A passion for down-to-earth farming methods and the trend toward eating local has has fueled growth of Amanda's Eggs, northwest of Chippewa Falls.
In the past three years, Amanda Bohl has gone from having three dozen chickens to nearly 1,500. The self-serve egg market at her farm, 9359 100th Ave., Chippewa Falls, is booming.
“I started out with 36 egg-laying chickens,” Bohl said. “I never had enough eggs for anybody that wanted them, so the next year I ordered 150 chicks. Now I’m ordering 500 chicks twice a year.”
Each day, Amanda hand-collects, hand-washes and hand-packs 40-50 dozen eggs. At the end of summer, she usually finds herself with around 1,000 birds laying eggs, and about 400 meat birds.
“It’s just really grown into quite an ordeal,” she said. “I expanded just to meet the demand. I also saw it as potential for making extra money for my family. We already had an empty barn, and most of the equipment in the attic.”
Chickens are not new to Bohl, who grew up on a Cadott-area farm for the first 15 years of her life.
“As a young person, I always had chickens,” she said. “I have to give the credit to my maternal grandmother, because she always had chickens. So I always liked them.”
Today, it's a labor of love for Bohl.
“You've got to be here every day to collect the eggs and care for the chickens,” Bohl said. “You can't go on vacation.”
But that's fine by Bohl, who really enjoys working with the chickens – and the people she meets because of them. “I really do enjoy it,” she said. “You get to meet a lot of people, and do something positive for the world. It also gives me an opportunity to bring income for the family but stay home with the kids. I wouldn't have it any other way.”
Bohl married her husband Nick in 2007. The couple has three children: Clare, 5, Margaret, 3, and Emery, 1.
In addition to the chickens, which is mostly Amanda's project, the couple has a dairy up the road. Farming is a lifestyle for the Bohls.
“For the kids to help with the chickens and learn that work ethic, and have that farm lifestyle, is what we really like,” she said. “It's the way I grew up, and the way Nick grew up too. We were very influenced by that and want to give that same thing to our children.”
She plans to keep the kids involved. Even little Margaret already helps her mom collect eggs in the morning.
“They collect eggs and help me pack the eggs,” Bohl said. “They enjoy it; it gets them outside, and it’s nice for them to have chores.”
After collection, the eggs are each hand washed in warm water and vinegar, dried and packed into cartons.
“This really forces me to get outside every day,” she said with a laugh. “It's like a gym for me, right on the farm.”
People wanting to buy eggs can do so on the farm 365 days of the year. Those passing by will notice a big red chicken on the mailbox. Pull into the driveway, and you'll find signs directing you to the refrigerator in the front part of the chicken coop. People deposit payment into a coffee can.
Bohl enjoys being able to offer people something special – like a personal touch.
“I’m a social person, so anytime somebody comes in the yard, I like to make an effort to open the door and say 'I really appreciate you,'” she said. “Everybody wants to be appreciated, and I try to let my customers know that we do appreciate them. I see less customer service in this world, and I enjoy being able to offer my customers that.
“You don't hear often enough in this world 'Hi, how are you? Good to see you today. Thank you for stopping,' and I enjoy saying that to my customers stopping by.”
Although the eggs are technically not certified organic, they are from free-range, antibiotic-free chickens, and that's a big selling point.
“Another reason I think I’ve done so well is because of the organic and local food movement,” Bohl said. “People wonder ‘Where is our food coming from?’ and ‘What are they putting in it?’ People caring about those things really fueled my demand.”
She says people are sometimes surprised at how comparable her prices are to regular supermarket prices. That's because Bohl likes to make it affordable for her customers to eat local. With the cost of chicken feed right now, an increase on the $2 per dozen price tag wouldn't be unreasonable. But she's not doing that yet.
“I try to keep my prices down and really do the right thing,” Bohl said. “I like to keep it affordable for people to eat local, and of course, I'm also doing it to have good food for my own family. That's really important.”
That's why she also encourages people to bring back their clean, used egg cartons – to help further keep costs low as the cartons themselves are expensive to buy.
Bohl hasn’t taken her eggs or chickens to area farmers market because it would be too costly. It would be an added expense to have someone sit there to sell the eggs (she’s too busy to do it herself), and also refrigeration would be challenging, especially in the heat of the summer.
In the beginning, however, she did a delivery route.
“I delivered eggs to 60 customers every other week,” she said. “Mostly Chippewa Falls, but a few in Eau Claire. I think that helped get me established. I did that for a year, then when I had my third child, I couldn’t keep up with the delivery.”
However, that hasn’t hurt her business. Her loyal customers frequently drive to the farm and buy eggs for themselves and sometimes for entire neighborhoods. And she still seems to be getting new customers that find her online (a website and a Facebook page) and by word-of-mouth.
“I have a blog on my website, and I try to post something once a week,” Bohl said. “That’s something people really seem to appreciate. It helps them feel in touch with where their food is coming from.”
Aside from picking the eggs up at the farm, people can buy them at Sokup’s Meat Market in Chippewa Falls, and the Menomonie Market Food Co-Op in Menomonie.
INFO BOX: Visit Amanda's Eggs online at http://farmfreshbrowneggs.weebly.com/