Kids in summer program raise chickens, donate the meat to HOPE food shelf

MIDDLEBURY — Despite living in one of the most agriculturally productive counties in the state, one in five Addison County children is food insecure, according to Hunger Free Vermont. The Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center in Middlebury has organized dozens of youngsters to help do something about that.
The Career Center this month will provide almost 150 chickens, raised in part by the students, to a local food shelf — laying the groundwork for a community initiative to provide healthy, local protein and produce to the food-insecure of Addison County.
“It’s really a three-fold project,” said Dave Majzler, Career Center farm manager. “It involves the elementary school campers, the high school kids and the food shelf.”
This past spring the Career Center’s Sustainable Agriculture class hatched the birds. Once classes ended for summer break, the elementary and middle school-age campers at Mary Hogan Elementary School’s MiddSummer program began assisting with the care of the chickens.
The campers have been electing to visit the North Campus off Mainelli Road for about six hours a week to feed, water and move the pasture-raised chickens around the property. They work alongside Majzler and a farm intern.
The Career Center additionally grows vegetables and raises pigs and, most recently, sheep.
“I like to help the animals here,” said Jordyn Bessette, an 11-year-old camper from Middlebury. “My favorite part is when I give the chickens food. I calm them down, pet them, and let them walk on my feet.”

JORDYN BESSETTE SKILLFULLY holds and carries a large bird through the pasture at the Career Center’s North Campus. Photo by Diana Wilkinson
Lynn Coale, director of the Career Center, has a longstanding commitment to educate younger generations about the origins of food, and has worked throughout his career to inform students about the realities of meat production.
“They’re not being raised as pets,” said Coale. “The staff that works with those kids has a large responsibility to communicate that and make sure the kids clearly understand that everything on the farm is to be eaten.”
Eleven-year-old Kylee Gero has got the message, but still is sad to know the truth of farming so intimately.
“I like eating chicken, but I hate the thought of killing them,” Gero said.
After the chickens were slaughtered at the Career Center’s mobile processing unit this past Friday, a few chickens were kept for a barbecue held late this moth for the campers and volunteers that have helped with the project.
The rest of the chickens, which Coale estimates will amount to around 600 pounds, will then be further cut up and delivered to the food shelf at Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects, known as HOPE.
This project stemmed from discussions amongst leaders in the Addison County food system, including Coale, Addison County Relocalization Network Executive Director Jonathan Corcoran, HOPE Local Food Access Coordinator Gretchen Cotell, leaders at the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op, and other community members.
The group has been working to determine the most effective way to locally allocate food grown in Addison County. Members have been exploring different options, and hope to receive grant funding for further research.
After thorough research of his own, Coale decided to take a leap of faith and raise the chickens for HOPE.
“What I decided was if we were really going to do this, we would have to demonstrate we could raise food and it get it to the food shelf at a good price point,” Coale said. “I challenged myself and challenged the school to produce 750 pounds of protein for the food shelf at a minimal cost. The price is just the price of feed.”
Part of his reasoning was if they could successfully raise and deliver chickens at an affordable price point then they could do the same with other foods.
Coale recently received two donated buses he plans to retrofit to help further this local foods effort. One will be turned into a mobile refrigeration unit for transporting vegetables, and the other into a mobile washing and processing station.
The campers may not be fully aware of the scope of the project they are involved with, but many are happy the chickens they’ve helped nurture will assist those in the community.
“I’ve always wanted to help people who are hungry, so that makes me feel good,” said Bessette.
Officials at HOPE welcome the help they’ve received from the kids in the MiddSummer Program and the Career Center.
“Our partnership (with the Career Center) is long-standing and will continue to grow into the future,” said Cotell of HOPE. “Food sustainability and providing healthy food to all Addison County residents is a focus of our organizations. We will provide assistance to each other whenever necessary and possible.”
There is a demonstrated need for affordable and healthful food. Over the past year HOPE served a monthly average of 250 households, equating to a monthly average of roughly 600 people, officials said.
In the past HOPE has also used the Career Center kitchen for processing and storing gleaned vegetables. It’s likely that local students will continue to work with the Career Center to serve the community while learning best agricultural practices.
“My board wants students to be more involved in this,” Coale said. “They would like to see the students leading by example and giving back to the community — and so would I.”
Editor’s note: Diana Wilkinson is a rising senior at George Washington University and a summer intern at the Career Center.
CODY MULCAHY, A nine­year­old MiddSummer camper who has come to the Career Center at every opportunity, feeds a group of the nearly 150 chickens. Photo by Diana Wilkinson

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