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Joe Orefice, mid-butchery. Photo: Kate Glenn
Joe Orefice, mid-butchery. Photo: Kate Glenn

Farmers Under 40: A farmer and a teacher, too

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Our Farmers Under 40 series continues throughout the summer. Today we have a profile of Joe Orefice, an assistant professor of forestry at Paul Smith's College.

Orefice taught the school's first sustainable community agriculture course this past year. He also owns and operates a small farm, which he uses as a teaching tool.

This summer Paul Smith's culinary students visited Joe's farm for a lesson in local meats. Sarah Harris joined them and has our story.

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“Who know's what these are? You'll notice the little primordial grape flowers are coming out. See 'em?”

That’s Joe Orefice. He’s 26. Joe’s a farmer. He runs a small vegetable CSA and helps people raise animals. But he’s also a teacher, an assistant professor at Paul Smith’s College.

“Primarily I teach forestry courses. And then I taught the first sustainable community agriculture course at Paul Smiths," Orefice said. "Trees are really very similar to field crops—they just take a lot longer to grow. And I think a lot of what I obtained in forestry and what I teach my students in forestry classes does apply to farming.”

Joe’s farm is in a  Adirondack high meadow near Saranac. The farm house is salmon colored with a red roof, and you can see Whiteface from the yard. On this day, Paul Smiths culinary students are here for a lesson in local meat. Joe takes them around to meet the animals, which he’s named after characters from the Jersey Shore, a reality TV show. He is, after all, a young farmer.

"These are the pigs. My father says don't name your pigs because then you won't be able to butcher them but I like to name 'em. And all my pigs this year were from the Jersey Shore. I only have the sows left so I have J. Woww and Snooki, I guess. I don't really know the show that well but I like the names." 

Today, the students are going to try their hand at slaughtering chickens and rabbits. Some are nervous, others excited.

“I'm JR Antonino. I’m from the Phillipines. I’m a culinary arts and service management major. It’s really all about understanding where things come from. A lot of times people just see the products that they use in the kitchen and grocery stores and they don’t understand that they’re living things and people have to kill them so you can eat them. And I think that's important."

"We are going to kill them and we are going to scald them. Then we are going to hang them by the feet over there," Orefice said, "and pluck 'em. Then we are going to inviscerate 'em on the table. Inviscerate. It means to gut 'em. Remove its entrails."

Everybody clusters around expectantly as Joe carries a rooster by its feet to a tree next to the barn. A black funnel is stapled to the tree’s trunk.  Joe puts the rooster headfirst into the funnel and prepares to cut off its head. He’s calm and collected.

"I keep his feet out, reach up, get his head, pull his head through like that. There's two veins - one that runs there and one that runs there," Orefice said. "I stick the knife in right in front of the backbone, pull it out and I got the veins. You see the blood coming out? I cut on one side, cut on the other side, and you see the blood coming out. Now he's dying."

The rooster meets an efficient and humane end. Some of the students stand gawking, open-mouthed. Others can’t even watch. Only a few volunteer to try their hand at butchery.

"I’m Devin Cocolo. I've hunted pretty much as long as I could walk. This isn’t too new for me—I’m a little used to it."

Cassidy Roiter is thoughtful about the whole process.

"I don’t know… feels a little more remorseful at killing a rabbit. But it’s kind of a luxury to be remorseful towards. But I’m gonna do it, learn how to do it."

As he starts to butcher it afterwards, Cassidy is bashful, a little shaken: "It’s done it’s over with."

This type of hands-on experience is essential to learning how to farm. As we sit on the big front porch after lunch, Joe tells me he’s still trying to figure out how to bring it into the classroom.

“I had to sit down and write, well, what do you think about when you feed your animals," Orefice said. "If you’re raising pigs, what do you look for every day in your pigs behavior or physical features that you need to check. Somebody who does it every day you don’t think about it but if you’re teaching it to a student they need to think about it."

Orefice said students came into his class with different interests and levels of experience: "Some grew up on farms, some didn’t. Some were interested in farming in Africa, some were interested in farming in northern New York. It was a winter course so we weren’t able to grow that much produce. But the students will have stories about chickens on their desk and things of that sort."

It’s hard to balance a full-time teaching job and a small farm. Like any other young farmer, Joe’s worried about finances.

"Trying to pay for things, hoping my house doesn’t fall down. Trying to get the property here back in shape," Orefice said. "Geez, I had a calf this year I was really trying to get going and it died, and I put a lot of effort into that calf and it wasn’t easy when it went. I mean that’s part of it, right? That's part of farming is that sometimes it sucks. It isn’t all exciting and big eggplants and things like that. It’s Colorado potato beetles." 

Potato beetles aside, it’s clear that Joe is in his element here on the farm, teaching students about local foods.

“You can see the apples right now. And those of you who like really clean apples with no bugs or anything like that. You aren't going to find them here," Orefice tells his students.

"When I can be out in the sun I really enjoy it. And sometimes I really enjoy being on my tractor and driving around through my fields. I've always liked baling hay, moving hay bales by hand, it’s enjoyable," Orefice said. "I like the work. I like the physical work of it. At the end of the day you feel good about yourself. You’ve got something accomplished and you’re physically tired and you feel good."

For Joe, there’s additional satisfaction; he’s not just doing good work—he’s teaching it too.  

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