Friday, July 9, 2010

Chickens are out, fish are in

TCS eighth-graders set for aquaponics project


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Community School teacher Scott Runkel decided to give chickens a break this year and plans to have his eighth-graders raise fish instead.

And yes, they plan to kill and eat the fish at a good foods banquet.

Sixteen chickens met a similar fate last year, a situation that raised the hackles of a national poultry protection organization. Virginia-based United Poultry Concerns even threatened a lawsuit, but it never materialized.

Instead, the organization wrote a scathing letter to Community School Headmaster Andy-Jones Wilkins and vilified the project as its lead story in the Winter-Spring 2010 edition of Poultry Press.

The headline for that story read: "Idaho school arms children with knives to kill chickens."

The headline was not inaccurate. Some of the students were allowed, with parental permission, to slit the chickens' throats the day before the banquet.

The Community School mascot is the "Cutthroat," which actually applies to a species of trout, but seems applicable for either a chicken or a fish project.

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The private school in Sun Valley staunchly defended the chicken project, stating that it taught the students experientially that if humans are going to eat meat, then something has to die. But the project was about more than just killing chickens. It was also designed to teach the students about sustainable foods and a healthy diet.

Some of the students said later that the chicken project convinced them to become vegetarians.

"I think the chickens are going to come back sometime, but I'm going to let it rest for now," Runkel said Wednesday.

Runkel is still designing the fish project. He said Wednesday that he's considering having the students raise either tilapia, trout or catfish.

The fish project will actually be an aquaponics project, which is defined as a "symbiotic cultivation of plants and aquatic animals in a recirculating environment."

Runkel explained that water from a fish tank will be routinely pumped into a gravel bed where plants will grow. The gravel will filter waste from the water and the waste will help the plants grow better.

"I'm excited, it's going to be a great project," Runkel said. "I don't know if there are any fish rights groups out there, but you never know."

Actually, there is an organization. In 2009, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, commonly referred to as PETA, initiated a campaign to have fish referred to as "sea kittens."

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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