Chickens help tell the story of agriculture at the Poultry Education Center

by | Apr 20, 2023

#EscapeWithNCAg is a year-long series that will focus on agritourism across North Carolina. Many farms, wineries and other agricultural businesses in our state offer events such as tours, yoga, educational classes, pick-your-own events and festivals, to entertain the public and teach them about our state’s number one industry. Each Thursday, we will feature a new site for you to visit with friends or family. Stay tuned and learn how to escape the stresses of life by diving into agriculture! 

A classroom education and real-life application work hand-in-hand for building the future generation of leaders for any industry, including agriculture. Located in Pinetops, the Poultry Education Center is a popular place not only to learn about poultry farming, but many other aspects of agricultural life and careers to pursue. “We are a fully functioning farm with a heart for outreach and education,” said Steven Brake, owner of the Poultry Education Center. “There was no master plan in the beginning, we just knew that we wanted to do this.”

In 2019, farmer Steven was asked by Perdue Farms to attend their Animal Care Summit in Maryland and join a conversation on welfare. While there, he learned of two education facilities, much like theirs today, in other parts of the United States and the journey began. “I had never heard of a facility that was laser focused on education, not only for agricultural groups but for the general public as well,” Steven said, “but it sparked my interest because I believe in the importance of preserving our industry as well as ensuring that citizens know the truth about what we do.”

In August of 2021, the Poultry Education Center opened their doors and hosted over 150 people within their first day! “We were absolutely overwhelmed with the response,” Steven said. Originally, the center focused on outreach to FFA teachers, classes, college students across the state and other agricultural groups. However, in recent months they have expanded to encompass the general public. “The University of Mount Olive has been a massive supporter from the very beginning, which has meant a lot to us because students and young people are the future of this industry,” Steven said. “In fact, last year alone we were able to tour about 2,000 students at the facility and educate them about the different aspects of our working farm.” The Poultry Education Center currently features eight chicken houses, which are home to over 225,000 chickens.

Each tour at the Poultry Education Center is tailored to fit the nature of the group itself. For example, the general public will often receive a basic farm tour, which encompasses the processes and responsibilities of life on a poultry farm. Typically, attendees will go inside the chicken house to see the birds and how they are raised, learn about the importance of humane animal care, talk about nutrient management and how the birds are harvested. For other agricultural groups, however, the tour can expand to include specific practices, such as how row crop farming and animal agriculture are tied together, physics, technology on the farm, veterinary needs of poultry and livestock and more! “It all depends on the specific interests of the group,” Steven said. “I want every person to take something away from the farm tour that could influence them to start a career in agriculture or further their career in agriculture if they already have one.”

In addition to offering on-site tours, The Poultry Education Center staff has also started travelling to local schools, FFA groups and more to educate in the classroom. “We are working on building a fully integrated classroom actually on our farm later this year, so that teachers can bring their kids for a full day of sit down education and hands on application, Steven said. “However, we have also enjoyed travelling around to these different groups to educate them where they are.” Perdue Farms provides all necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) required for tours at the Poultry Education Center. Tours are free, but donations can be made upon conclusion of the tour. To schedule a tour, visit the Poultry Education Center website and fill out the safety and inquiry form.

Although Steven enjoys many aspects of farm life, he specifically enjoys offering tours because it allows him to showcase the hard work of a life in agriculture but also pass the wisdom he has learned through the years. “My favorite part of it all is talking to the students, whether middle-school, high-school or college age,” he said. “I have an intellectual drive to educate those around me, especially the ones who hold the future of this industry in their hands. It’s far more rewarding than money can buy and instills a deep sense of pride for what we do.”

The Poultry Education Center is a unique place to not only learn about agriculture but see it from start to finish. Visit their website to learn even more about the process and book a tour today to see it for yourself. We promise that it will be an experience you won’t forget!