In the late 1960s, agricultural education teacher Don Ramsey started a sausage fundraiser for the Jones, Okla. FFA chapter to help his students add value to their FFA projects.
“The students raised their own animals as show products, and they were losing money selling them to stockyards when they were done showing them,” says Brett Ramsey, Don’s son. “So dad started taking them to a local processor to create sausage that they sold door-to-door as a fundraiser. It was great for his group, and the next thing he knew, fellow agriculture teachers in other communities wanted to do the same thing.”
By 1972, the demand for Don’s sausage began to get overwhelming, so he left his 20-year teaching career and started the Blue and Gold Sausage Co.
“In one day, he used up his retirement from teaching 20 years in one day buying equipment, and at that time he had no experience in food manufacturing,” Brett says of his dad, who is now 85. “What started as a fundraiser for one FFA chapter has become a fundraiser for FFA chapters, bands, ball teams, booster clubs and PTAs in every county in Oklahoma, as well as groups in Kansas, Arkansas and Texas.”
Now in business for more than four decades, the Blue and Gold Sausage Co. continues to market and sell 100 percent of its products through more than 1,100 nonprofit organizations and youth groups. Those products include 2.5-pound rolls of sausage, 3.5-pound packages of thick-sliced bacon and 5-pound bags of breaded chicken tenders.
“One third of our total customer groups are still FFA chapters, and they do 70 percent of our annual business,” Brett says. “There are 350 chapters in Oklahoma, and we sell through all of them.”
During the 2012-2013 school year, fundraising groups sold 3.25 million pounds of Blue and Gold Sausage, 1.25 million pounds of bacon and 900,000 pounds of breaded chicken tenders. Together, they earned more than $2.5 million for their projects.
Blue and Gold Sausage is still family owned by Don and Willadean Ramsey and sons, Brett and Greg.
“Greg takes care of regulatory issues and USDA inspections, and I take care of inventory and public relations,” Brett explains. “Mom does the bookkeeping and will be 73 this year. She hasn’t slowed down since the beginning. And dad is still involved – he tells us all what to do.”
Thanks to the company’s steady growth, it has outgrown its 9,000-square-foot storage and production facility. The Ramseys are tripling the facility’s size to 27,000-square-feet in 2013. The company has eight full-time employees and as many as 40 employees in its highest production months of September, October and November.
“The cool part about being a small business is we get to wear a lot of hats,” Brett says. “I might be sitting on a forklift or attending an investment meeting today and sweeping the floors tomorrow. That keeps things fresh.”
Supporting Oklahoma’s youth and FFA chapters is another benefit.
“It’s wonderful when your customers do something you believe in,” Brett continues. “Dad is still an ag teacher at heart with a business on the side. Oklahoma has a very strong FFA program, and we’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to support them.”