DES MOINES, Iowa – Backyard chickens are becoming more popular. They’re an opportunity to learn about how farmers do what they do. But keeping chickens is by no means limited to the backyard.
On Wednesday, the kids at Hillis Elementary School in Des Moines welcomed four of them to an outdoor coop.
“With all that we have happening at Hillis with our gardens and nutrition and wellness intiatives,” says Principal Beth Sloan, “we had always talked about ‘Okay, what’s the next step?'”
One of those intiatives already in place is Eco-Hour, a weekly event with a focus on wellness and environmental education. With the help of national non-profit FoodCorps, every Wednesday from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., students get a chance to learn about nutrition, gardening and composting, among other topics.
“It’s pretty important for kids to know where their food comes from,” says FoodCorps Service Member Chelsea Krist, “and you know, it’s surprising that so many kids don’t know where their food comes from. But it’s not really that surprising, because, why would you know, if you weren’t exposed to this in elementary school?”
Iowa Farm Bureau’s Ag in the Classroom program helped get the chickens to their new home; program director Cindy Hall with Polk County Farm Bureau says ag education isn’t just a chance for kids to learn about farming; it’s an investment in Iowa’s future.
“These kids are going to grow up to be voters and consumers whose decisions will affect agriculture and our farmland,” says Hall. “So we feel that, from the Farm Bureau perspective, it’s important for them to learn about how their food is produced, and how important agriculture is to Iowa.”
The four chickens were provided by farmer JorJan Johnson with Johnson Bros. of Ankeny, who is no stranger to hands-on ag education. She’s been teaching schoolkids about agriculture in Iowa with on-farm field trips and recently, Skype calls to classrooms, for over two decades.
“To this day,” Johnson says, “I will have people come up to me. . . 15 years later, they’ll meet me in town or in the grocery store, and they’ll say ‘Mrs. Johnson! I came to your farm as a 4th-grader!”
Through the summer, teachers and parents will maintain the chicken coop, and during the winter, the chickens will be relocated to Johnson’s farm, then returned to Hillis Elementary in the spring when it warms back up.