The students of Hillis Elementary School in Des Moines welcomed four chickens to an outdoor coop. Principal Beth Sloan says it just made sense.
“With all that we have happening at Hillis with our gardens, and nutrition and wellness initiatives, we had always talked about ‘Okay, what’s the next step?’”
One of those initiatives 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 students get a chance to learn about nutrition, gardening and composting.
FoodCorps Service Member Chelsea Krist says, “It’s pretty important for kids to know where their food comes from, 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 an elementary school?”
Iowa Farm Bureau’s Ag in the Classroom program helped get the chickens to their new home; 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. 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 of Ankeny, who is no stranger to hands-on ag education. She’s been teaching school kids about agriculture in Iowa with on-farm field trips and recently, Skype calls to classrooms, for over two decades.
“To this day, I will have people come up to me that say, you know, 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. During the winter, the chickens will be relocated to Johnson’s farm, then return to Hillis elementary in the spring when it warms up.