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IUPUI continuing ed course on backyard chickens puts focus on green urban 'farming'

Backyard Coop, Photo Courtesy of Nap Town Chickens
Backyard Coop, Photo Courtesy of Nap Town Chickens

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August 9, 2012

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To some, a certain Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis continuing education course may seem a little out of the ordinary for a 21st-century urban research university. But a campus and community culture that promotes sustainability and “going green” helps explain the course’s popularity, sources say.

The four-hour class, “How to Raise Backyard Chickens,” is one of about 30 personal interest courses open for registration at IUPUI.

As for enrollment, the class, now in its second year, is holding its own among the likes of more traditional enrichment fare such as floral design, salsa dancing and martial arts, said Kitty Hughes, a program manager in the Division of Continuing Studies at IUPUI.

“'How to Raise Backyard Chickens’ is not just about raising chickens. It is about sustainability, going green and providing for the neighborhood,” Hughes said, attributing the course’s success to its “go-green” focus.

Instructor Andrew Brake had been teaching the “How to Hike the Appalachian Trail” class at IUPUI for several years when he proposed teaching the class on backyard chickens.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” a co-worker said when Hughes mentioned Brake’s sales pitch.
“He promised the class would work, and it has,” Hughes said.

This fall’s class has 17 seats available and meets from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays, Sept. 20 and 27, at the IUPUI Park 100 Learning Center, 5980 W. 71st St.

“We deal with everything from whether to start with hens or chicks, what type of food, choosing a coop, to meat breeds vs. egg-laying breeds,” Brake said. “We try to cover everything so a person will feel comfortable going out and raising chickens.”

The course readily fits in with IUPUI’s green and sustainability promotions, Brake said.
“First, we’re raising our own food. You walk out of your backyard and get breakfast,” Brake said. “(In addition) a lot of folks who do green practices will compost. Chickens do the most efficient form of composting.”

In addition to classroom instruction, students in this fall’s class are invited to the second annual “Tour de Coops,” a self-guided tour of 12 chicken coops in Indianapolis backyards. The Nap Town Chickens event allows students to learn first-hand about raising urban chickens, the instructor said.

Last year’s tour of chicken homes, initiated for students but opened to the general public, drew 600 participants. This year’s $8 event is scheduled for 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 16, and could draw as many as 1,000 people.

Nap Town Chickens, an advocacy group, also sponsors Project Poultry, which has established 14 new chicken coops at elementary, middle and high schools in the area since March. That project not only teaches school-age children about food production, specifically how to raise chickens, but also promotes civic engagement as the students share their homegrown eggs with neighbors.