Pigs, chickens, and bees were major players in Dirk Walhout’s Educator of the Year Award awarded by the Missaukee Conservation District.
Walhout, who attends Lucas Christian Reformed Church, began and runs an extensive agriculture program at Northern Michigan Christian School in McBain, Mich. The program involves students raising food, including eggs from chickens and meat from pigs, for the school cafeteria.
Students at Northern Michigan Christian School are involved in raising food for the school cafeteria.
Walhout came up with the idea a few years ago when the K-12 school was struggling with low enrollment.
“One of the suggestions was to create a fully functioning farm school,” said Walhout. Around the same time, Walhout and the school’s head chef attended a conference on Farm to School Cafeteria concepts. It was there that they launched the idea.
“Our program is a work in progress. Elementary students care for herbs, help raise chickens, and plant grapes and other crops. The entire school puts forth the effort to make pig slop by discarding lunch room waste appropriately. Students also help with processing honey from our three beehives,” said Walhout.
Last year students grew over 1,000 pounds of produce for the cafeteria. What doesn’t get eaten at the school is donated to local charities; the honey is sold.
Walhout, who has been at the school for the past 18 years and is the assistant administrator, also teaches an agriculture class. Students who have been directly involved with building the school’s greenhouse, planting the apple orchard and garden, also write business plans, study basic agricultural biology, and answer questions such as “Where does our food come from?” Participation in this class earns them dual enrollment at Baker College of Cadillac, Mich.
The school recently partnered with Michigan State University Extension on a research project about cover crops and soil health. Its garden and greenhouse area has made it one of the only schools in Michigan to gain the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program verification—one of the highest verifications possible.
“Being stewards of God’s kingdom, my students ought to wrestle with ideas about what it means to be responsible producers,” said Walhout. “Responsible stewardship comes from thinking about, understanding, and implementing good practices within a local and global food system.”