Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Locally Laid by Lucie B. Amundsen

Locally Laid drew my attention in this Chicago winter as my taste buds yearned for my favorite “Sam’s Eggs” with their gorgeous sunset orange yolks that I buy directly from Sam, his mother, and his grandfather at the Harbor Springs, Michigan Farmers’ Market in the summer and fall. So when I learned that Lucie B. Amundsen had written about her family’s foray into egg farming, she had my interest. Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-Changing Egg Farm – From Scratch is funny, wise, kind, and informative. Amundsen is a writer with a capital “W.” She’s written for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, was an editor for the Reader’s Digest Association, and has taught writing at the college level. Her clever, nuanced words set this tale apart from what could have been a silly “Lucy Riccardo” down on the farm treatment. Instead, her true story made this reader cheer for the Amundsen family despite their naiveté, as I flew through the pages sharing their journey.

In 2010, Jason Amundsen dreamed of quitting his safe office job that provided a living with benefits for his family of four to start a pasture-raised egg farm even though his only agricultural experience was raising five backyard hens, none of which had yet laid a single egg. The Amundsen family had recently remodeled their home, “The Beige Rambler of My Dreams,” that Lucie considered “nearly perfect.” Then she realized that it was “nearly perfect enough to be quietly killing Jason.” After arguing that they lacked any skills for such a venture, Lucie gave in and their journey began. Jason spent almost two years taking business farming classes, visiting chicken farms, renting a farm thirty minutes from their home, preparing it, and finally purchasing and gaining delivery of chickens.

“At dusk, hens seek their coop. So reliable is this, there’s even a saying, an adage. Chickens come home to roost. It's for warmth. It’s for protection. It’s hardwired. But our first shipment of nine hundred mature birds, just purchased from a commercial operation, stands on the field staring. They tilt and turn their heads to better align us with their side-placed eyes, as though awaiting instruction.

Then as darkness quiets the pasture, I get it.
My hand on my lips, I mumble, “Oh, God.”
These hens are out of sync with sunset because until today, they have NEVER SEEN THE SUN. While I’ve worried about many things going wrong with our unlikely egg startup, CHICKENS not knowing HOW TO BE CHICKENS was not one of them.”

Lucie Amundsen shares their improbable story of teaching the birds about the sun, keeping them alive in an uninsulated barn in the depths of a brutal winter, failing an inspection, washing eggs upon eggs, eating and giving away eggs that sellers wouldn’t want, and dealing with excruciating fatigue. When they finally have eggs to sell, Lucie’s writing and marketing skills come into play as she convinces Jason to name the venture Locally Laid complete with its intended double entendre to attract attention. Lucie Amundsen shares her family’s quest for a happily-ever-after life despite many setbacks.

Halfway through the book, I jumped up from the couch and logged onto the Locally Laid website. I immediately searched to see if I could get Locally Laid (eggs) in my area  – and I could. I soon stood in the organic section of my local grocery store explaining to the young man who was shelving yogurt that I’d squealed because I was so happy to find Locally Laid eggs on their shelves. Surprisingly, he didn’t back away in fear, but instead told me that they were new but becoming popular and came in both large and extra-large sizes. I told him I was reading a book about them and he noted that he should probably tell the manager to be ready to order more of the “funny” eggs because of the book. 

When I got home, I set these lovely "Lolas" (Locally Laid eggs) on my counter then read Locally Laid’s mission statement which says in part:

“For us, it’s about getting Real Food to local folks, while treating livestock and the planet well in the process. And by sourcing & selling regionally, we’re championing Agriculture of the Middle and strengthening rural economies. Plus we have a funny name. Locally Laid aims to change the way eggs are produced in America – big words from a little chicken, but we’re plucky.”

Summing it Up: I read this book in two days, cheering for the Amundsen family, learning more about poultry than I ever thought I’d want to know, laughing out loud repeatedly, and pondering the importance of living your dream. And those eggs, they too have large, sunny orange yolks that made me smile in the midst of winter. Locally Laid, I love you.

Rating: 5 stars   

Category: Grandma’s Pot Roast, Nonfiction, Soul Food, Super Nutrition

Publication date: March 1, 2016

What Others are Saying:

“As a ‘remedial adult’ with chickens, I heartily commend you to the words, wisdom and knowledge of Lucie B. Amundsen, an author whose voice is as earthy as a chicken run, as goofy and bright as a pasture-raised egg yolk at sunrise, and as down-to-earth as barn boots in mud. People ask me about chickens, I say, ‘Read Lucie.’” – Michael Perry, author of Coop, A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting.

 “I absolutely loved Locally Laid! Read it in two days and enjoyed every minute. Funny and informative.” – Sue Grafton, author of the Kinsey Millhone series.

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