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RANDOLPH COUNTY, N.C. — The popular TV show Star Trek taught us that space was the final frontier. And it appears that frontier isn’t so far away after all.

And students at Uwharrie Ridge 6-12 School in Randolph County are hoping to one day help conquer it.

They are studying how to raise chickens on Mars, which is something more on our minds with what other adventurous Americans are doing these days.

“Matt Koci is a poultry science professor at NC State and dreamed up the idea that one day when these sixth graders graduate, Elon Musk says that he’s going to put us on Mars,” science teacher Sarah Moore said. “Well, currently all the research that is going into us being on Mars is going into plants. Unless we all plan on eating only plants, someone needs to start the wheels growing on these chickens.”

So Koci wrote a grant to get four teachers across North Carolina to develop a curriculum to teach kids about how to raise poultry in space.

“The whole idea was to get students thinking about agriculture and getting agriculture into the schools but thinking outside of the box,” said Allison Walker, of the NC State Cooperative Extension. “Thinking about what breeds of chickens would be sustainable, what would work well on Mars and thinking about the atmosphere on Mars, the temperature, how they would need to create chicken coops, how to feed the chickens.”

Sixth grader Aya Elkordy did just that and learned a lot in the process.

“I learned how to build a coop,” Aya says. “Chickens, they need like two to four square feet for themselves. I’ve learned about the types of food that would be good to feed them. They can eat insects, corn, apples, peas – mainly things we can also eat.”

With the average age of a farmer in North Carolina approaching 60, Moore hopes her work here may plant the seeds of the next generation of farmers.

“What I’m hoping these kids have taken away is how exactly are we growing poultry here in Randolph County, what kind of resources do we have here,” Moore said. “What kind of careers do we have for my students? They are sixth graders and are going into high school in a few years. What kind of track do they have to be in? What skills do they need to have to enter these careers and, potentially, stay here in our county? And then, who knows? Maybe some of these kids will go on to NC State and join the poultry division or space division and go on to build spacecraft or think about how and where to grow chickens.”

You can see some of the kids’ designs for raising chickens on Mars in this edition of the Buckley Report.