Ever since Stephen Hall, 32, was a child, he has chased the dream of working for himself and starting his own business. Little did he know then, he was being led right to the chicken coop.
As a former white-collar worker turned first-generation farmer, Stephen started raising chickens as a hobby. It wasn’t until he walked into a supermarket one day that he has what he calls his “break out of the matrix” moment. “I asked myself: is this the only food that’s available around me? Is this the best we can do?” Stephen said. “That led me down the rabbit hole of learning all about how things could be done. I just started doing it myself.”
Now Stephen owns six acres in Dracut, Massachusetts, and rents another ten nearby. He takes care of 150 egg-layer chickens and raises ten batches of 350 broilers a season. His girlfriend, Alex is his partner. She runs their farm-side CSA and manages all the fruit and vegetables they grow. “She’s on the garden, and I’m on the animal side,” Stephen said. “I also work with my dad, Jim, who is a retired engineer. We’ve sort of converted him into a farmer.”
Having an ex-engineer around can be a real boon to a first-time farmer, according to Stephen. Someone with practical knowledge to complement Stephen’s growing understanding of animals and animal welfare especially comes in handy when they are building out their infrastructure. Online forums, podcasts, and Facebook groups can only take you so far when you are trying to control the temperature of a hoop house out in the sun, day in and day out.
So instead, Stephen and his dad figured out how to build a mobile chicken brooder with thermostatically controlled heat lamps. “He’s got a lot of experience in how things work mechanically,” Stephen said. “Whether it’s heat or airflow throughout the brooder. He helped me position the fans for maximum airflow.”
In addition to his girlfriend and his father, Stephen notes one more partner who has helped him grow his entrepreneurial dream: Walden members like you. “We’ve been able to build the infrastructure we needed to build and know that money was going to be there,” he said. “A lot of times you’re building things on speculation, going to farmer’s markets—you never know what’s really going to sell. With Walden, I have the opportunity to build up and learn and really fine-tune everything.”
For now, Stephen takes pleasure in expanding his animal operation, to which he’s looking to add turkeys soon. He also loves to talk with customers, many of whom remember how chicken used to taste. “I get really excited and I’m able to tell them, the chicken industry has really changed over time. That’s why you’re not tasting chicken as you used to when you were a kid,” Stephen said. “Now we’re bringing it back and seeing the results. People are getting energized again about food that tastes good, and that’s good for you.”