FAIRFIELD — Students David Hill and Zach Brady praise the chicken Parmesan and chicken tenders that Kelly and Mark LaCasse prepare for lunch at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences.

The students at the high school, which focuses on agriculture, sustainability, and independent living, also know where the fresh fowl came from — Emma’s Family Farm in Windsor.

On Monday, as the smell of chicken permeated the cafeteria in Prescott Memorial on the academy campus, Rose Hoad of Emma’s Family Farm talked about raising free-range, medication-free meat for a class lesson called the chicken experiment.

It’s one of a number of hands-on lessons students engage in at the academy.

To cap off Monday’s session, a bird from Hoad’s farm was prepared, weighed and taste-tested alongside a factory farm chicken.

Hoad demonstrated how to cut up and disjoint a chicken and reviewed the anatomies of male and female chickens.

Birds bred for meat are slaughtered at about seven weeks, when they weigh 3 to 5 pounds, she said.

Depending on the breed, Hoad said chickens can annually lay as many as 340 eggs. Factory layers, she said, are generally kept for two years, after which their egg production decreases.

After that two years, Hoad said she sells the chickens to area families, while factory farms sell them to be used to make dog food.

Emanuel Pariser, education program designer at the academy in second semester, said that by next fall, academy students may be raising their own chickens.

He said he liked the fact that the lesson integrated a number of subjects, including science, math, economics, health and nutrition. And he liked the fact that the youth could relate to the everyday topic.

Twice a week, Brady, a sophomore from Bangor, participates in an internship in the cafeteria. Kelly LaCasse, kitchen manager at the academy, said his focus is kitchen management and culinary arts.

Kelly LaCasse said she orders 100 butchered chickens at a time from Hoad.

Her husband Mark LaCasse, a professional chef, uses nearly every part of the chicken in meals and broths.

At the family-owned farm Hoad helped start in 2004, chickens graze in large outdoor pens in the pasture.

In contrast, she said that birds raised inside cramped, artificially lit barns are fed antibiotics because they stand in excrement and atop dead chickens.

“They are bred for meat but they can certainly hurt and feel pain, just like you and I,” she said.

Kelly LaCasse did a side-by-side comparison of a family farm bird, a cost of $3.15 per pound, with a bird bought from a supermarket, about 99 cents per pound.

The farm bird, which weighed 5 pounds, 10.5 ounces thawed, tipped the scale at 4.25 pounds after it was roasted.

The bird bought at the supermarket, which weighed 5 pounds, 1.5 ounces thawed, weighed 3 pounds, 1 ounce after it was cooked.

Though the chicken experiment was done just after lunch, Hill and Brady managed to eat a substantial amount of Hoad’s flavorful chicken slices.

While the cost is higher for free-range meat, Hoad said the chickens are healthier and taste better.

She said factory farm birds are often “plumped,” or injected with salt water, after they are processed to increase the bird’s weight.

Free-range chicken isn’t the only fresh meat on campus.

Kelly LaCasse said the school buys fish from Port Clyde, beef from a farmer in Skowhegan and pork from Kniffin’s Specialty Meats in Skowhegan.

“Everything we make is from scratch and we try to help out on the education end and make it real,” she said. “They know where their food is coming from.”

Hill, a senior boarding student from Corinna, said his mother also made a lot of food from scratch.

“I ate healthy then and I eat real healthy here,” he said.

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]

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