One family’s attempt to get out of the rat race and into the poultry race.
For years, former Reader’s Digest Association editor and Minneapolis Star Tribune contributor Amundsen and her husband, Jason, were just a normal, educated middle-class couple with middle-class lives in the middle of America. Despite this, readers will root for them because they dreamed of something other than being—well—in the middle. They decided to vacate a seemingly underwhelming existence and embark on a journey through “middle agriculture,” those farms situated between factory farms and boutique operations. The idealism of Amundsen’s husband became the fulcrum on which their lives began to pivot. Driven by decency and principled morals—and perhaps the likelihood of suffering a “boredom aneurysm” in their “Beige Rambler” Amundsen considered her “forever house”—Jason proposed to start a midsized, commercial, pasture-raised egg farm even though their main experience in egg farming consisted of caring for a few pet hens who lived in their garage. The book opens with a scene of their first shipment of commercially raised chickens that don’t quite know how to be chickens (“until today, they have NEVER SEEN THE SUN”). As we soon learn, the Amundsens don’t quite know how to be chicken farmers. The author’s skepticism and her husband’s optimism collide to create a laughable, empathetic tale of re-education for (wo)man and beast. Behind the humor, however, Amundsen reveals the complex and sometimes-alarming methods by which farms operate in the U.S. The author ably synthesizes a large amount of detailed information, including the important differences among pasture-raised, organic, and cage-free eggs. She also shows how her family’s struggle in the amorphous landscape between big agriculture and small-scale farming is not unlike the struggle of the American middle class in general.
Don’t let Amundsen’s self-deprecating humor fool you into taking this book lightly. In between capers, she makes a nuanced plea to respect local farms and the animals that populate them.