Thatcher Brook Primary school will ring in the new year with a chicken coop that will house 12 chickens year-round for students to care for and learn from.
Thom Thurston, who teaches grades one and two at Thatcher Brook, spearheaded the effort to convert an old, underutilized utility shed on school property into a one-of-a-kind chicken coop.
The idea stemmed from a weeklong workshop the Vermont Farm to School Network held at Shelburne Farms four years ago, attended by a team of teachers, the principal and food servers from Thatcher Brook.
After the workshop Dana Hudson, who has daughters in kindergarten and third grade at Thatcher Brook, helped usher food-system education into the school’s curriculum.
Hudson says her work “is about understanding what the food is that you are eating, where it’s coming from, and allowing students to make their own decisions about how they feel about food to establish their own set of values.”
In addition to helping expand the school garden, introducing compost, and facilitating school excursions to local farms, Hudson’s food cart travels around the school, instructing students how best to cook the food they have learned about at school.
When it comes to chickens, Hudson hopes that the chicken coop will help students “have a deeper understanding of eggs and where they come from, and how chickens should be treated.”
While other farm-to-school programs led by Hudson were funded largely by grants from the New England Dairy and Food Council’s Dairy in the Classroom program, the chicken coop involved extra costs.
Thurston began fundraising with a $400 community grant provided by Concept 2, a business that makes rowing machines in Morrisville, and added $600 raised through a silent auction at the school, where merchandise from Rome Snowboards, the Ski Rack in Burlington, and gift certificates from local restaurants were donated to help fund the chicken coop.
At the silent auction, Thurston was approached by Alex McKenzie, owner of Cypress Woodworks in Waterbury.
“I told Mr. Thurston I would be glad to volunteer my time whenever the project was ready to start,” McKenzie recalled. Asked why he was keen to get involved, McKenzie replied, “At my family’s previous home in Colchester, we built our own coop and had laying hens. I know firsthand how amazing it is to have fresh eggs every day.”
He thought the coop would be a great addition to Thatcher Brook.
Thurston and McKenzie spent a next couple of years coming up with a design that would ensure the old shed stood up to the elements in winter.
McKenzie and his crew at Cypress Woodworks volunteered their time and materials to create custom cedar-timber roof trusses with oak pegs, and hand-split red cedar shakes for the exterior, sold at a discount from Koenig Cedar.
For the fence surrounding the coop, Waterbury town workers came in to dig the holes for posts donated by Sticks and Stuff of Middlesex, which also gave extra roofing materials.
Thurston and McKenzie installed the posts in a weekend of work before the entire Cypress Woodworks crew volunteered a week of their time for the actual coop structure.
During the week of construction, Bill Whitehair, president of the Thatcher Brook Parent Teacher Organization, joined the team to help with the interior walls and mounted egg boxes. The PTO also recently gave $200 to go toward chicken feed.
On Sunday, Dec. 4, the coop got its first tenants: 12 chickens from a farm in East Montpelier. The 48-square-foot coop should provide more than enough space for them to stretch their wings and lay eggs throughout the winter.
Dana Hudson will provide advice on how students should feed and engage with the chickens.
The project, and the people involved in it, show that “this community is definitely behind their schools,” Thurston said.