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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky Instustry-changing Egg Farm - from Scratch

Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-changing Egg Farm - from ScratchLocally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-changing Egg Farm - from Scratch by Lucie B. Amundsen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:
How a Midwestern family with no agriculture experience went from a few backyard chickens to a full-fledged farm—and discovered why local chicks are better.

When Lucie Amundsen had a rare night out with her husband, she never imagined what he’d tell her over dinner—that his dream was to quit his office job (with benefits!) and start a commercial-scale pasture-raised egg farm. His entire agricultural experience consisted of raising five backyard hens, none of whom had yet laid a single egg.

To create this pastured poultry ranch, the couple scrambles to acquire nearly two thousand chickens—all named Lola. These hens, purchased commercially, arrive bereft of basic chicken-y instincts, such as the evening urge to roost. The newbie farmers also deal with their own shortcomings, making for a failed inspection and intense struggles to keep livestock alive (much less laying) during a brutal winter. But with a heavy dose of humor, they learn to negotiate the highly stressed no-man’s-land known as Middle Agriculture. Amundsen sees firsthand how these midsized farms, situated between small-scale operations and mammoth factory farms, are vital to rebuilding America’s local food system.

With an unexpected passion for this dubious enterprise, Amundsen shares a messy, wry, and entirely educational story of the unforeseen payoffs (and frequent pitfalls) of one couple’s ag adventure—and many, many hours spent wrangling chickens.

My disclaimer - I'm from the Duluth area, so I'm familiar with the name, the product, and parts of Locally Laid's story already. I was there for the Super Bowl commercial voting. I noticed when the eggs started hitting store shelves. I read the articles in the paper. What this book did was fill in the names, faces, and the journey behind the chickens.

Oh my gosh, and what a journey it was - perhaps still is.

What I REALLY appreciated was the brutal honesty in what it took to get this enterprise off the ground. Going from vision to reality. I've read too many blogs (and no, LoLa's not one of them - I admit I didn't even think to see if they had a blog) daydreaming about how starting and owning one's own business (be it agricultural based, a book store, a yarn store, a bakery, etc) is nothing but rainbow farting unicorns because you own the business. No golden horned equines in owning your own business, only piles of shitty paperwork and long hours.

And what they - Jason - found out was Reality can be a real Bitch. Kudo's to the Amundsen's, their volunteers, their staff, their families and the supporters for sticking it out and bringing the heartache, the tears, the worry, and eventually, the success, to the world.

A second part of the story was a look at where does a middle size agriculture business fit in, in today's society? Is there even a niche for something like LoLa? Is it sustainable? Locally Laid has yet to stand the trials of time to answer some of those, but the direction they are moving in seems viable and doable. It will be interesting to watch.

A third aspect to this book was in good part, history. How we went from a very agrarian based society to massive factory-farms and the impact that has had not only on our food production, but on the economic fabric of society. Some of this I've read before, such as the poultry industry "contracting" with folks to raise chickens to specs, but at a non-sustainable cost to the individual or family. And, some was new.

I am, however, somewhat disappointed that after 300+ pages discussing the importance of keeping things local, that the author chose to go with a major publishing house and not a local publisher such as On-Word Bound books  After all the support the community gave LoLa, it would have been nice to have seen that reciprocated. And, who knows (other than the author)? Maybe it was and a deal wasn't possible, but I do hope she at least tried.

Also, a small item but it's the small items that grab peoples attention: Grain Belt has not been made in Minneapolis since 1975. It's been produced by August Schell Brewing Co out of New Ulm, MN, since the early 2000's. Before that by and the second Minnesota Brewing Co, St. Paul (1991-2001) and Heilman Brewing Co, LaCrosse, WI (1975-1990). 

Overall, a book balanced between the personal journey, a loose history of the nations food production, and what it takes to turn eggs into a business. Recommended.

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