When Lucie Amundsen moved to Duluth with her husband, Jason, she had no idea they would one day start an egg farm in Wrenshall. She didn't know their Locally Laid Egg Company would be the first pastured-poultry ranch in the Upper Midwest, or that they'd have to teach their first batch of chickens how to go inside and roost when it gets dark because they had never seen sunlight before. She could not have predicted they would almost win a free Super Bowl ad for their tiny business and gain national publicity in the process. And she was completely unaware that all the disasters they faced along the way would one day become fodder for her first published book, "Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-changing Egg Farm — From Scratch."
Amundsen also never expect her book to be selected for this year's One Book Northland reading project, but it was.
"A comment that I often get is 'You are so brave to be so honest in the book,'" said Amundsen. "I just thought I was 'regular honest' but to not tell people would feel disingenuous to the story. But I've decided 'brave' is maybe code for 'bat-sh*t crazy' because I tell people how we risked our home and how it was not exactly a marital aid for us. I'm really clear about how hard it was and there were times that it looked inevitable that we would go under. I don't think people are used to that level of truthiness."
Amundsen will speak at noon Thursday, May 4, at Cloquet Public Library and the library's book club will discuss her book at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 9. Everyone is invited to come to the Thursday event, whether you've read the book or not. Already established as honest, Amundsen is also a very entertaining public speaker.
The book grew from a series of blogs that Amundsen had written. Long story short, Amundsen turned those "disparate vignettes" of their business travails into a story arc for the book-length thesis she needed to gain her master's degree in fine arts at Hamline University, a course she had started before her husband came up with the idea of a commercial egg farm business.
"I found a correlation between writing the blogs and having less jaw pain because I think when I wrote I didn't process it in my sleep and grind my teeth," she said with a chuckle. "People have different coping mechanisms and I find that after I write about something, I have an understanding I didn't possess before."
Readers will also learn lots from reading Amundsen's book, because it is more than the humorous story of one couple's unusual path to business ownership. In between making people gasp and then laugh at the many challenges they faced, Amundsen weaves in all kinds of facts about eggs and chickens and the agriculture industry in the United States in a way that is both interesting and works with today's shortened attention spans.
She told how her agent had two publishers interested in the book: one wanted a straight-up memoir; the other wanted creative nonfiction, or narrative nonfiction.
"I absolutely knew that's what I wanted to do," Amundsen said. "I feel that writers have the responsibility to make all the research that scientists do engaging and readable. Because you don't want to read what I read to make this book possible. But I find that people are willing to read 750 words on how agriculture changed, but I probably had to read about 1,000 pages to get that 750 words. Not particularly entertaining reading."
There are random facts and essays scattered about between stories. For example, did the reader know that fresh unwashed eggs have a coating on them that protects the insides from pathogens and means they don't have to be refrigerated? However, the USDA requires that all eggs be washed, which means they then have to be refrigerated because the shells are now permeable.
"It becomes a two-way street," Amundsen said, after describing the process the egg goes through as it's washed in their rebuilt AquaMagic V, a mechanical egg washer made in the 1950s.
"I wrote an op-ed for the LA Times about how it saddens me that Americans wash eggs," she said, showing how a fresh egg shines from the cuticle, or bloom, on the shell. "I want to say we use something like 600 million gallons of fresh water a year to wash these eggs ... when the Colorado River is running dry."
In addition to now being a fairly well known author in the region with attention nationally as well, Amundsen's main contribution to the Locally Laid farm is in the area of marketing and publicity.
Don't tell anyone, but Lucie is the voice of LoLa, the name she and Jason have given to every chicken on the farm.
"She (LoLa) feels like a friend of mine," Amundsen said. "Sometimes Jason will suggest something that I post and I'll be like, 'LoLa would never say that,' offended on her behalf. This is my chicken friend. She's no two-bit hen. She's LoLa. She wants to change the world."
Did we mention she drives a car with "Get Locally Laid" written on the side?
Copies of Amundsen's book — released in paperback from Penguin Random House in February — will be available for purchase at both Amundsen's library appearances in Cloquet. It is also available for purchase online and in bookstores. Locally Laid eggs are available for purchase at Super One Foods around the Northland and the farm will begin offering "pick-your-own" raspberries, honeyberries and blueberries as soon as Mother Nature is ready.