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Starting a business is no easy task. You need to develop a business plan, figure out the finances, pick a name, design a logo.

A group of Sonoma Valley High School freshmen have spent the past few months learning about startups and how the sausage gets made. Literally.

More than a hundred students teamed up in small groups to create fictitious sausage companies. They researched recipes, raised two hogs and learned how to make and market sausage as part of their farm-to-fork project, dubbed “Porkfolios.”

On Tuesday, five of their recipes went before four judges, including a local food writer and chefs Andrew Wilson and Roger Declercq. Wilson serves as the executive chef at The Lodge of Sonoma, and Declercq co-founded Sonoma Gourmet.

“It’s weird,” Brianna Vides, one of nine freshmen who volunteered to feed and care for the winter hogs, said about the tasting. “We saw them when they were little babies. They grew so big. And now (we) see them turned into sausage.”

She and fellow freshman Susana Calderon had affectionately named one of the pigs “Waddles.” Despite initial hesitations, the girls picked up toothpicks Tuesday afternoon and reached into the stainless steel chafing dishes for pieces of sausage to sample.

“It tasted so good,” Vides admitted. “All of them were good.”

They both favored the spicy chorizo recipe, which included cayenne pepper, paprika and fresh minced garlic. It tied for third place with another chorizo recipe, which called for coriander seed, ground cinnamon and Ancho chili powder. First place went to the maple bacon breakfast sausage by the Sonoma Sausage group.

The students spent one day a week working with the hogs on the school farm from October, said Karling Skoglund, the agriculture science teacher. They cleaned out the pens and fed and exercised the animals, which were harvested late last month.

“We got really good experience working with the pigs. We learned responsibility and how to take care of them,” said 15-year-old Calderon, who previously raised rabbits at home.

For Gabriel Naal, it was the first time he’d ever worked with animals. “It wasn’t easy,” he said.

Cleaning out the pens was a heavy-duty task. It also was a challenge to feed the hogs, which got pushy once they grew, said Naal, a 15-year-old freshman.

The pigs were purchased from a Santa Rosa breeder when they were about a month old and weighed about 40 pounds. They were about 250 pounds when they were slaughtered, she said.

Skoglund said the project was created three years ago by a group of teachers who attended Sonoma County Office of Education’s C^3: Integrated Project-Based Learning Institute, which helps educators develop hands-on projects to roll out at their schools.

The project teaches kids what it takes to grow their food, Skoglund said. Students don’t always understand where their meals come from, she said.

“When they go to the grocery store, the food is packaged for them. And it’s boneless. It’s really hard to make that connection — that this came from an animal,” said Skoglund, who teamed up with other teachers for the project.

“We’re combining math, English, P.E. and science,” she said.

For example, Skoglund said, students were asked to put together business plans and to write a Yelp-like review in their English class.

They then did a financial analysis in math class, while they researched the sausages’ nutritional values in physical education.

The sausage then was made by the advanced culinary arts students, who are mostly seniors. It was the first time they worked with whole pigs, Culinary Arts teacher Jonathan Beard said.

The students spent about a week preparing the pork and making the sausage. Some students have never seen sausage made, he said.

Beard hopes the project will teach students to value the work that goes into growing and preparing food.

“Hopefully, they’ll learn to waste less,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 707-521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @eloisanews.

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