When Ajay Menon and a team of colleagues from Colorado State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences approached leadership at JBS USA, the U.S. arm of the world’s largest protein producer, JBS S.A., with a proposal to partner on a project to transform food innovation, the vision was not an easy sell.
“I remember thinking, ‘what kind of hairbrained idea is this?’” joked Chris Gaddis, head of human resources at JBS USA. “We weren’t exactly on board with the idea. But then Ajay pulled me aside and said, ‘Your goal is to be the best. Well, that’s Dr. [Gary] Smith. That’s Colorado State.’ The more I thought about it, the more I saw that this partnership made perfect sense.”
On Tuesday, two-plus years after that initial conversation, CSU officially opened the JBS Global Food Innovation Center in Honor of Gary & Kay Smith. The state-of-the-art facility is the result of a decades-long relationship between CSU and JBS, which contributed $12.5 million to not only help build the facility but to provide employee educational programming.
Taking a global view
“We take a global view of our education and research, and we were looking for new ways to manage livestock and meat science,” said Menon, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. “JBS provides that necessary partnership – our goals and values align well with theirs – and we’re very grateful for their support.
Our goal for this facility was not only to support teaching and research – it has to impact the industry and advance the way meat processing is done around the world.”
That view is one shared by JBS USA CEO Andre Nogueira.
“JBS is, more than anything, a people business,” Nogueira said. “So we really see this as an investment in people – the people who will come here to learn industry best practices and innovation for generations to come.”
Honoring a CSU legend and his wife
It was important to Menon and the college to make sure that Smith, the emeritus University Distinguished Professor who first held the Monfort Chair in Meat Science, was honored. Smith was the guest of honor Tuesday at the grand opening, and several in attendance took to the podium to express their gratitude and respect for his work – and that of his wife, Kay.
Guests were introduced to a new kind of facility that not only teaches hands-on meat processing but offers classroom and laboratory space to provide a well-rounded educational experience. The pristine 36,000-square-foot center will be a hub for food innovation beyond meat science while also providing space for culinary research.
Facility tours revealed the many facets of the facility – a kitchen, processing area, large coolers and freezers and a large oven for cooked meats – including several windows so students can observe the entire process.
Temple Grandin’s influence
The handling areas for cattle and hogs were designed by Temple Grandin, CSU’s world-renowned expert on livestock handling.
Keith Belk, who studied under Smith as a graduate student before rising to the role of professor of meat science and current holder of the Monfort Chair, said he and the college started looking at ways to build the new facility as early as 2002. He called the JBS Food Innovation Center a game changer for CSU.
“We’ve always had great people working in this department, but we’ve never really had the facilities to match,” Belk said. “This changes everything. No other university has anything quite like this. When parents are looking for the very best college to send their children to study meat science, they are now going to send them here.”
A game-changing addition to CSU
Tori Teegarden, a junior animal sciences major from Evergreen, said the new facility adds a different dimension to a quality education.
“I was blown away the first time I walked through here; it was much better than I expected,” she said. “Honestly, this means everything for students.”
The facility has already been inspected and approved by the USDA for meat processing, which will begin soon. The USDA is so impressed, Belk said, that it will utilize the facility to help train its own inspectors.
One of the unique amenities of the JBS facility is the Where Food Comes From Market, a retail market which features beef, pork and chicken products processed onsite, along with snacks and beverages, and offers hands-on learning for students in sales and customer service.
Belk couldn’t help but beam with pride as he addressed the gathering at the grand opening. The long, 17-year process was, at long last, a reality.
“I feel like today we are announcing to the world, ‘we’re here!’” he said. “We’ve always had the talent, but now we’ve got the facilities that are second to none.”