Dear Mr. (name withheld),
Thank you for reaching out to let us know your opinion of the Locally Laid Egg Company. Not enough of us stand up for what we believe and I appreciate the time it took to handwrite a letter. I also want to acknowledge your right to find our name vulgar and also to tell the grocery store owner and your friends your opinion that we are crude.
So having respectfully listened to you, I ask that you hear me out.
Here’s why we named our company, Locally Laid. First off, it’s completely demonstrative of what we are. We are the first pasture-raised egg company in the Upper Midwest providing you with eggs which are laid locally. More on the sassy part of the name in minute, but let’s look at local. It’s important.
The average food product in this country travels some 1,500 -2,000 miles from farmer to processor to distributor to your plate. That’s a lot of diesel burned and C02 pumped in the air. Our cartons travel a fraction of those miles. We’ve turned down lucrative contracts that would have taken our eggs out of the area because of our environmental stance. Plus, we plant a tree with every delivery we make to offset our minimal carbon footprint.
You commented that our eggs were expensive (though we’re certainly not the highest price brand in the marketplace). And, yes, they do cost more – that’s because Locally Laid practices sustainable agriculture, a sector that does not enjoy large government subsidizes like commodity products do. The egg industry is also highly consolidated and expensive to break into. There are just 192 companies that own 95% of the America’s laying hens, that’s compared to 2,500 companies in 1987.
Locally Laid is directly challenging the egg industry status quo. We move fences all spring, summer and fall, and fill waterers and feeders; it’s incredibly demanding work to get birds out of doors. And it all costs more.
However, we believe it’s worth it. Hens that forage and exercise on fresh pasture lay eggs with less fat and cholesterol and stronger yolk integrity.
That’s why we call our girls Salad Eating Poultry Athletes. To do this, we sacrifice economies of scale by having small flock sizes (we call that Micro-brood) less than 3% of the numbers kept in a typical caged or cage-free operations where chickens never see the light of day. Lastly, our ladies don’t eat cheap: non-GMO corn grown in Northern Minnesota, high-end vitamins and soy protein. (Ca-ching!)
But we’re more than just free chickens, fed well. We’re champions of something called Middle Agriculture. This is the most stressed, least understood agricultural segment in America. Mid-sized farms, like awkward teens, don’t fit in anywhere. They tend to be too large to sell all they produce directly to the public (think farmer’s market or CSA) and way too small to romp with the big dogs of commodity markets.
As such, there are less of us mid-level producers every day. Between 1997- 2012 the number of these types of operations have declined by 18%. That’s over 130,000 farms that have been shut, barn doors closed, tumbleweeds cued.
You might ask why this matters. Well for a lot of reasons, but especially for the 46-million Americans who live rurally. And I mean right now, not in some sepia-toned, yesteryear memory. When mid-sized operations go away, it doesn’t just affect one family, it dings ALL the regional ag-based industry: grain mills, feed stores, processing facilities and farm jobs. So there’s just a lot less money floating around a community. This erodes tax bases, which affects schools, roads and livability issues. As the Agriculture of the Middle Project puts it, the loss of mid-sized farms “threatens to hollow out many regions of rural America.”
This is the difference between the “value chain” of mid-sized businesses working together versus “vertical integration” where all the links of the supply chain are owned by the same company, concentrating profits and power at the top.
So, here’s how we’re growing the Middle Ag sector. Locally Laid now partners with other mid-level farmers to produce eggs to our brand standards. Because we take on all the financial risk to find shelf space for these eggs, our farmers are able to do what they do best while fetching a fair price for their goods.
There’s been some real upsides to this in the small community of Henriette, Minnesota. There our partner farmers have commissioned tons of corn from their neighbors, buy implements from a nearby farm store and use a local mill to grind and store their grains. And because Locally Laid eggs are only sold regionally, all that retail income sticks around, too, all the while stamping down food miles. I can honestly say this community now enjoys a higher quality of living thanks to a public willing to pay more for a different kind of egg.
Of course, there’s more to be done. We’re always looking for more winter activities for our chickens as they break down bundles of hay waiting for warmer weather. (I wish I could teach them how to play Toss Across). We also have big dreams to diversify our farm with more animals and some organic crops. Also, we hope to build a pullet barn, which would allow us to raise our own chicks on our farm (as opposed to buying out-of-state birds at 18 weeks) and provide full-time employment to a farm hand.
So, to the point of your letter, I want to say you’re right. Our name, Locally Laid, is totally cheeky and pushes the envelope. And I truly am sorry, we offended you. (I’d offer you one of our American-made “Local Chicks are Better “ t-shirts, but I don’t think you’d wear it.)
But here’s why we risk your umbrage. When our perfect double entendre breaks through the media clutter in which we’re all steeped, we leverage it. With that second look from a consumer, we educate about animal welfare, eating local, Real Food and the economics of our broken food system.
We all vote with our food dollars every day and we respect your decision if our playful moniker keeps you from buying our eggs. It was just important to me that you understood everything that was going on behind that name.
Now I gotta ask, would you have learned all this if we were named Amundsen Farms?
Best regards & Be well,
Lucie B. Amundsen
Local Chicks are Better!
P.S.: Our book, Locally Laid, about starting our farm and middle agriculture isout Spring from Penguin Books USA.