Friday, October 30, 2009

You canít have your chicken and eat it too

Community School students learn about food production


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Eighth-graders at The Community School in Sun Valley are raising chickens for a project on food production and healthy eating. Shown here, back row from left, are Nick Wright, teacher Naomi Goldberg and teacher Scott Runkel. Front row, from left, are Georgy Goodwin, Jordan Fitzgerald and Chloe Francois. Photo by David N. Seelig

Thirty-one eighth-graders are learning about the realities of food production in a chicken-raising project at The Community School in Sun Valley.

The students procured 16 fuzzy yellow chicks in mid-September, raised them to maturity and will have them killed, plucked and dressed on Monday for a "food matters banquet" Tuesday evening.

Math, science, agriculture, nutrition and morals are integrated into the somewhat unique chicken project that was designed by the students themselves.

"We had six weeks to find a way to make a difference in the way we eat," said student Jordan Fitzgerald in explaining the "food challenge" posed to the class by teachers Naomi Goldberg and Scott Runkel.

The challenge, Runkel said, was to develop a project to demonstrate good eating habits, not only to improve personal health but for the good of the environment. When he and Goldberg suggested a chicken-raising project, the students embraced the idea "wholeheartedly," he said.

The chickens, a Cornish-cross variety typically used for meat production, were initially kept indoors but were later moved to an outdoor greenhouse, complete with an outside chicken pen, that was designed and built by the students.

Runkel explained that a group of students was assigned to each chicken, to measure its weight weekly for comparison to feed weights to determine "conversion ratios." The conversion ratio ended up being about two pounds of food per one pound of meat.

Goldberg said another aspect of the class was to give students a better understanding of the food chain.

"I think one of the big lessons is the choices we make about food don't affect just us," she said. "The students are reconnecting to food by growing the chickens. Chickens aren't just featherless things that you buy at the grocery store."

On a more practical side, Runkel said, the project has also shown the students how to raise their own food.

He said he thinks the students have come to grips with the fact that the chickens are going to be killed and eaten.

"Most of them understand it's part of life," he said.

The killing will take place at The Community School's Sagewillow campus in Elkhorn. The chickens will be placed in funnel-shaped metal devices built by the students. The heads protrude from the bottom and the rest of the device keeps the animal secure. Their throats will then be slit.

Students will be allowed to do the throat slitting, providing they are willing and they have permission from their parents.

"It will be up to them to decide," Runkel said. "Most of the students have never done anything like this before, so they don't know quite what to expect."

The students will present their findings at Tuesday's banquet, which will feature chicken, roasted vegetables, salad and other healthy, locally grown foods.

The students agree that the project has made them reconsider their perceptions of food production and eating habits, particularly when it comes to chickens.

Chloe Francois said the concept of raising chickens and then killing them for food doesn't bother her "because this is what really happens."

"When I eat chicken now, I think about where it comes from, how it was treated, things like that," said Erin Hennessy.

"I feel a lot better about these chickens because I know what they've done from the day they arrived," said Katie Feldman. "I'd rather eat these chickens than ones you buy at a store."

"At least we know that we treated them well," said Chase Hutchinson. "I'm a vegetarian, but I can't ignore the reality of what's really happening."

Hutchinson is working on a video production about the project and will present a slide show at the banquet.

"It's kind of showing how far we've come from where we were," he said. "We're just kids, but we can make a difference."

Georgy Goodwin, who has lived on a farm, said she understands the concept of raising animals for food.

When the chickens were assigned to student groups, some of the groups gave their animals names, she said, but other groups avoided naming the chickens because "they didn't want to get too attached."

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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