Kutztown Area High School agriculture students recently donated plants and chickens they raised as part of a school project to the Friend Inc. Community Service Food Pantry.
Thanks to two grants — the Pennsylvania FFA Foundation Learning by Doing Grant and the National FFA Living to Serve Grant — Kutztown students participated in a project to hatch, raise and butcher chickens, which were then donated to Friend, Inc.
“I hope this donation is able to help out families that are in need and that this quality meat nourishes them,” said Kutztown sophomore Cathlene Moatz of Maxatawny.
In total, the Kutztown FFA was able to donate 24 chickens totaling more than 64 pounds of meat, more than 300 vegetables plants, and 150 grocery and personal hygiene items.
"One of the very best things about this donation is that it came from local high school students,” said Jim Reece, executive director of Friend Inc. "We don’t get as much interaction with this age as we would like. They are the future of our ‘helping society’ and for them to initiate this project shows them the impact that their actions can have on the lives of their fellow community members."
Reece likes that the students raised the chickens that were donated to the food pantry.
"How cool is that! Real circle of life stuff. We should all be more aware of where ALL of our food comes from," he said.
Reece also noted that the chickens are fresh. "We do distribute meat and poultry to our pantry patrons but it’s frozen of course."
Also, this is the first time that vegetable plants were donated to the pantry.
"One of the real outcomes we strive for is self-sufficiency," said Reece. "Sure, we are here to help people solve their immediate problem but in that process also help them learn the tools and thinking that they can use going forward to solve the next one on their own or with a little less help. We’re like teachers in that regard."
Reece is pleased that the pantry can offer clients a chance to grow their own food.
"Those folks who were excited to take a few vegetable plants can supplement their other foods with a few fresh vegetables that they grew on their own! It is a sense of accomplishment and pride which is a building block of that self-sufficiency," he said.
“I know this will benefit the clients of Friend because every single donation is important and appreciated,” said junior Tracey Dieter of Albany Township. “Friend does amazing work providing food to the people in need and to be part of that process is an amazing feeling. It is heartwarming to know local families are going to get fresh quality chicken!”
“I hope these meals bring many smiles around local tables, just as the school-to-fork project enlivened and brightened our chapter for its duration here,” said junior Sarah Grace Ferber of Rockland Township.
The intracurricular project stemmed from the Large Veterinary Science and Food Science and Safety courses at Kutztown Area High School which currently enrolls 32 students, collectively. Of those students, nine opted to participate in the process of raising chickens. Three of those students delivered the chickens to Friend for the food pantry distribution on May 20.
“There were many goals of this project but the primary goal was for students to gain first-hand experience with the food system and gain an understanding of where their food comes from,” said Kutztown agriculture teacher and FFA advisor Victoria Brown.
The project entailed raising broiler chickens over a 6-week time period, as well as conducting a feed trial to compare growth rates in the chickens based on the amount of protein present in their feed.
There are two main understandings that Brown hopes students gained from this experience. First is an appreciation of the food system. The average American today is three generations removed from the farm with less than 2% of the population living on a farm, she said.
“Even in a rural area such as our district, many consumers are disconnected with where their food comes from,” said Brown. “My hope is that through hatching, raising, processing, and donating these chickens, the students were able to understand and appreciate the process of putting food on the table.”
Many of her students will not pursue a career in agriculture after graduation but what is important to her is that when they visit the grocery store, they are an informed and appreciative consumer.
“This project was a small step towards that goal.”
Brown also hopes that this experience will help students to understand the value of service.
“Especially over the past year, many of us have seen tough times and it is important to me that students take pride in their ability to support their community and their peers. The FFA motto is ‘Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve’ and through this project, students were truly able to embody this sentiment,” said Brown.
“I loved being able to experience the growing of a bird from a chick up until it, in turn, became a meal for someone,” said Ferber. “Knowing where your food comes from is an invaluable awareness that's necessary in order for agriculture to be properly appreciated by consumers.”
“The thing that I liked the most about this project was being able to see the chickens go from an egg all the way to being processed and to be part of that process was eye opening because I got to experience how chicken is processed, giving me a much greater appreciation for the industry,” said Dieter. “I learned a lot of information about how the chickens are raised and fed. I also learned the processing procedure and how to properly process a chicken. I’ve learned a lot about the industry and how humane the procedure is to the chickens.”
The students donated 24 fresh chickens, as well as vegetable plants and grocery items.
“Originally, the plan was to donate just the meat, however, after recently completing our annual Plant Sale, we had a number of vegetable plants remaining which we were able to donate so that community members can grow their own fresh tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and zucchini throughout the summer,” said Brown.
Grant funding remained at the completion of the project so, after reaching out to Friend to understand their needs, the students purchased and donated approximately $250 worth of grocery and personal items.
“The final goal was to use this project not only to benefit the students, but the community as a whole,” said Brown. “By choosing to donate the meat grown through this project, students will impact over 20 families in the Kutztown community.”