Grade 9 student Elizabeth Kyle

Hens help Saanich high school teach hands-on food security

Reynolds students raise hens to give to families to promote local food sources

What initially started as a want by students to have chickens running around the school’s courtyard transformed into a prize-winning initiative to help promote local food production.

Reynolds secondary is about to give live hens – incubated, hatched and raised within the school’s walls over the last three months – to about 10 Greater Victoria families.

“I don’t know if there’s anything else like it out there,” teacher and leadership advisor Heather Coey said about her school’s chicken fostering program.

Spearheaded by a small group of students, including 17-year-old Meaghan Dinney, the fowl fostering program forced them to learn anything and everything they could about raising hens.

On Feb. 13, 17 eggs hatched and all 17 birds lived.

The students have had to care for the animals as pets – feeding them, cleaning the chicken coop and making sure they get out every day to run around. And though there remains a bit of a novelty in having chickens at school, the project is more about the greater good.

“It’s one thing to do something that changes things in the school, but it’s another thing entirely to do something that changes things in the community,” Dinney said.

Last year, Saanich eased up on its backyard chicken bylaws, allowing for up to five hens – roosters aren’t allowed – on single-family properties that are 557-square-metres or larger. Eggs can’t be sold and the chickens can’t be slaughtered.

In addition to the hens that Reynolds will be giving away, the recipients will also get a free chicken coop, along with a continual stream of eggs and manure.

“The kids raised amazing chickens. They’re some of the friendliest I’ve ever seen,” said Darren Copley, president of the Victoria Natural History Society. Copley donated the eggs to Reynolds. “They’ve been coddled and handheld – it’ll be really nice for the people adopting them.”

The chicken fostering project was one of two initiatives at Reynolds that won a B.C. Green Games award earlier this month at Science World.

The second initiative was the salad bar program, where students use locally grown produce (from no more than three kilometres away) to create healthy salads, soups and other edibles to sell at lunch.

Reynolds earned $2,000 for the pair of wins.

The money will buy a freezer to help store more fresh produce.

For its wide-ranging green initiatives, the school was also among 10 in Canada that earned a $25,000 prize from Staples. That money, announced last week, will go to a new computer lab.

Coey hopes to repeat the chicken fostering program next year.

“This helps us meet one of our goals, and that is food security. It allows the kids and the staff to see that you can raise your own food source, and it gets it out into the community.”

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