes that to the way the animals are raised. “It is not the breed of hog that makes the difference,” she says. “The difference is in the high quality feed, the care by the students and the exercise…. we are a much smaller scale farm and care a great deal about quality over quantity.”
The insistence on quality is the reason their eggs sell out so quickly. The flock of chickens is deliberately kept small as not to overcrowd the hen houses; thus egg supply is limited. The availability of their beef and pork will vary throughout the year as animals are bred, raised, shown and sold. Regarding that fluctuating supply, Fernandes says, “If people tell us what they're interested in, we'll hook them up with a student to meet their needs.”
Mrs. Fernandes concludes, “I would like the public to know this is a student-run program. It's the best way to get local fresh produce and meat, and also a great way to support the kids in your community who need it the most.”
The Buena Park High School Farm Store is located in a classroom on the northeast corner of the school's large campus. Set your car's GPS to this virtual address (the building is not labeled as such)
527 Magnolia Ave., Fullerton,
(714) 992-8778; www.buenaparkffa.com