Friday, May 20, 2011

School chooks

One of the nicest things about the school my elder two daughters attend (other than the fact that it's small - about 350 kids) is the wonderful Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program that runs there. I remember touring the school when A, my eldest, was 4 and in her kindergarten year, and being entranced with the then-embryonic vegetable patches and the newly-constructed purpose-built kitchen, with its light, airy interior and wonderful, welcoming smells.

It was one of the reasons we chose this school for our girls, and in the three years from that time to this, it has only gone from strength to strength. All the kids from term 3 in grade 3 onwards have weekly cooking sessions, and, now that the garden is established and very productive, they use predominantly produce from the beds they themselves have weeded and maintained. The kitchen is also used for twice-weekly breakfast clubs, one of my personal pet programs at the school - providing a free, nutritious breakfast and a chance for kids to relax and socialise before school (and for working parents, two mornings a week that they can drop off early without any concerns).

With the removal of the last portable classrooms at the school and their replacement with a multi-purpose classroom building funded by the stimulus package education money, more space was freed up for veggies, fruit trees, mulched areas...

and chooks!

Oh the anticipation that the kids manifested, waiting for the chookyard to be constructed. Oh the excitement on the first day of term, when the 4 Rhode Island Reds were installed. Oh the loving care with which the kids feed grass scraps to these fat, happy hens. Competition for the privilege of filling their food and water bowls, bringing them bowls of fruit & veg scraps, and collecting their daily eggs is fierce. The kids love to stroke them, and at least one of the hens is a shameless poser for this, backing up to the fence so little hands can reach to scratch her gently.

I think it's fantastic to have chickens at school. The kids are getting to use the deep-yolked, full-flavoured eggs that these well-fed ladies are producing in their cooking classes, and are already noticing the difference from cage-fed hen eggs in particular. The soft burrrrking sound that the chooks make as they go about their business adds a friendly, cheerful note to the playground, even when it's in repose (ie when all the kids are inside!)

In time the plan is to extend the run by about another 8 feet and add in three more chickens. It'll be a great thing well into the future for the kids.

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