Amundsen Family, Locally Laid, Carlton County
Backyard chickens are a growing trend among people who want to raise their own food. But it’s not many who turn a small hobby into a lifestyle.
Jason and Lucie Amundsen of Wrenshall did just that. In 2012, they took the plunge and started Locally Laid Egg Company – with no previous agricultural experience. That’s no small task, going from five backyard hens to 2,000 on an 80-acre patch of land. Not to mention that all of the hens are named Lola.
As Lucie detailed in her 2016 farm memoir, also titled Locally Laid, keeping a sense of humor helped keep them going.
“In hard times, mostly, we laugh at ourselves, do yoga, meditate and drink really cheap beer,” she said.
Their determination has led to success, as they now occupy a niche in agriculture, which they call Middle Agriculture. Their current count of 23,000 hens, combined between eight farms (including their own), makes them a medium-sized egg operation. They also have seven employees.
“While we only have a few hundred chickens on our farm as we concentrate on crops this season, there are seven partner farms raising eggs to our brand standard,” Lucie said.
Their brand standard is such: The hens must be pastured, foraging out on green fields. In the winter, the hens are housed with amenities such as dust baths “to honor their instinctive behaviors.” The Amundsens refer to their pastured birds as “poultry athletes.”
As is implied by their farm name, the Amundsens make it a priority to connect with their local communities.
“These eggs are sold in groceries and wholesale to restaurants within the region of where they were laid,” Lucie said.
This initiative earned the Amundsens a spot in the 2014 Minnesota Cooks Day at the Minnesota State Fair and the 2015 Minnesota Cooks calendar (they’re in the month of February if you still have it!). You can also find their eggs at food co-ops and other grocery stores in the Twin Cities and Duluth.
Eggs aren’t all this innovative couple does.
“If that wasn’t quite enough, there’s also a berry wing of Locally Laid called Farm LoLa,” Lucie said. “There we’ve planted 15 acres of honeyberries, blueberries and raspberries run primarily as a Pick-Your-Own operation.”
Farm LoLa opened in 2016. As you can probably imagine, running a Pick-Your-Own berry farm keeps Jason and Lucie on their toes during the summer. They do enjoy opening up their farm and interacting with community members. The honeyberries have already gotten picked out for 2018, though they do still have raspberries available. The blueberry crop is expected to bear fruit in 2019.
Why did LoLa expand into fruit?
“Diversification is good for the land and smart business for a farm,” Jason said. He’s worked with his brother Brian and other employees at LoLa to plant the crops. It works well for them to use their chicken manure to fertilize the crops, along with sea minerals, while managing the challenges of farming in Northeast Minnesota.
“Being by Lake Superior makes for harder-to-predict weather, challengingly late springs and a short growing season,” Lucie said.
The Amundsens have been members of Minnesota Farmers Union since 2015, joining because of the “need to represent our collective issues in the Legislature and beyond.” Health care access is a policy concern to them, as we’ve heard from many members.
“While Jason has care through the VA, I have a health insurance card, but with a deductible that precludes actual health care,” Lucie said.
They’re also concerned with access to capital for expansion.
There’s no question that this young farm is becoming a strong part of the Minnesota agricultural landscape and a voice in MFU. They’ve brought together the unlikely combination of eggs and berries and are surrounded by happy chickens. We look forward to seeing what Locally Laid becomes!