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From chick to nuggets: understanding the science of food

Raising chickens gives high-schoolers an up-close look at the cycle of life 

Caledonia — Three high-schoolers and five chickens recently traveled to compete in a contest at Munsell’s Poultry Processing in Fowlerville, MI. 

Seniors Ali Koussan, Brody Woodwike and Edward Reoch and the rest of their food science classmates at Caledonia High School spent this fall raising 26 broiler chickens, a breed of chicken raised for meat. Then, the students chose their top five birds to enter in the Michigan FFA Broiler Contest

Participating in the contest allows students to participate in real-world agriscience experiences by raising birds in a short period of time, using safe and ethical industry recommendations.

The contest also helps students develop problem-solving skills, work in teams and time management. 

‘I’m a city guy, but I want to learn where my food comes from.’

— senior Ali Koussan

“The goal of the contest is to raise the best end product,” food science teacher Stacy Bender said. “Students are learning where their food comes from and what it takes to make it.”  

In Fowlerville, Ali, Brody and Edward watched the Munsell’s staff process their chickens and then received scores based on the contest’s criteria for the chickens’ weight and condition post-slaughter. 

“It was not the most pleasant sight or smell,” Ali said.  

“It was eye-opening,” Edward said. “It was something I didn’t want to see, but I learned more about the industry from watching.”

From left, seniors Brody Woodwike, Ali Koussan and Edward Reoch with the chickens they entered in the Michigan FFA Broiler Contest (courtesy)

Learning How the Chicken Gets Made 

Bender said it’s good for her students to see the whole cycle of life, from chick to meat on the table.

When she started teaching at CHS in 2010, there was only one food science class offered. Today, high schoolers can take food science 101, 102 and 103 as part of the AgriCal Agriscience Career and Technical Education program.

If students complete a course at each level of the AgriCal program plan and complete their FFA state degree, they can earn six credits at Michigan State University. FFA, or Future Farmers of America, is a national youth organization aimed at preparing members for leadership and careers in science, business and education. 

Senior Edward Reoch taste-tests the fried chicken his group make in food science class (courtesy)

“Food science is understanding food and science and agriscience; it’s all connected,” Bender said. 

In preparation for the broiler contest, Caledonia High School’s greenhouse served as the home for almost 100 chickens this past October, all being fed and cared for by food science students. 

Bender and the other food science teachers taught their students how to monitor the chickens for illness and how to properly hold them. 

As a class, the students also decided to conduct an experiment while raising their chickens. They divided the birds into two groups and fed group one name-brand feed, while group two ate Caledonia Farmers Elevator feed.

“The chickens who ate the Cal elevator feed grew larger,” Edward said. 

AgriCal Chicken Dinner

After the contest, Bender said they processed all their remaining chickens to sell to the community, keeping a few to cook in class. 

“Each group in my class got one whole bird and made it however they wanted,” Bender said. “The smell from our room helps promote the program.”

The recipes ranged from air-fried poultry to chicken nuggets and even chicken alfredo with a sauce made from scratch.

Senior Madison Lieckfried said her groups’ chicken nuggets were a little dry and would have been better with a dipping sauce. 

From left, seniors Madison Lieckfried, Mya Baldwin, Gracie Jackman and Tabitha Gove prepare to make their chicken into nuggets in food science class (courtesy)

“We used the breast and cut the meat into chunks, dipped them into egg batter and bread crumbs and baked until they were crispy,” senior Mya Baldwin said. 

Edward’s group made fried chicken, using a meat mallet he brought from home. 

“It felt weird eating it,” senior Andrew Render said. “At one point, we were raising them and then we were eating them.” 

Ali added: “I’m a city guy, but I want to learn where my food comes from.”

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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