Sausage making far afield from the Capitol

By Jack Payne

It’s now the season when you can watch the sausage getting made in Tallahassee. Or, if you go to Holmes or Washington counties, you can learn to do it yourself.

The woman behind a self-sufficiency movement taking hold in rural Florida is a family and consumer sciences Extension agent named Judy Corbus. The demand for the class was driven not by housewives asking, “What do I make for dinner?” but by hunters asking, “What do I do with this deer?”

It’s been mostly men showing up, folks like then-Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen and his son. Some are after what they’d call a “retro” experience — the cool new way to embrace an old they never knew. They’re looking at the class as the way they can become artisanal butchers for their own meals. Others see it as a way to reconnect to tradition, to do what they saw their granddaddies doing.

Corbus teaches one of the only sausage making classes at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. In other ways, the class is typical of UF/IFAS Extension in that it delivers low-cost or no-cost science to do-it-yourself Floridians from Key West to the Alabama border.

There are people like Corbus in every Florida county teaching you to grow tomatoes, save for your first home, manage marital stress, live with diabetes, keep bees, and burn your yard waste.

There are also volunteers like Annette Lanham of Vernon, a U.S. Navy retiree who teaches sausage making with Corbus. The class grew out of a discussion the two of them had about people’s desire to learn skills such as canning that their parents and grandparents had not passed along to them.

Lanham and Corbus next offer the class on May 15 at the Holmes County Agriculture Center in Bonifay. Call 850-547-1108 to register or for more information.

As Lanham tells it, the folks in her rural community have all this available meat, but the skills to process it disappeared a generation or two ago.

Now the prices are so high for turning their turkeys, wild hogs, and deer into a ready-to-cook product that there’s incentive to do it yourself. Plus, there’s a hip homebrew vibe to being able to chow down on something you caught, cleaned, and cooked yourself.

That’s the kind of connection to your food UF/IFAS wants to promote in a state where the second-largest industry is agriculture. There’s a long way to go, but there are hundreds of Judy Corbuses across the state telling and teaching people the story of where their food comes from.

In a way, UF/IFAS teaches the kind of sausage making that happens in Tallahassee, too. Every year UF/IFAS Extension runs a boot camp for new county commissioners.

Our 4-H program serves more than 200,000 kids in ways that increase their civic participation as adults. It enters them in public speaking contests, puts them before an arena full of people to show their animals, and takes them to Tallahassee to lobby lawmakers.

In other words, UF/IFAS teaches people to become do-it-yourself citizens. Some of those 4-Hers grow up to become elected officials. Among those Florida 4-H alumni helping make policy today are U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, and state Representative Jennifer Sullivan.

It doesn’t much matter if you want to make sausage on a kitchen counter in rural Holmes County or on the floor of the House of Representatives on South Monroe Street. Your public scientists are people who teach many things that are in the end all the same thing – how to do things yourself.

Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.