In March the Unity College campus will begin an initiative to raise free range chickens as part of an ongoing hunger relief effort.  The endeavor is made possible by a grant from the Food for All program of the Future Farmers of America (FFA). High school FFA students from Waldo County Technical Center (WCTC) will also be involved and receive funds from the collaborative grant.  The Volunteer Regional Food Pantry in Unity and the Belfast Soup Kitchen will be recipients of the meat and distribute it to their clients.

The grant provides Unity College with the opportunity to expand its extensive ongoing hunger relief efforts that are provided primary through the Veggies for All program of Waldo County.  Each year gardens on campus produce thousands of pounds of vegetables to assist area food pantries.

Students at both Unity and WCTC designed the project, which included budgeting, planning, and developing educational opportunities. There are also mentoring and college aspiration building aspects of the project, says Sara Trunzo, Unity College Food and Farm Projects Coordinator.

“Our FFA chapters received funding for a similar project last year so we are ready to increase the scale to 100 birds and offer the FFA members new challenges,” Trunzo said.  “Students will now take the lead on every aspect of the work.”

Project participants like Shayne Van Leer ’13, a Sustainable Agriculture major who is the President of the Unity College FFA Chapter and poultry project manager, have been able to take leadership in the project and focus on individual goals.

Van Leer sought to develop public speaking and project management skills, while other students with less agricultural experience learned basic animal care.  Over the past year, Van Leer raised broilers on campus that were donated to the Belfast Soup Kitchen and Unity Area Volunteer Regional Food Pantry.  In December 2012, he offered a public presentation on the project at the Unity College Student Conference, a conference held each semester to showcase the best student research and creative projects.  Van Leer received the Sustainability Award for his public presentation of the project, entitled Pastured Poultry for Food Security.

Frequently, students like Van Leer pursue other agricultural projects as part of their internship during the growing the growing season.  In addition to laying the groundwork for this grant, Van Leer has pursued development of a pasture raised chicken enterprise at a diversified, grass fed beef farm in New Jersey.  In September, he will leave for an assignment with the Peace Corps, likely either in South America or Africa.

Trunzo says that the expansion of pasture raised chicken production on the Unity College campus will create a variety of educational opportunities for participants.

“This effort isn’t just for Sustainable Agriculture majors,” said Trunzo.  “Students pursuing Environmental Education may be interested in the mentoring aspect of this project, while Captive Wildlife Care and Education students are eager to build their animal handling skills.”

In recent years Unity College has expanded its agricultural, animal care, and animal husbandry offerings on campus.  These include the addition of an animal care laboratory, new greenhouse, barn renovation, root cellar, and partnership with Veggies for All.

“The project has taught me about many aspects of farming,” said Van Leer.  “I’ve learned hands-on skills, such as building, and business skills like budgeting.  I’ve even learned life skills, such as being patient and learning to lead a team.”

“My experience at Unity College helped me to strengthen my commitment to pursuing Sustainable Agriculture as a career and I am excited to apply my skills during my Peace Corps service.”

Unity College is a private college in rural Maine that provides dedicated, engaged students with a liberal arts education that emphasizes the environment and natural resources. Unity College graduates are prepared to be environmental stewards, effective leaders, and responsible citizens through active learning experiences within a supportive community.

Monday, February 25, 2013