Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School hosts We Love Our Fishermen lunch as part of Fish To Schools program

Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School student Naomi Capp, age 9, talks with fisherman Steve Lawrie during a “We Love Our Fishermen” lunch on Wednesday (April 26) at the school. The elementary school was hosting fishermen who donated part of their catch to the Fish to Schools program. The program is managed by the Sitka Conservation Society and provides locally caught fish dishes and education about fishing as part of the lunch programs at Baranof Elementary School, Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School, Blatchley Middle School, Sitka High School, Pacific High School, the SEER School, and Mount Edgecumbe High School. The Fish to Schools program was a project of the Sitka Health Summit. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

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First-graders harvest the seeds they planted while in kindergarten last spring

LITTLE HARVEST – First-grader Taylor McCarty, 6, holds up a slightly deformed carrot at the Russian Bishop’s House garden this morning (Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017). Students in Sarah Eddy’s Baranof Elementary School class and other first graders were harvesting the vegetables they planted in the spring when they were in kindergarten. This summer was not good for growing crops said Sitka National Historical Park Ranger Ryan Carpenter. Most of the carrots were only about an inch or so long. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

• Baranof Elementary students pick veggies they grew at the Russian Bishop’s House garden

CABBAGE PATCH KIDS- Baranof Elementary School first-grader Alice Ann Ricketts, 6, carries a cabbage out of the Russian Bishop’s House garden Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. First-graders were harvesting the vegetables they planted last spring when they were kindergartners during the annual event. Teachers and students were planning on making a soup with their harvested vegetables. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

CABBAGE PATCH KIDS — Baranof Elementary School first-grader Alice Ann Ricketts, 6, carries a cabbage out of the Russian Bishop’s House garden Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. First-graders were harvesting the vegetables they planted last spring when they were kindergartners during the annual event. Teachers and students were planning on making a soup with their harvested vegetables. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson, this photo appeared on Page 1 of the Monday, Sept. 14, 2015, edition)

• How does your garden grow? For some in Sitka, quite well, thank you

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(This photo appeared on Page 3 of the Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel, and is used here with permission.)

MASTER GARDENER — Gerry Fleming holds up a giant Kohlrabi he grew in his Dodge Circle garden recently. The vegetable weighed nearly six pounds. He also grew a summer squash that weighed more than six pounds, which donated to the Sitka Farmers Market. He said his secret to growing giant vegetables, something he’s done for years, is to talk to the veggies. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo By James Poulson)

• Kindergartners learn about planting a garden at Russian Bishop’s House

Sitka National Historical Park volunteer gardener Pam Vanderweele helps Baranof Elementary School kindergartner Arianna Moctezuma-Hernandez, 6, plant peas in the Russian Bishop’s House garden on a recent sunny morning. The kindergartners will return to the historical garden in the fall when they are in the first grade to harvest the crops and cook them in a soup. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

PLANTING A GARDEN: Sitka National Historical Park volunteer gardener Pam Vanderweele helps Baranof Elementary School kindergartner Arianna Moctezuma-Hernandez, 6, plant peas in the Russian Bishop’s House garden on a recent sunny morning. The kindergartners will return to the historical garden in the fall when they are in the first grade to harvest the crops and cook them in a soup. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

• Sitka residents team up to run neighborhood chicken coop co-ops

Some of the members of Le Coop, one of Sitka's chicken coop co-ops, pose with a few of their birds. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson, other photos in story are by Charles Bingham)

Some of the members of Le Coop, one of Sitka’s chicken coop co-ops, pose with a few of their birds. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson, other photos in story are by Charles Bingham)

Many Sitka families joined the backyard agriculture movement by starting gardens, but they hesitated when it came time to take the next step — raising chickens.

Chickens require daily feeding and watering, protection from predators, and other care that can be daunting for novices. However, a few Sitka families found an easier way. There now are a couple of chicken coop-co-ops in town, where neighbors or friends team up to share the duties and expense of raising chickens.

LeCoopOne of these chicken coop co-ops, Le Coop, is hidden in a back corner of the Sheldon Jackson Campus, where seven families are raising about 30 hens and one rooster. Le Coop is about 15 feet by 80 feet, with a hen house flanked by two outdoor chicken runs. The fence surrounding Le Coop is electrified (buried at least a foot below the surface to keep out varmints), with netting over the top to protect the chickens from eagles and other raptors. Inside the hen house are a dust bath for the hens, food and water buckets, an egg-laying box, and shelf space to store supplies such as extra feed.

“The advantage are only being responsible one day a week for regular chores such as feed, water, opening/closing, etc. Everything else is done at the whim of individual enthusiasms, and occasional work parties,” said Jud Kirkness, one of the co-op members. “Plus seven families means that many more people finding useful materials and resources and splitting the feed bill seven ways.”

LauraSchmidtWatchesChickensFeedLaura Schmidt, who Jud called the lead organizer/treasurer of the group, said there are six families of four and one couple, so 26 people. “About one person per hen,” she said. ” Each family typically gets about 18-30 eggs on their chicken duty day, with the hens laying more eggs in the summer.

Most of the hens were purchased as chicks last spring, and there are 15 each of red leghorns and black stars. The white rooster is of indeterminate origin, and he was added to the flock when another coop was culling its flock. Many people who raise chickens don’t like to keep roosters, but Laura said this one is small and the hens seem to be able to handle him.

The members of Le Coop have various levels of experience with raising chickens, and Erika Knox said Laura and Jud are the most experienced so they have been mentoring the other families. Erika said she wouldn’t be able to raise chickens at her house because there isn’t enough space, and lately she had to stop composting at home due to rats and other varmints getting into it.

EggsInLayingBox“This is a nice place to bring my compost, and the chickens love it,” Erika said. “It’s nice to have eggs that are fresh and organic. I give some away.”

Roger Schmidt and Kristen Homer called themselves the weak links of the group. “We just collect eggs,” Kristen said. “We let them (Laura and Jud) tell us what needs to be done.”

“It’s great because we have chicken experts like Jud and Laura, and we’ve got building experts,” said Roger, Laura’s brother and the director of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, which owns the Sheldon Jackson Campus where Le Coop is located. He said there have been a couple of occasions when he was in a meeting on campus and suddenly remembered he had chicken duty that day.

RedLeghornAndRoosterBesides being able to share duties and costs with the chicken coop co-op, another advantage to having Le Coop on campus is the learning experiences it provides.

“It’s good for the kids. They learn a lot about chickens,” Roger said. “I bring the Head Start kids back here all the time to check on the chickens.”

“The kids love it,” Kristen said. “Razie Guillory (Laura’s daughter) did a science project charting the growth of the hens, and Asa Dow is doing a project about the economics of the co-op.”

Jud said as soon as he gets this chicken coop to where he wants it, he plans to start another chicken coop co-op for other Sitka families. “I hope it provides some inspiration.”

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• Baranof Elementary School first-graders harvest their kindergarten plantings at Russian Bishop’s House garden

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BIG HARVESTBaranof Elementary School first-grader Marley Bayne, 6, holds up a large carrot and a beet next to the Russian Bishop’s House garden Wednesday. The entire first-grade class harvested the vegetables they helped plant in the spring when they were kindergartners. This year’s growing season was especially good for the garden crops, which children are using to make soup in class. Sitka National Historical Park rangers organize the gardening activities with the help of school staff and parent volunteers. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo By James Poulson)