UNITY, Maine — The 18 red broiler chickens looked out at the world inquisitively from the safety of their coop.
The month-old meat birds pecking at the grass in the spring sunshine might not know it, but they are playing a pivotal role in a new partnership between the Unity College and Waldo County Technical Center chapters of the National FFA Organization, formerly known as the Future Farmers of America.
The students are carefully raising 36 of the chickens, which came to them as days-old chicks sent through the mail. In another month, the birds will be slaughtered and the meat will be used to help feed hungry members of the Waldo County community through two local food banks.
“Having one action have all kinds of ripple effects is a great example of the sustainability science we’re trying to teach across the curriculum,” Sara Trunzo, Unity College food and farm projects coordinator, said of the chicken-raising effort.
Shayne Van Leer, 21, of Berlin, N.J., is a sustainable agriculture major and vice president of the college’s FFA chapter. He was a pivotal part of applying for a $2,000 grant from the national organization’s “Food For All” project, Trunzo said, which allowed students to get started with the chickens.
In the fall, students will raise another batch of birds, a French breed of chickens known as both Freedom Rangers and French Rangers.
Van Leer said that raising the chickens and organizing student FFA members to check on the birds three times a day should be helpful experience as he works on a farm this summer. One day he hopes to sustainably raise his own chickens for a living.
“I just feel that the sustainable side of agriculture makes more sense than the industrial model,” he said.
Maddy Kane, a 19-year-old first-year student from Stoughton, Mass., is studying secondary education. She said that she has been enjoying working with the six high school students from Waldo County Technical Center who have made trips to visit the chickens in their quarters near the Unity College gardens.
“I’m educating kids on how you can raise your own chickens,” said Kane, who went to an agricultural high school. “When I’m a teacher, I hope to teach my students about this.”
Trunzo said that in the fall, the high school students are likely to be more involved with raising the next batch of birds. But even though the students’ trips to Unity College this spring have been few in number, they’ve been productive and not just for the chickens.
“The Waldo County Technical Center students are excited to visit the college,” she said. “They were asking, ‘Can we look at the library? Can we look at the classrooms?’”
Trunzo described the project as a perfect example of a Unity College education.
“Our students are getting out there, getting dirty, and sometimes getting poopy,” she said. “It’s professional, curricular, experiential and community-oriented. Our students are so service-minded, they want to know that what they’re doing benefits their neighbors.”
That definitely is the case, according to Bob Van Deventer, chairman of the Volunteer Regional Food Pantry in Unity, which will be a recipient of the chickens. He said that need at the food pantry has been growing and that every little bit helps a lot.
“This is definitely a positive project that will help us,” he said.
Unity College students also will be helping the community by advising the food pantry’s poultry class.
“We want to encourage the community to be self-sufficient,” Van Deventer said. “The example at Unity College helps that. You need to do it — not by speaking, but by acting. By [the college students] acting, they’re showing that it can be done.”