Lucie Amundsen grew up in Winslow and graduated from the University of Maine, but now she lives far, far away, in Duluth, Minnesota, where her career as a writer took a sudden twist after her husband’s out-of-nowhere announcement that he wanted to become an egg farmer. She’s written a charming book about the whole chicken business, titled “Locally Laid” after their pasture-raised egg company’s punny name. (The book is subtitled “How We Built a Plucky, Industry-changing Egg Farm from Scratch”). After finding out she’d been to Lakeside Farms in Newport to get advice from Maine farmer Stewart Smith (former state commissioner of agriculture and a 2015 Source Award winner) about agriculture-in-the-middle, we called her up to talk. And yes, we did discuss that impertinent business name.

SCHOOLING: Did Amundsen study sustainable agriculture at UMaine? “That would make so much sense,” she said, laughing. “But no. I am an education major.” She also has a master of fine arts from Hamline University in St Paul. The business of ending up so far away from her home state was not intentional. “I meant to come home. And then life got complex. All of a sudden you have a house and children. I often say I am an accidental Minnesotan … Since I moved here in 1995, I should probably start accepting that I am a Midwesterner.” But she still comes home twice a year to see her parents. “I actually read the Morning Sentinel online every morning,” she said. “I really have a foot still in that state.”

RELUCTANT FARMER: She was also a reluctant farmer. The family had five backyard hens when her husband, Jason, told her he had this dream about raising lots and lots of healthy, happy chickens for eggs. “It is fair to say I didn’t react well. I was not having it.” Then Jason went through the life-altering experience of flying to Cambodia to nurse his brother through a near-deadly drug overdose. When he came back, she said, “Jason was no longer fit to be in a cubicle.” But in a good way. She gave her blessing. “I really could see that life is short and finite and I should embrace this dream.” The name Locally Laid was her idea; Jason had suggested Amundsen Farms. “People can’t pronounce it. They can’t spell it. It doesn’t conjure any image.” The double entendre started as a joke but then grew on them.

FIELD REPORT: It took a year for Amundsen to embrace farming. “I realized that we were in this segment of the farming population that is midsized and can really change how rural communities thrive. The businesses may be small compared to industrial farms with tens of thousands of birds, but the farm is “providing lots of employment. So I became impassioned.” She and her husband are in their fourth year of business, with up to 2,000 birds on hand. She’s less involved in the day-to-day these days. “I still wash thousands of eggs every week, but I am not out every day moving paddocks.”

AGRICULTURE IN THE MIDDLE: Before she’d ever heard of Stewart Smith, who has written much about the concept of Agriculture in the Middle – not so big as to be a commodity farm, but not so small as to be reliant on say, CSAs or farmers markets – she thought of what Locally Laid was doing as midsized farming, hovering in the middle. That seemed like a peculiarly small group to her, and she dove into researching how American farming had changed in the years after World War II, and why. When she came across some of Smith’s theories and realized he was a Mainer, she decided to visit him. “I literally cold-emailed him,” she said. “And I came out during high harvest. He was completely gracious even though there was a lot going on.” She asked him why agriculture seemed so “broken,” why it was so hard to make a living and stay afloat. The answers were complex, initially. “He might as well as been talking to a housecat,” she said. “I’m glad I didn’t read his whole bio because I would have been so intimidated.” Between that talk and some translation from Smith’s wife, Sarah Redfield, “I got an education.”

AMISH ALLIES: Not long into their project, the Amundsens decided to co-partner with other farms to scale up the operation. They now have seven partners, all adhering to the Amundsens’ standards and selling under the Locally Laid label in other parts of Minnesota. All are run by Amish. That wasn’t intentional. “Our first partner farm was Amish and they would tell people that ‘Locally Laid actually pays you on time,’ so word spread in that community.” The partnership turned out to be ideal; the Amundsens are very good at branding, by her own admission. And as Jason reminded her as they contemplated the partnerships, “Amish, great at farming, bad at Twitter.”

BETTER BRANDING: “We are attention seeking,” Amundsen said. And attention gaining, obviously, starting with the name. Among her marketing triumphs? Coming in second for a national contest to win a Superbowl advertising spot and writing an impassioned letter about farming that went viral and was shared over 500,000 times. Leading to new fans. Just as she and Jason were at the bank asking for another line of credit for the farm, the orders for their cute company T-shirts, emblazoned with “Local Chicks Are Better,” started flowing in. “We sold 500 shirts in three countries in a week, and we didn’t have to take out the line of credit.”

BOOK DEAL: Finally, there is her book deal. “Locally Laid” started out as her senior thesis for Hamline’s MFA program (she also teaches writing at the College of Saint Scholastica in Duluth). An agent helped her turn it into a book proposal. “I am not kidding when I say we did 18 drafts and were quite frustrated with each other.” Number 18 was the charm, though; the agent sold it in two weeks to Avery Books, an imprint of the Penguin Group. Her blurbers include mystery writer Sue Grafton.

WHAT’S NEXT? “Ideally, we would have more of a national network down the road,” she said. “This model would be good for farmers. But right now it is me, Jason and Jason’s brother, and a part-time accountant.” Does she worry about burnout? “Absolutely. Before kids, Jason and I liked to travel.” And by that she meant, make their own adventures. On the wild side. Not anymore: “The other I day I was like, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to go to an all-inclusive resort and just stare at the water?'”

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