Lucie Amundsen is an unlikely chicken lady. Growing up in Winslow, she didn’t mind flocks and seldom engaged in farm work. But the University of Maine graduate had a way with words. She looked at life through a writer’s discerning lense.
So when things got tough at the midsize egg farm, Locally Laid, she runs with her husband in Minnesota, where she now lives, instead of reaching for a hanky to cry, she reached for a pen and wrote a memoir.
“I think it’s easier to look through life as a writer. Being a writer helped me. As things were going wrong, I was looking for details and quotes. I didn’t have to look reality straight in the face,” the 45-year-old first-time writer said.
Her book, “Locally Laid,” was released this month by Penguin Random House.
“It’s a marriage story and an [agriculture] startup farm horror story,” said the upbeat Amundsen, who describes the humorous and informative 292-page book as “memoir meets popular nonfiction.”
When starting the pasture-raised egg business, “we did not realize we were entering the most stressed sector,” she said of her midsize farm. “We are too big to sell at farmers markets, to small to be in big ag. … You have to create your own path and break out.”
Though packed with details on the ins and outs of running a 2,000-bird ranch and commercial egg business, the book is less a how-to and more “farm contraception,” Amundsen said during a phone interview from Duluth.
Nothing, from how the new family business affected her marriage to hate mail blasting her eggs as too pricy and the company name too racy, is sugar coated.
“This is the opposite of ‘The Good Life,’” Amundsen said, referring to Scott and Helen Nearing’s utopian back-to-the-land bible that spawned new interest in farming. No, “Locally Laid” is a “behind-the-curtain expose on what’s happening and how people are creating real food for you,” she said.
Though set in Minnesota, the book is filled with chapters on Maine. In one segment, the writer returns to Maine to meet with farmer Stewart Smith, who taught sustainable agriculture at University of Maine. She arrives at his Newport-based Lakeside Family Farm to find out why the food system is broken. In a witty scenario, the professor attempts to break it down — it involves the first law of thermodynamics — but he “might as well have been talking to a house cat,” she writes.
Smith lays out the challenges facing specialty midsize farmers with a history of farm economics. It’s a good chapter for anyone scratching their heads over paying $6 for a dozen eggs at a local farmers market.
Amundsen returns to Maine to get a firmer grasp on her new profession. At UMaine’s Cooperative Extension she learns how to dissect a chicken. In an attempt to learn “all things chicken,” she signs up for an applied poultry science project. She is eager to get intimate with the animal’s anatomy.
“Once the bird’s impressive chest cavity was revealed, I was taken with the chicken’s tidily packed organs. Snipping out the lungs and heart, I’d gently set them aside, in order, like I was dissembling a broken toy and I might be asked to reassemble and perhaps even reanimate her later,” she writes.
Amundsen already is working on her next book, teaching farmers to better market themselves. “Farmers are intrinsically humble people,” she said. “Their stories matter, and people want to hear them.”