Food shelf to benefit from project

ST. ALBANS — A community is like a pot pie – it takes a lot of fresh, robust and diverse ingredients to be good.

Wait. Pot pie?

Yes, chicken pot pie, to be exact. The proverbial (and literal) cook is Andrew Judge, a high school Spanish teacher living in Swanton and a passionate philanthropist when it comes to growing food and donating it to the Northwest Family Foods food shelf.

Judge has a knack for coaxing people across all sectors – businesses, volunteer organizations, schools and interested individuals – into to helping him, and this summer, he’s at it again with a new project: raising chickens.

A fair warning for vegetarians and animal lovers: those chickens are indeed intended for pot pies, which in turn will go to the food shelf.

The chickens meet their fate in the next few weeks, according to Judge, who has been raising 25 Cornish White hens for the past month. Last Thursday, Judge brought them to their final home on Tim Camisa’s 185-acre property in St. Albans Town, where he operates Vermont Organics Reclamation, a business turning manure into fertilizer.

“I want them to move around,” said Judge, who kept the chickens at his home in the weeks prior.

Judge was joined that day by the five people who have helped make this project happen. Everything began with University of Vermont 4-H educator and UVM Embryology Program coordinator Martha Manning, who helped Judge receive some of the chicks local schools had helped raise, incubating the eggs and caring for the chicks in their first days.

Some students take the chickens home while others come back to Manning, who gives them to farmers and interested people, such as Judge on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Originally Judge was going to take 50 birds, though in the end, it turned out to be closer to 25.

“Thank goodness,” said Judge, who has never raised chickens before. “There’s a lot of learning – 25 was perfect.”

According to Manning, Judge is a one-of-a-kind chicken farmer and the first person to raise chickens to feed the hungry in the 20 years she’s been in charge of the university’s embryology program.

“This is the first time we’ve done something for the food shelf, which I think is really amazing – to [go] the full circle in our community,” said Manning.

In order to feed the chickens, Judge called on Mary-Jo Hanbury, a feed specialist at Blue Seal.

“He called me and said, ‘Would you be interested in donating feed towards [my] project?’ And I said, ‘Sure,’” said Hanbury. “I just thought it was a really good community thing.”

Hanbury secured 10 bags of feed for Judge, and guaranteed him 10 more if he needed them. Those feed bags sat in Camisa’s barn, where the chickens were raised in brooders for a week before going to Judge’s house, and then coming back again.

“The project wouldn’t have been possible without a home,” said Judge.

Camisa said Judge is one of several local farmers trying out various growing experiments.

“I heard [about Judge] through Kristen Hughes (Healthy Roots coordinator through the Northwestern Medical Center) and basically what I’ve got going on down here is an agricultural incubator for growers,” said Camisa. “I have five different farmers working the land. I have more space available.”

He added, “I just liked the idea of helping Andrew out and doing something for the [food shelf].”

Another piece of the puzzle came from Eddie Parker, a St. Albans resident and interested volunteer who has helped Judge on other projects. Parker donated his truck and time to help pick up a chicken enclosure donated by Jupiter Farm in Elmore, and he also gave Judge wire and wood to create a fence and a platform for the chickens.

Parker said his wife was happy about the wire donation. “She’s been after me for years to get rid of it,” he said, laughing.

Camisa, Judge, Northwest Family Foods coordinator Walt Gaskill, Parker, Manning and Hanbury all helped move the chickens into that enclosure on Thursday.

“Now for the running of the birds,” said Judge.

The chickens – transported in large cardboard boxes – were put into their new home to enjoy some grass and room to move.

“Hi ladies,” said Hanbury, greeting the white, kickball-sized chickens.

“I think they look great,” Manning told Judge, bending down to inspect the birds.

As the chickens settled into their home until July 15, Judge explained the next steps. He received a recommendation from Manning to go to the Hannaford Career Center, which has a USDA processing facility in Middlebury. Through Judge, Manning said the technical center got the idea to donate 100 birds to the local food shelf that the school’s agricultural program raised.

For Judge’s chickens, the processing will all be done at no monetary cost, but there is a fair exchange required.

“The deal is, I’ve got to be helping them all day,” said Judge, adding that he’d help with the school’s chickens, too.

In the meantime, the chickens will continue to grow larger, and meatier. At full size, Judge calculated that each chicken would provide enough meat for 20 pot pies – the lot making for more than 400 pot pies.

“You get more bang for your buck with the pot pies,” Manning said.

Other ingredients are growing alongside the chickens, including peas in a community garden at the Community College of Vermont and squash just a stone’s throw away from the birds in one of Camisa’s fields.

“The birds don’t know it, but the filling is over there,” said Judge pointing.

Who will be making the pies is yet to be determined, but Judge has a few people he’s going to ask for help. So far, that approach has worked extremely well.

“It takes a lot of people to make it work,” said Judge.

Gaskill said, “It takes a village to make pot pies, right?”