A group of Unity College students who are part of the College’s FFA club visited the FFA club of Waldo County Technical Center to collaborate on the current Pastured Poultry for Food Security project that was made possible by the National FFA Food for All Grant. The meeting started out by playing the icebreaker game “Have You Seen My Goat” so that students from both schools would get familiar and be open for discussion later in the meeting, then we moved on to a presentation by the Unity College FFA members that informed Waldo County FFA students about the project, some basic information on pastured poultry, and general chicken knowledge. After this the students from both schools came up with some ideas on how to build chicken tractors and made recommendations for the structures. The collegiate FFA students brought 2 of the chicks along for the ride to show the high school students just how fast they are growing. When the Waldo County students visit the College, they will be spending time assessing the animals and the pasturing system- but they will also get shown around campus by of one of our student tour guides. The Waldo County Tech FFA adviser says her students are excited to see the chicken’s progress, but they also want to “get a chance to look inside some of the College buildings.” Overall both groups had fun and look forward to the visit.
During Spring Break, an unusual package arrived in the mail. It was a shoe-box sized parcel, with several air holes on each side. It filled the post office with a surprising amount of noise for its size. Chirping to be precise. That chirping heralded the beginning of a Spring project and an exciting new partnership.
In February of this year, the Waldo County Technical Center FFA chapter, in partnership Unity’s Collegiate FFA, was awarded a grant to complete a collaborative project called “Pastured Poultry for Food Security.”
The support for this project comes from the National FFA Organization’s Food For All grant, which is funded by Farmers Feeding the World and the Howard G. Buffet Foundation as part of the FFA’s ongoing commitment to service learning as a means of both developing future farmers and positively impacting communities. (Learn more about the FFA’s Living 2 Serve program here.)
The “meat” of this project, if you’ll pardon the pun, is to grow broiler chickens (grown for meat, not eggs) that will be used to support hunger relief efforts in Waldo County, namely the Volunteer Regional Food Pantry (VRFP) in Unity and the Belfast Soup Kitchen in Belfast.
FFA students from Unity College and Waldo County Technical Center (WCTC) are working together to develop management plans, deliver animal care, and learn more about how local agriculture can work to improve food security. Because the project will have both Spring and Fall rounds featuring different breeds- students will study the health, efficiency, and other factors in a breed comparison.
Student leader and Unity FFA vice-president, Shayne Van Leer, is spearheading the on the ground portion of this project. Additionally, his research and recommendations were used to estimate project costs and draft the grant application. He developed a chick brooding habitat (in the new animal care room), care protocol, and plans to transition the birds to the barn and then chicken tractors once they are large enough to be put out on pasture. The pasturing of these birds will take place at Unity College, because there isn’t the space or weekend supervision at WCTC.
Luckily the College has some lovely pasture and our residential campus will give student care-givers access to the animals 24/7. WCTC students will visit the birds periodically, build chicken tractors with UC students, and take part in the delivery of chicken to local hunger relief agencies that have a need for additional sources of healthy protein for their clients. WCTC students will also get treated to a tour of campus and some Q&A with our real, live, down-to-earth Unity College students; this project isn’t just about chicken!
In the community, students will also have the opportunity to advise the VRFP’s poultry class for food pantry clients, which occurs in May. (An overview of the VRFP’s educational and special programs here.)
We are so thrilled to have another reason to collaborate with the WCTC students, learn how to manage poultry in a hands-on way, and continue to support hunger relief efforts with healthy food. Thanks to the National FFA Organization and the Food For All project sponsors for this opportunity. And readers, keep an eye on the Sustainability Monitor for updates.
Polly Shyka and Prentice Grassi of the Village Farm hosted a small crew of Unity College students over the weekend for a morning full of onions. Students in the FFA club (which Rae explained to me no longer stands for “Future Farmers of America” — perhaps like “KFC”?), rallied for a Saturday morning excursion to nearby Freedom to get their hands dirty. Big thanks to Rae Vander Werf, Shayne Van Leer, and Kelsey Schrey for pitching in. And to the Village Farm for hosting us.