Mail Call: November/December 2012

Chickens in School

I am an environmental science teacher at a suburban public high school, and my husband teaches there, as well. We are constantly looking for ways for students to become involved in making a difference and finding sustainable solutions to environmental problems.

Last year, as part of a new sustainability/urban agriculture unit, we began an urban farm in our school science courtyard. We landscaped the courtyard using native grasses and installed a small pond and waterfall. I also was able to get three Rhode Island Red chickens, which the students studied, cared for, and quite simply fell in love with. Later, we acquired Cornish Rock, Salmon Favorelle and Americauna hens for a total of six layers.

Every day, the students took turns doing chores and collecting eggs in our small “farm.” Unfortunately, my budget didn’t allow for a coop that would be suitable to keep the chickens comfortable throughout Chicago’s often harsh winter weather. Sadly for the students, the chickens had to leave our school for the cold months. The students really missed the chickens; they even made a page for “Nibbles,” the chicken on Facebook. Nibbles now has more than 350 friends. Nibbles and the two other chickens might be the most popular kids on campus!

Having the chickens is an amazing educational experience for the students on many levels. Students volunteer to come in on the weekend to feed and water the chickens; they bring special needs friends from other classes to give them the chance to interact with the chickens.

One day, I heard a group of students talking, and one said, “These chickens get me to school each day.” It takes a community within our school to care for the chickens — it’s become a group effort. Working together seems to have positive effects on the community spirit of our school, as well.

This summer we have had students from special needs summer classes coming and taking care of the chickens, and the administration and other staff have been very supportive, helping when the students couldn’t be here.

The chicken coop donated by GRIT and Handcrafted Coops arrived the other day. It is beautiful! The students are REALLY excited; the coop will allow us to keep the chickens in school during the winter. This has just been an absolutely amazing and phenomenal learning opportunity for the students; it teaches them where their food comes from in a way that few other things could.

One of the older students came in after collecting eggs for the first time, looked at me, and said, “Oh my gosh, I have eggs from chickens.” Watching my students’ understanding and appreciation for the life that produces their food blossom and grow has been incredibly rewarding.

Thank you SO much!

Christine Hill
Chicago, Illinois

Falcon Faux Pas

I have been a subscriber for a little more than a year now. I love your magazine. I really enjoyed your article All About the Red-Tailed Hawk in the September/October 2012 issue. I think it is important to educate people about these wonderful birds.

The only problem I have with it is that the photograph labeled “Chances are, if you see a hawk in rural America, it’s the old (in this case, young) redtail,” but the image is not of a redtail but of an American kestrel, which is a falcon and much smaller than a redtail. Redtails don’t have red backs, red spots on their heads, or black eye stripes. Just wanted to let you know. Thanks!

Jennifer McCall
Wilmington, North Carolina

Jennifer, thank you for your kind and informative note. You are absolutely right; the photo was mistakenly of an American kestrel and not a redtail, as the caption stated. We really appreciate it when a dedicated, observant reader like you is gracious enough to correct us! — Editors  

Alfalfa Story

I enjoy your magazine so much. After reading the article Making Hay By Hand: How to Use a Scythe in the July/August 2012 issue, I thought you might like this childhood story of making hay in rural Kansas.

The attached photo from 1950 is my father, Joe Wedel, and his brother putting hay in our barn in Wabaunsee County, Kansas. My dad actually had a new Farmall tractor, but at the time he preferred using horses.

My dad always made loose hay, not baled. He had a Farmhand loader attached to the front of the tractor, which my mother would use to gather the cut hay and take it to my father, who would make a nice weather-resistant stack in the field while she went for another load.

During the 1950s, my dad also sold certified alfalfa seed. After he had mowed the hay and it had dried, we all went to the field to help load the loose hay into the combine. The seed was separated into the hopper, and the combine would spit the alfalfa stems back onto the hayfield. I was young, but I had a short pitchfork that I used to gather stray pieces of hay.

If the seed was a bit damp, my dad would spread it on our upstairs bedroom floors. I can remember as a small child climbing out of my baby bed and falling over the railing. Fortunately, I fell into a thick layer of alfalfa seed, so I wasn’t hurt.

Ruth Gregory
Brutus, Michigan

Old-fashioned Pound Cake

I made the Old-fashioned Pound Cake in the September/October 2012 issue (Pound Cake Recipe Leads Recipe Box Lineup), and it was wonderful. I used freshly churned butter and fresh eggs, and it was delicious. I was wondering if any other readers had any other traditional recipes they’d like to share — particularly for Mexican food. I love food that doesn’t come from a mix!

Andrea Pope
Spurger, Texas

GRIT-ty Goodness

I just wanted to send you this to thank you for providing such an informative and diverse small-farming magazine. I live in Providence Forge, Virginia, a relatively small town where the family farm is quite popular.

I was injured in a work-related accident that has required an extensive amount of physical therapy. Through my days at PT, I noticed all they had to read was typical tabloid magazines that you would find in a doctor’s office, so I took it upon myself to introduce them to yours. Since then, the office has now subscribed to GRIT, and they can’t keep the subscription cards in them. You have been a great read, and I hope that others have found the information you provide as helpful as I do. Thanks again!

Jamie Cole
Providence Forge, Virginia

Thanks, Jamie! We’re glad that you enjoy GRIT enough to share it with others. — Editors 

Handsome and Horse-drawn

I loved your article, Making Hay By Hand: How to Use a Scythe in the July/August 2012 issue. This is my grandfather’s 1911 McCormick-Deering horse-drawn hay mower. He used it on his farm in Delft, Minnesota. It was rebuilt and repainted to its original colors. Two horses pulled it to cut the hay, which was then pitched onto a hayrack using pitchforks. The horses would then pull the hayrack to the haymow in the barn, where the long hay would be cut shorter with a hay saw. The old ways of farming are fascinating.

Dwight Wrens
St. James, Minnesota

Thanks for sharing, Dwight. We agree, the old ways of farming ARE incredible, and while they aren’t always the most efficient tack to take, they can be incredibly rewarding in their own right, as those who’ve been on a hayrack ride or to a threshing bee can attest. — Editors 

Share your thoughts

GRIT welcomes letters from our readers. If you would like to comment on an article or share your opinions, send a letter (with high-resolution photographs, if available) to GRIT, Mail Call, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609, or email us at

  • Published on Oct 26, 2012
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