June 16, 2014 2:52 pm
Updated: June 17, 2014 6:34 am

Students get their hands dirty in new urban agriculture class


Watch above: Some Morinville high school students are completing some rather unique assignments including slaughtering a chicken. Fletcher Kent explains what the Urban Agriculture class is all about.

EDMONTON – Math, Social Studies, English, and butchering a chicken? It’s not a typical high school schedule, but urban agriculture at Morinville Community High School isn’t a typical class.

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“It was something that I’ve taken an interest in over the last few years: cooking, growing your own food, butchery, that kind of stuff,” says teacher Neil Korotash, who leads the class.

“The kids are interested in this, I’m interested in this… so why not teach a course in it?”

This is the first year for the program, which introduces students to skills that were intuitive a couple of generations ago.

“I joke with the students, but I honestly didn’t know what a combine did a year ago.

“There’s a real disconnect between where our food comes from and our table.”

Some days, students chop rhubarb, apples and strawberries to cook into homemade jams.

Sometimes the lessons are more graphic – like on chicken butchering day.

Students watched, squeamish yet fascinated, as the birds were gathered from a pen and quickly beheaded. The bodies were then dunked in boiling water to loosen the feathers, before being plucked and cleaned.

“I was interested in that whole concept, because we know chicken comes from a chicken, but what’s the process to get it from the animal to that slab of meat?” asked student Brandon Mansell. The course has piqued his interest in the way our food is produced.

“You’ve got organic, natural – like, what does that actually mean? Sustainable, what does this mean?”

Korotash feels that hands-on approach best reconnects students with the land.

“To understand the sustainability, we need to understand how the food is produced and how it gets to our table.”

The students agree.

“I really like what we’re doing in this class and I want to experience everything,” says Erika Aubuchon.

She was initially wary of the butchering process, but eventually curiosity won over.

“There’s something very magical about sticking your hand inside a chicken.”

Aubuchon doesn’t think farming is in the cards for her, but says the course has opened her eyes.

“I knew it was a lot of work,” she says. “I have a much bigger respect for farmers than I did before.”

In May, the Urban Agriculture class received a $10,000 grant from BP’s A+ for Energy program.  Next year, the class will test out new lights for its hydroponic operation, to see which ones are the most energy efficient.

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