By TIM THORNBERRY
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Students at Fayette County’s Locust Trace Agri-Science Farm are getting a firsthand look at animal agriculture from the beginning stages to the processing phase, thanks to a poultry project funded by an FFA Food for All grant.
The students raise both broilers and layers, learning the processes involved in all aspects of poultry and egg production. A unique feature of the project is it is community-driven, as the eggs and processed chickens are donated to the local food pantry. Shane Norris, the Large and Small Animal program instructor at the agri-school, said the project allows students to experience community service through animal science in the classroom as well as the lab.
“The infrastructure to get both layers and broilers came through the grant with the understanding we donate the eggs and broilers to God’s Pantry,” he said. “We were also able to partner with Kentucky State University, using their mobile processing unit.”
Students are able to go to the processing unit and participate in that stage of the program – something many, having come from an urban setting, never experienced. Norris said in addition to the community service, the students are able to see something on a scale they can replicate.
“They can raise their own chicks and have their own eggs, and it’s smaller operations they could have in their own backyards,” he pointed out. “Also, they learn how to properly manage feeding and watering along with the proper responsibility, and how crucial it is to provide for and sustain the chickens while they are here.”
There are many things, in raising the chickens, the students must do to guarantee maximum best results, such as collecting eggs daily and recording how many from each chicken they gather; measuring the feed and making sure the animals are getting the proper amounts; and weighing the chickens regularly and recording those weights to measure weight gain in relationship to amount each is fed, to name a few.
This year alone, the school will donate 90 chickens to the food pantry and countless dozens of eggs. Norris said right now is a good time to make the donations, since the food supplies s have been depleted because of holiday demands.
“Donations kind of slow down after Christmas, and hopefully we can help get the shelves stocked up with this protein source,” he said.
‘Not like a pet’
Norris said taking the birds for processing has received mixed reviews from the students, with some having no problem and others realizing what takes place at this stage. “Some say ‘I understand why it’s here, but I don’t want to come back.’ But I want them to understand we have the cheapest, safest food source in the world and there are reasons why,” he said.
“We talk about why a flock is raised and the end of that, it is used for our consumption. And there will be an end; it’s not like a pet. We try not to humanize it and make sure we keep a little distance. The ultimate goal of many livestock facilities is to raise animals for meat purposes.”
Catherine “Cat” Jones is a senior at Locust Trace. Although she was raised in the city, she loves animals and is using her experience at the school to move on to Morehead State University next year to become a veterinarian technician for large animals. She said her family has always emphasized the need to not waste food, something that helps her understand all the processes in raising chickens.
“My dad said if you are going to eat it, you should know where it comes from, and he would always tell us, ‘You know this food was once an animal.’ You have to respect that and not waste food and he thought it was a great idea that we were doing this project.”
Jones cited a fondness for animals and by coming to the school, she has found an outlet for that.
“I have always loved animals, and getting to come here and to work with the animals is great because I’ve had this fascination all my life but I’ve never had an outlet for it. Now that I’ve been here, I know what I want to do,” she said.
She thinks many people take their food for granted because they don’t understand the work that goes into producing it. She said going through the project and participating helps her know better about where her food comes from and how it got there.
As far as donating the food to God’s Pantry, Jones said she has worked with the pantry before through her church and she thinks it’s a fine idea to make the donations.
“I think it’s great, because I’ve seen the people that go there and they are grateful for the food and if they understand that high school students put their hearts into this, they’ll see we’re not all conceited and think we own the world,” she said. “I love the fact that I helped put food in someone’s belly.”
Mickie Lynn, another senior at Locust Trace, has had the benefit of growing up on the farm and understanding animal agriculture. She said there’s more to the school and this project than just learning to raise a chicken.
“I have learned to manage a farm. I have taken nearly every class here, including equine, ag communications, advanced animal science and biotechnology. Here, you learn so much,” she said.
Sara Tracy serves as Locust Trace’s community liaison. She said the link between the school and a community service project such as the one with God’s Pantry is important especially since the school is so new, only in its second year.
“It’s a crucial part of our education in helping our students understand the community around them, the support and especially the sustainability aspect of it. We try to teach all that when we do these projects with our community partners,” she said.
While the grant money has been spent, it was done in such a way to create sustainability so the project can continue for years to come, if so desired.
Tracy hopes to develop the chicken project enough to include the local Farm to School program and contribute some of the food to the local school system, as well as the food pantry.
Locust Trace already does that through its Governor’s Garden project, in which some of the vegetables grown there make it into school cafeterias.
To learn more about Locust Trace Agri-Science Farm, visit www.techcenters.fcps.net/locusttrace and to learn more about God’s Pantry, go to www.godspantry.org