In Kari Underly’s professional career, she has been an educator, a consultant, a butcher, a business owner, and author and more. Range Meat Academy, she says, is the culmination of her life’s work. Range’s online meat training brings the art of butchery to students across the country. The school recently gained approval by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, allowing it to operate as a private business and a vocational school. Through Range’s online certification, Underly’s labor of love will help bring new butchers into an industry where those skills are suddenly in high demand.

“Range Meat Clerk, Range Meat Cutter Poultry, and Range Meat Cutter Beef are available now.  I’m just about to release Lamb, and Pork should be completed this summer. And then we’ll keep going!” she says.

Yes, the idea of an online butcher course does seem odd at first blush, but Underly notes that as mobile learning continues to expand, the industry must evaluate the way it teaches and trains today’s meat professionals.

“With our Range Meat Academy Online Leaning Management System, we can reach limitless students with just a click! Our curriculum offers high-quality, consistent training that allows the user flexibility,” she explains. “This system was designed in a responsive format, which means you can start on your desktop, complete a couple of courses on your phone and finish on your tablet.

“You will still need to get the time on the block to develop the muscle memory required to become a skilled meat cutter. But you will have proven that you have the knowledge and commitment required by completing our comprehensive curriculum and passing the required testing,” Underly adds.

There is a shortage of skilled and knowledgeable craftsmen and women who can take a hanging carcass from the plant to portions for the plate. The introduction of boxed beef in 1967 started pushing the skills of the butcher toward obsolesce, and the growth of automation in the industry made matters worse. As the skilled butchers of the era began to transition into retirement, their skills went with them and were not passed down to the next generations.

“We used to pass this knowledge down in a process called apprenticeship,” Underly explains. “I apprenticed for three years to become a journeyman meat cutter. Today, these apprenticeship opportunities in the United States are virtually nonexistent.”

The decline of the butcher negatively impacted the consumer as well. Their choices were now limited to those offered by what was already packaged and in the meat case, and the opportunity to have a dialogue and learn from a skilled professional vanished, Underly explains.

Changing consumer trends have brought a new opportunity to revive the butcher trade. Sustainability and an interest in local food systems have gone mainstream. Changes in consumer attitudes and behavior with regard to environment, health and nutrition, economics, and technology continue to influence the way in which companies in the food business produce and bring products to market.

“For the meat industry,” Underly says, “this has spawned increased attention to sustainable practices from the farm to the butcher to the table, and an increased desire for greater transparency along the way. As these demands and expectations continue to take root in the marketplace, so does the need for knowledgeable, customer-oriented and skilled butchers, meat cutters and clerks who are trained to high standards. That is why it is my mission to develop a school that is designed to create and promote high standards for excellence and integrity within the butchery trade by providing the most comprehensive, respected certificate program in the food industry.”

The approval by the IBHE to operate as a vocational school was a grueling 10-month process. Underly says that the approval shows the high standards of the classes and course catalog.

“Range Meat Academy certificate program is now online and ready to go!” she says. “But this is only the beginning. Our long term goal to open a brick and mortar butcher trade school with a working butcher shop and ‘meatery.’”

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