It’s Elementary: Chickens Come Home to Roost at PS 11
In 2012, Chelsea’s PS 11 got some new school pets, but they weren’t the usual gerbils and turtles. Thanks to the help of Just Food, the school was able to build a chicken coop now occupied by nine hens. Over the past year, students have come to love the flock, including favorites Pecky, Roxy, and Kebab . “Sometimes when I feed them they come to me,” one fourth grader proudly announced. A third grader giggled, “When they eat out of your hand it actually tickles.”
Afterschool director Debbie Osborne tapped into Just Food’s urban agriculture trainings and resources to introduce chickens into their school garden and to strengthen their student-run farmers’ market. “I thought it would be really cool,” she says. “I’m always looking for new experiences for the kids and new ways for them to connect with their food. City Chickens was a really palpable way for them to do that.”
Debbie has seen the impact of both the farmers’ market and City Chicken project on her students. The student-run market, which launched in 2008, runs from mid-June to late November and sells produce from a nearby CSA as well as herbs from the school’s own garden. As part of their curriculum, the school’s third graders run the market: greeting customers, collecting payments, and encouraging customers to try produce samples. Each class operates the market for about three weeks. She’s seen huge benefits for the students, from meeting farmer Deb Kavakos, learning to make quick math calculations, and getting to interact with the local community. Community members have embraced the market, too. According to Debbie, “It gives them a chance to see these kids for the first time, not just yelling in the playground, but interacting with them in a good way and doing something beneficial.”
Just Food’s City Farms Market training helped Debbie fine tune the school’s market, and made it possible to access insurance and to accept SNAP benefits for the first time. That same spring, Debbie applied to Just Food’s City Chicken Project. She didn’t get one of the organization’s grants to build a coop, but that didn’t stop her; “I knew I could raise the money, so I reached out to Just Food to see if they would help me build the coop. Greg [Anderson], of course, went above and beyond.” Greg helped the school plan the project and coordinated a volunteer coop build that drew former City Chicken Project grantees, as well as community and parent volunteers.
Just as Debbie had hoped, the chickens have helped the kids learn more about the way they get food. “We give the chickens good food,” Debbie says, “and they give us good food back. It’s so different for them than interacting with pets, and it’s a neat experience to have an animal that provides them with food.”
The chickens have also taught the kids about responsibility. “Every day I see kids running around at recess, yelling, but when they get near the coop, they stop for a moment and get quiet.” As she sees it, having the chicken coop in the playground has caused them to be more aware of and thoughtful about their surroundings.
Besides helping the kids gain valuable skills, Debbie has been amazed at how much the students have come to genuinely care about the chickens. “They take really good care of them. Every recess there are a few kids who sit by the coop. They’ll tell me about how the chickens are doing or how many eggs have been laid.” In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, says Debbie: “The number one subject of emails I received was, by far, asking if the chickens were alright, if they were too cold or too wet.”
The kids themselves get excited at the mere mention of the chickens, and love to talk about how nice the members of their flock are: “Except Pecky. She is very pecky.”