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Arts and Culture

How One Nevada School Grows Thanksgiving From Scratch

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Bree Zender
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Dylan Thran, 17, has helped harvest turkeys at Smith Valley School since he was in 7th grade.

Farmers across the country have been preparing to harvest turkeys for the Thanksgiving holiday. One school in Smith Valley is raising its own turkeys as a way to teach students how food gets from the farm to the plate. KUNR’s Bree Zender reports.

A small group of boys who are between 12 and 16 years old take turns trying to catch the birds in a pen in the schoolyard. One of the boys pops out from the pen, raising the bird in victory.

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Credit Bree Zender
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Several turkeys were raised on the school campus from the time they were chicks.

Seventeen-year old Dylan Thran raised the birds from chicks to full turkeys in just a few months in a pen on the Smith Valley School campus.

“[The turkeys] get their heads stuck in a lot of stuff,” Thran said. “And I built them a pen over there, and they didn’t sleep. Instead of sleeping inside the little enclosure, they sleep on top of the pen, itself.”

Thran is a high school senior at Smith Valley, which is a K-12 school with a student body of a little more than 200. He’s leading a class of middle and high school students. As a team, they’re preparing the turkeys to be sold to community members for upcoming feasts.

The students are split into groups, rolling up their sleeves and donning rubber gloves to do the dirty work behind the classic Thanksgiving centerpiece. Some are peeling feathers off of the carcasses. Others are wrapping the meat in plastic and paper.

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Credit Bree Zender
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Middle schoolers peel feathers off of the turkey's body.

The more intrepid kids are gathered near a fence. They’re in charge of the more…well...lethal part of getting food on the table.

“Some of the littler kids were like, ‘Ew! You guys are killing the turkeys!’ " said Thran.

Thran said it’s not for squeamish types. But the work is necessary, and many people are separated from it if they don’t frequent farms.

“And I [told the kids], ‘Do you like Thanksgiving?’ And they were like, ‘Well, yeah!’ ” Thran said. “I was like, ‘Do you like the turkey?’ ‘Yeah!’ ‘Do you think the turkey comes pre-packaged like that?’ And they’re like, ‘Well, no. I guess this is kind of part of it.’ ”

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Credit Bree Zender
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Smith Valley students gut the turkeys before they are washed and packaged to sell.

In addition to the turkeys, the school raises sheep, and grows fruits and vegetables. Charmayne Pommerening is the ag teacher at Smith Valley and helps the kids run the school farm.

“There’s a lot of people when you ask them where their food comes from, they say the grocery store,” said Pommerening. “This is a prime example of what we want to teach the kids, from raising something, feeding it, taking care of it, to then harvesting it, and having something on your plate at the end.”

For students like Thran, turkey for Thanksgiving means several months of hard work, but it connects him to his family’s farming heritage.

“To me, I’m a sixth-generation Nevadan,” Thran said. “I like providing for people.”

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Credit Bree Zender
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Thran washes his hands and knife shortly after butchering a turkey.

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