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Gardens, chickens, and chores complete school days

Hillsboro students learn where food comes from

Staff writer

Tossing handfuls of grain, collecting eggs, and eating fresh tomatoes are just a few of the many “chores” performed by Hillsboro Elementary students at the end of school days.

Principal Evan Yoder leads kindergarten through fifth grade students to the back of the school, where tubs of recyclable waste collected throughout the day are dumped in bins. Chickens are fed, and their eggs collected by students who harvest fresh garden vegetables before their parents pick them up to go home.

October is National Farm to School Month, but Hillsboro Elementary students don’t need a special designation to learn where their food comes from.

While leading eight students through completion of chores, Yoder asks them by name why they recycle as they dump tubs of recyclables into bins. Afterward, he reminds them of the importance of recycling.

“Otherwise it goes in a landfill, and it will sit in that landfill for hundreds of years, never to be used again, when we could have used it, saving our natural resources,” Yoder said.

On Friday, with the weekend upcoming, Yoder made sure students gave the chickens plenty of feed. Along the way, he quizzed students on why chickens need grit with their grain. The answer, as the students had already learned, is because chickens have no teeth and need small stones in their gizzards to grind food.

With big kids pushing at the back and little kids helping Yoder pull from the front, the “chicken tractor” mobile hen house relocated to greener grass on the other side of the chicken wire.

He explained how to determine if a hen will lay white or colored eggs by the color of the patch behind their eye. In one hen house, students determined there would not be a single white egg. Sure enough, when opening up a door, only colored eggs were found — including a green one.

One student was tasked with the job of carrying eggs in an Easter egg basket to Yoder’s desk. All three arrived unbroken.

Yoder and the students checked on the gardens and found a juicy surprise: fresh, ripe tomatoes. Students ate them straight off the vine.

“I want them to learn that you can eat this stuff, it’s good for you, and it’s natural,” Yoder said.

He said this new generation cares about what is healthy.

“They want to know what is healthy, what food is good to eat so they can live a long and healthy life,” he said.

They also learn how to grow healthy food at home.

“I want them to learn how to grow it,” Yoder said. “Everybody has a little spot, it doesn’t take much.”

“Chores,” as they are called, have been at the school for about six years. Different groups of students complete the chores each week, except for when winter comes and Yoder takes the chickens home. In the spring, he brings back chickens and bottle-fed lambs, eggs are incubated in a school hallway, and gardens are planted. By the time school is out, chicks are big enough for students to take home.

Eggs are sold to staff members, and money goes to supplies for the animals and gardens. Students sample fresh vegetables.

“I want kids to learn that raw is good,” Yoder said. “So many have not sampled any stuff straight out of the garden, after we wash it of course.”

Starting young is important to healthful living, he said, as is teaching students where food comes from so they can appreciate the work of farmers and ranchers.

“It’s all about healthful living, taking care of our environment, having kids know where our food comes from,” Yoder said. “They all intertwine as to make what I hope in our future is one where we respect the environment, we know about the environment, we know where our food comes from.

“If kids don’t know where their food came from, how can they support farmers or the people that are raising food, whether that is meat or produce? If they don’t understand what that requires, how can they appreciate it, how can they support it?”

Last modified Oct. 12, 2017

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