MCHS’ Urban Agriculture Program still teaching farm to table skills

MCHS teacher Neil Korotash teaches student Hayley Deveau how to butcher a chicken Oct. 18. – Stephen Dafoe Photos

by Stephen Dafoe

Whether it is growing your produce, making jam or butchering a pig – something some Morinville Comunity High School students will do this week – the Urban Agriculture Program is still providing students with a farm to table experience the school and students see as valuable.

Teacher Neil Korotash says there are several programs in schools like the one he offers, but none are the same.

“They are all a little bit different. They [the schools] are all doing different things and have a different focus,” Korotash explained. “I know the one in Calgary is more of an outdoor nature kind of focus with a little bit of agriculture thrown in.”

Korotash sees MCHS’ program, available to students in Grades 10 to 12, as being different due to the connection the school and the program have made with producers in the region.

“We do a tonne of field trips. We’re out 15 field trips every semester visiting dairy farms, pig farms, chicken farms, organic, conventional, and Morinville Greenhouses,” he said. “I think that makes a lot of difference. We’re going right from farm to table. Everything we do, I want the students to see what goes into raising the animal and what goes into producing the crop and the grain, right through to milling the grain and making flour.”

Recently, the school bought a mill so students in the program will be able to mill flour for themselves.

But there is more to the program than growing crops and butchering animals. Korotash spends time teaching students what to do with the food once it is ready.

Recently, students learned how to butcher a whole chicken making individual pieces that would cost many times more when bought bit by bit and package by package.

This week, students will learn about cutting parts on a little larger scale when the class slices up a pig.

“It’s unique. It’s something they’ve never done before,” he said of the students. “Everybody’s seen their parents cut up a chicken, seen someone make bread. Seeing a whole pig lying there is unique, but again it’s the whole story. We will visit a pig farm where we bought the pigs from.”

From the program, the students will get a credit in butchering; also a credit in food preservation as students will make sausage, bacon, and ham from the butchered animal.

“They learn how to cure it. They learn how to brine. Even things like freezing and the proper way to freeze meat,” Korotash said.

The students also receive a farm to table credit for learning how to cook the foods they work with.

Korotash hopes students will take away practical skills from the program, including a lesson in economic frugality of things like cutting a pork loin into pork chops or planting a garden.

“They may not remember all the details of the facts, but it is just having the confidence to do it,” he explained. “For me, one of the most important things (and maybe not for the students) is being able to sift out fact from fiction on food myths and marketing and advertising.”

Korotash said he wants students to be able to question food claims in the marketplace and on social media.

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