ST. ALBANS — Fourteen area families will be raising more than 250 chickens over the next month, with one third of the birds ultimately going to feed those in need in the form of chicken potpies.
The chicken potpie project is the brainchild of Andrew Judge, founder of Seeds for Growth.
Each year the University of Vermont hatches chicks as part of an embryology project, which are then no longer needed. Last year, Judge raised 25 of them to chickens, and ultimately used them for pot pies with help from volunteers. The chicken pot pies were distributed through area food programs in Franklin and Chittenden counties.
Following the success of last year’s pilot project, Judge reached out to the community, asking families to help raise the birds, with the family able to keep two-thirds of the chickens for themselves.
Families can also volunteer to assist with the project, learning how to process the chickens at the Hannaford Career Center or assisting with the pot pie making.
Nichole Cunningham and her family are taking 11 chicks. Cunningham said the family will help to make the pot pies, but will pass on processing the chickens until the children are older.
Seeds for Growth aims to bring local food to the community at large. “What can we grow in our backyards to feed ourselves and our neighbors?” Judge asked.
He was inspired in part by stories of his family’s World War II Victory Garden. “There was a larger purpose to it,” he said.
That larger purpose has attracted a wide range of community support to the pot pie project.
Volunteer labor has been essential, said Judge, with thousands of hours donated to the project. “It’s a huge community effort,” he said. “That, to me, is the most gratifying, that sense of the community.”
Each family taking birds will also receive a chicken coop.
Robert Ostermeyer, executive director of Franklin-Grand Isle Community Action, came up with the design for coops that can easily be transported, put up and taken down, said Judge.
The rounded coops, which can comfortably hold 15 birds, are made from pallets used for heavy machinery, repurposed maple syrup tubing, and chicken wire donated by Guy’s Farm and Yard.
The frames were built at the home of Jess and Erik Stumpf, said Judge. Ostermeyer made the doors, and Judge raised the chickens for the first three weeks.
Nutrena donated food to feed the chicks for those first weeks.
The chickens, specially bred to gain weight quickly, are fully grown at seven weeks and are then ready to be processed.
The local Sears store has offered to sell Seeds for Growth three freezers valued at $250 each for just $100. To raise the funds to purchase the freezers, Seeds for Growth is accepting donations and organizing a raffle with prizes donated by local businesses.
The freezers will be used to store the chickens after they’re processed at the Hannaford Career Center in Montpelier. Two-thirds of the birds will be returned to the families that raised them USDA certified and vacuum-sealed, “just like in the store,” said Judge.
The processing is planned for July 12 and 15-17. Volunteers are welcome.
The exact time for baking the pies hasn’t been set yet. Commercial kitchen facilities are still needed for the baking, Judge said.
Donations of vegetables for the pies – potatoes, carrots, peas, squash and beets – are also welcome.
To make a donation or volunteer to help with the project, contact Seeds for Growth at their Facebook page: www.Facebook.com/seedsforgrowth.