Returning to 2012, I’d likely find us around the kitchen table. My husband, Jason, would be animated and engaged as he tried to jam together the rough-edged pieces for our pasture-raised egg farm, Locally Laid. Though less excited, I’d be equally animated: a dangling raw nerve looking over his shoulder. That’s because we weren’t putting together a mail-order kit complete with all the pieces parts and neatly typed out instructions. No, we were pioneering this way of raising commercial-sized flocks outside in the Upper Midwest — mostly because no one was quite foolish enough to try it.
Of course, we were buoyed by the benefits of this system. Chickens that are outside on freshly rotated pasture add healthful variety to their diet with bugs, seeds, insects — and what I like to call wrong place/wrong time frogs. (If you thought chickens were vegetarians, well, you and 2012 Lucie have a lot in common.) And because of that, studies find eggs produced this way have less fat and more of the good stuff like beta-carotenes and Omega 3s.
And though I’m certain that this younger version of me at the table would look frightened, I know today she was not quite frightened enough. If I could pull up a chair beside the naive couple, this is what I’d tell them:
1. The business plan is important in that it gives lenders a road map — a commercial narrative to either accept as fiction or nonfiction. But in reality, it’s a business fairytale called “If Everything Goes Right.” Those numbers will never exist in real life. Suppliers will flake, distribution will get complex and chickens will refuse to follow the handbook. Constantly looking back at that document to see where the farm went off course will only break your heart. Put it aside.
2. And while it’s nice that you read all those agricultural books, watched countless YouTube chicken videos and attended idyllic sustainable farming workshops, remember this: Individual results may vary. In fact, tattoo that on your palm. Practice differs greatly from theory and you will feel betrayed by your education. Let it go.
3. Now listen up, you two, it’s also important that you understand that this isn’t a business you’re building, it’s a lifestyle. (I don’t care what your business plan says, put that down!) Everything is about to change — weekends are just another day to work and chickens don’t care that it’s Christmas. But please make more eye contact with the children, it would be nice if they could pick you out of a line-up of similarly aged adults.
4. Along those lines, this will impact your marriage. In fact, get a couples therapist now — a good one, because there’s nothing about opening a chicken farm that will serve as a marital aid.
5. Lastly, I’d directly address myself: Lucie, listen to me, it’s me: Future Lu. Hang in there, because in surviving this foolish poultry exercise, you’ll discover the concept of Middle Agriculture and its potential to save rural communities and rebuild the food system. It will lead you to an unknown passion for economics and greater good will come from it — I promise. But there’s a lot of chicken sh*t between here and there. Put on your high rubber boots and trudge on.
This article was written for Signature, making well-read sense of the world. Locally Laid was released in paperback from Penguin/Random House in March 2017 and is available where books are sold. Plus, you know, the Internet.