ST. ALBANS — “Ladies!” she sang out across her yard. “Ladies!” What came running was not what one might expect. Fifteen or so layer chickens took flight, quickly trotting in our direction with wings extended in response.
The layers expected food, a treat, and what they got were the empty hands of Christine Kubacz, co-owner of Foggy Brook Farm in Fairfield.
Kubacz, a manager at Local Fare in downtown St. Albans, left her job as a social worker three years ago to become a full-time homesteader.
“That means we are trying to live a natural, sustainable way of life off of our land,” Kubacz said. “For us, homesteading is how can we consume the least amount possible and produce the most from our land.”
Kubacz grows vegetables, herbs, and fruits as well as raises layer chickens and rabbits. In the summer, she has turkeys and meat chickens.
Typically, Kubacz sells her products at the St. Albans and Fairfield farmers markets and Local Fare. Tonight, however, she will sell freshly butchered rabbits at ‘In Good Taste’, a tasting event in downtown St. Albans.
The event is designed to highlight the diversity of Franklin County’s agriculture community with vendors selling samples of food, beer and wine.
“What you see in front of you is in the very beginning stages of our dream farm,” Kubacz said. “We’re taking the journey of farming and homesteading very slowly.”
“The idea came into fruition at a bar, probably at 2 in the morning when we got nixed from a Phish show,” she said. “We wrote it down on a napkin and decided to make it happen.”
Kubacz’s husband went to school to become an architectural engineer and Kubacz took to the farm.
Layers were the couple’s first venture into farming. It came in the way of an older chicken donated by a neighbor. One increased to more than 15.
“The rooster is named Snow, after Jon Snow from the Game of Thrones,” she said. The name came when he was little and his plume of feathers resembled the black fur coats of the Watchers on the Wall.
As the clutch of chickens grew, so did her gardens. She has a vegetable garden and an herb garden in front of her house.
Right now, the garden is muddy and cold with no signs of life. In the summer, Kubacz uses the medicinal flowers that sprout for ointments and tinctures.
“Calendula is one of many edible medicinal flowers,” she explained. “Calendula is a very oily, lovely orange flower that can be dried or tinctured for medicinal purposes.” She uses the oil for any cuts she may get.
A tincture is a medicinal liquid extract made from herbs and alcohol. “You let the 100 grain alcohol sit with the flowers for three moons,” she said. Afterwards, the flowers are removed and the liquid can be added to teas or other drinks.
Behind her house are apple trees, a field devoted solely to lettuce and an empty section where she plans to grow squash and pumpkin in the upcoming season.
Kubacz said the couple is in year four of a five-year plan. They might stay at their home in Fairfield or find a dream farmhouse that isn’t “150 years old and ‘crooked.”
“Hopefully when we have more land, I’ll grow an acre of garlic and have our rabbits and our greens and cross our fingers that that pays for life,” she said.
Apart from the “5,000” other jobs she works, Kubacz makes a living selling surplus crops and butchering rabbits and meat chickens.
“The reality for us, with homesteading, is that it doesn’t pay the bills,” she said. “There is a piece of farming that is commercial.”
Butchering animals wasn’t an easy decision for her to make. As a vegetarian for 25 years, she’s always had a good relationship with animals.
“I tried to start the labor end of things without meat and I could not do it,” she said. “I didn’t have enough energy.” After talking to many different farmers, she made the decision that the only way she could start eating meat was if she could butcher an animal.
Two years ago, she helped butcher the meat birds, shaking and in tears. Two weeks later, she ate chicken and waffles, declaring it the best meal she’d ever eaten. She’s been eating meat ever since.
“It’s still a struggle for me,” she said, a little uneasy about the fact that she butchered a female rabbit, a doe, that day. “We’ll make stew out of our doe to bring a good ending to her life.”
“It’s very important to me that our animals have a very good life,” she said. The rabbits are grazed and can touch noses at all times. The layer chickens are animal welfare approved (AWA) certified.
“I want to offer them a product that I feel proud of,” she said. “That I put my heart and soul into, that will do its small part in people eating well and becoming educated on how to get back to those roots. Because if we don’t, its not good. Our future is bleak if we don’t pay attention to what we eat and how we farm.
“We used to know where our food came from, we used to care about that and we’ve just gotten overwhelmed and overworked,” Kubacz said. “We’re tired and we’re not eating well.”
“I believe in creating a sustainable life for my husband and my community,” she continued. “I believe in Vermont and our farming. I believe in our agriculture system. I think it’s important to produce and buy locally. I wanted to be a part of that.”
Kubacz and Foggy Brook Farm will be just one of 26 vendors at ‘In Good Taste’ tonight. Because St. Albans City Hall, the site of last year’s event, is under renovation the event is being held in an open storefront adjacent to the Post Office located in the St. Albans Shopping Plaza.
There are two scheduled tastings: one from 4. to 6 p.m. and another from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tickets can still be purchased at the door with $18 buying 20 tasting tickets.
Each vendor charges between one and three tickets. Alcoholic products may cost more while baked goods may run cheaper. It’s all up to the vendors to decide.
“The whole event is designed to showcase the vendor,” Lisamarie Charlesworth of the Franklin County Regional Chamber of Commerce said. “The whole purpose of the evening is to the give them a chance to give out samples of their product and most importantly interact with their audiences.”
Attendees get the chance to learn background information about each farmer’s process and who is behind the product.
Creating a connection with the grower and getting a chance to talk to them about the process is something that people really enjoy, according to Charlesworth.
There’s also the social aspect and it’s something to do at a time of year that’s typically kind of blah, she said.
The event is child friendly, environmentally friendly, and will have live music, courtesy of blues artist Dave Keller.