Locally Laid lands state grant, plans to expand
In mythology, some hens lay golden eggs. In reality, some lay up to $50,000 in grant aid. At least that's what Jason Amundsen's hens did.
Amundsen, owner of the Wrenshall-based Locally Laid Egg Company, recently won a slice of a $1.1 million Livestock Investment Grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) to add a new coop that features doors programmed to close at twilight and six part-time jobs.
"This is exactly the type of agriculture we want to see," said Charlie Poster, assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, when describing the rural Carlton County farm.
This spring, the Locally Laid Egg Company also received UMD's 21st Joel Labovitz Entrepreneurial Success Award in the E-3 division for environmentally engaged entrepreneurship.
"For every delivery we make, we plant a tree," Amundsen said. "If we receive recycled cartons, we put the difference in money towards planting trees."
Locally Laid chickens graze freely on rented pasture near Wrenshall.
"We're beyond cage free," Amundsen said. "We're pasture raised."
They also eat corn feed that isn't genetically modified, and they don't endure the stress of living in confinement. Amundsen said that besides being more humane, the pasture raising technique also delivers health benefits to the consumer.
"The grass feed is transformed into egg," he described, "and that extra nutrition goes into the eggs."
Amundsen said activity level matters, too.
"Because we have athletic chickens," he said, "It means less cholesterol and fat transfers into the eggs."
In order to provide enough grass for chicken, Amundsen simply moves the whole pen's fencing to a new area of pasture to provide food while the depleted foliage regenerates.
Amundsen started the business after realizing the nearest commercial free-range eggs were from well over 200 miles away in Rochester, Minn., and Iowa.
The farm currently houses over 2,800 free-range hens sourced from Iowa and sells eggs to restaurants and grocers in the Duluth and Twin Cities areas, including The Duluth Grill and Minneapolis's Linden Hills Coop, according to the MDA. Locally Laid Eggs are for sale in the Northland at The Whole Foods Co-op in Duluth, Super One Foods in Kenwood, Super One Foods in West Duluth and TJ's Country Corner in Mahtowa.
Growing up in the Twin Cities suburb of Edina and taking up farming after an unexpected career change, Amundsen now finds himself in a curious predicament.
"Demand's been insane," he said, "spreadsheets of orders I can't fill."
For example, Amundsen provides 150 dozen eggs to The Duluth Grill every week, but they use 400-500. The grant aims to meet that supply gap by helping Amundson expand the business.
"How do we meet demand? That's the great challenge we have," Amundsen said.
Staying competitive is a challenge as well, he added, noting that Locally Laid's eggs run around $1.50 more than eggs from caged hens.
The LLEC website tackles the question of why a person would pay more for eggs with straightforward but gentle humor:
"We're not implying that the gas station eggs you can buy for a buck taste bad. They don't taste like anything," explained www.locallylaid.com. "To create better-for-you eggs, it's an enormous amount of work by hand. Moving fences for fresh pasture, hand-feeding, hand-watering, hand-gathering, pre-washing and hand-packing. (You get the picture.)"
"This is a great example of a local company meeting hot demand," MDA's Poster said.
"Farming requires a BA, MA, and PhD in problem solving," Amundsen said. "Every day I'm out here, I learn something else."
Stokke Meats to expand
Another local business, Stokke Meats, also received a portion of a $1.1 million Livestock Investment Grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Owned by Shain Stokke and Kathy Resberg, the business on Canosia Road plans to purchase larger meat processing equipment to expand their USDA Fresh brat/smoked sticks and jerky business. They will also use the grant money to purchase a high performance sealer and heating tunnel for their USDA frozen pizza business, according to the MDA grant announcement. Stokke Meats is one of the larger employers in the area employing full-time, part-time, as well as college students seasonally. Stokke projected it will be adding 10-12 new employees.