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Hundreds attend Peetz FFA Oyster Fry and Student Auction

Annual event serves as main fundraiser for the upcoming school year


Anthony Ruiz / The Sun-Telegraph

Attendees to the Peetz FFA Oyster Fry and Student Auction choose between Rocky Mountain Oyster or chicken strips for their main course. The annual event draws hundreds to the small town every year.

Hundreds of people from around the area traveled to Peetz High School, more than tripling the population of the town, Thursday evening for a taste of Rocky Mountain tradition at the annual Peetz FFA Oyster Fry and Student Auction.

"Oyster fries are pretty synonymous with FFA chapters, especially in eastern Colorado," Peetz FFA teacher Michael Forster said.

The annual event features a full meal for attendees, with the star attraction being the main course of Rocky Mountain Oysters, or bull testicles that have been peeled, split, breaded and deep fried.

"Most people can't get over the idea of what they are, but they are good," Forster said.

Peetz FFA president Adam Davis said he has been eating oysters since he was a small child, but did not learn where they came from until he was nearly 10 years old.

"They just never told me what they were," he said. "I had eaten them ever since I was a baby, and to me, whatever is was, it was good."

Even with that knowledge, Davis, now 18, said it never bothered him, and he still enjoys the Colorado delicacy to this day.

"An oyster's and oyster," he said. "You don't think about what it is. You just eat it."

For the less adventurous patrons, chicken strips are also offered as a substitute main course. Side dishes include onion rings, salad, rolls, pasta salad, a beverage and dessert.

"And since it is also St. Patrick's Day, we had every kid bring in a green dessert," Forster said.

Forster said when he joined the school 11 years ago, the oyster fry had not taken place for several years.

"It had been about six to eight years, I think, since they had one," he said.

Forster said the community was in favor of bringing the event back. He said the event was successful that first year, and has grown significantly in the decade since.

"When we started, we had about 200 people," Forster said. "And now, we'll easily break 600. It's amazing."

For a town with a population hovering under 200 and a student body about half that number, the annual oyster fry draws people from surrounding communities including Sidney and Sterling.

"Our FFA chapter is truly blessed," Forster said. "Sterling and Sidney have rallied behind us and have been outstanding."

"This is one of my favorite events of the year," Davis said. "It just really cool to see the community come together. We couldn't ask for a more supportive community."

Area businesses and the local community also support the event by donating items for door prizes, which are given out through color-coded stickers placed on the bottom of the styrofoam plates handed out to attendees in line.

Depending on the color of the sticker, attendees are allowed to choose from small- and big-ticket prizes from a table at the center of the gym.

Curt Cromwell with Wickham Tractor Co. out of Sterling brought in several items, from hats and pins to toy tractors, as donations for the prize pool.

"We want to support our young farmers," Cromwell said. "And this is a good cause."

With so many people coming into the small town, Forster said a lot of food is purchased and prepared.

"We have 320 pounds of oysters, 240 pounds of chicken strips, 180 pounds of onion rings, 60 pounds of pasta salad, 30 pounds of tossed salad and 20 gallons of beans," he said. "So we shoot to feed that 600 to 650."

Although they have not yet run out of food during the event, Forster said they have been "dangerously close" in past years.

"I've always said that the year we run out is the year that I will have it figured out," he said. "For the most part, we've got it down to, I wouldn't say an exact science, but to where we're really, really lucky."

At Peetz High School, Forster said 33 students, about 80 percent of the total high school population, are members of the FFA.

"We're a little down from last year, but that's normal," he said. "These things go in cycles."

Davis, who has been a member of the Peetz FFA for all four years of high school, said it is his love for agriculture that has kept him coming back year after year.

"It's a great organization," he said.

Forster said every member of the the Peetz FFA is present and working some job at the annual oyster fry, whether it was helping cook the food, running trays or on the serving line.

"And I have a group of outstanding dads cooking all of the oysters, chicken strips and onion rings," he said. "We fired up the big bath fryers at 3:30 p.m. and they've been cooking since."

Peetz FFA alumnus Gary Schumacher, one of the adults working the deep fryers during the event, said he remembers working the oyster fry as a high schooler in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

"We did the same thing they're doing now," Schumacher said. "It wasn't at this big a scale, though."

Schumacher said the Peetz Oyster Fry stretches back to the 1950s and has been a tradition with his family.

"I have eight kids, and they all were in the FFA," he said. "My youngest daughter is a senior this year."

Tickets for the meal were sold at $10 for adults and $5 for children under 12 and senior citizens. Forster said about 80 percent of the costs for the oyster fry come from the Peetz FFA, but they do not get much return on the meal itself.

"If we make $2 per person on the food, we're lucky," he said. "The lowest it's ever been was $1.03. But drawing the crowd we do, we don't want anybody to go away hungry."

While the oyster fry is what brings in the crowd, Forster said the student auction is where the majority of the fundraising is done.

"This is by far our biggest fundraiser," he said. "It absolutely funds all of our activities."

FFA activities include the travel to the state and national FFA conventions, leadership workshops and other career development events.

"Everything is agriculture-related," Forster said.

In the student auction, Peetz FFA members are auctioned off, either alone or in pairs, to community members and area businesses for eight hours of labor.

"They're buying the kid and supporting the program," Forster said. "The only thing we ask, if it goes over a lunch period, is they feed our kids. They work a lot better, and listen a lot better, with full bellies."

Davis said in past years through the student auction, he has worked cleaning out the basement at Sidney Feed, emptying horse barns and planting trees by hand.

"Oh, that was a fun day," he said. "It's work."

Anthony Ruiz / The Sun-Telegraph

Peetz seventh grader Wylie Foreman breads hundreds of Rocky Mountain Oysters during Thursday's oyster fry.

In prior years, individuals and pairs have brought in hundreds of dollars each through the auction. This year, Davis was the top earner, receiving a $425 winning bid for his services.

"It just depends on the year," Davis said. "If the farmers and other people in the community are having a good year."

In total, the student auction brought in nearly $6,300 this year.

For the high school seniors in the FFA, Forster said the student auction is a chance for them to give back to the program right before they graduate.

"Our seniors are usually the highest auctions," he said. "It's outstanding that, while this (auction) isn't a benefit to them, they ultimately sell as a benefit to our eighth graders that will be incoming freshmen. It's for that next generation."


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