BY JOSH CAUDILL
Pulling into the yellow farmhouse off Jacks Creek Pike, the first sound you’ll hear is roosters crowing. Chickens, geese, Alpacas, sheep and a couple of dogs roam the farm. Ducks are gliding in and out of the pond. There’s even a horse and a mini-horse…and a donkey. It’s quite the diverse barnyard.
Mulberries, nut trees, berry bushes, raspberries, gooseberries, currants, blueberries, juneberries are all presided over by Dixie, the Great Pyrenees.
Although not far from town, it feels far-removed from the hustle and bustle of city culture. The agrarian setting shimmers with pastoral charm even before the family comes out to greet guests, holding a carton of duck eggs.
The farm is home to Annabelle and Michael’s Eggs, a local brother and sister-run company, who are among Lexington’s youngest entrepreneurs. Michael (13) and Annabelle (11) began homesteading on their farm with their parents, Lynn and Bob Rushing, six years ago, and now supply restaurants and other farms with their eggs.
“Years ago, if you didn’t grow it yourself or you didn’t have your own chickens, your own ducks, your own geese, you got it from your neighbor or you bartered, you gave them butter — that’s how we fed ourselves before supermarkets,” Lynn said.
“What I like is, by buying local, we are not just keeping the money in the local economy, we are getting a more intimate relationship with who is providing our nutrients and then also, getting a fresher product. You can see behind the veil. There’s no funky ‘Oz.’ This really is free range, this really is grass-fed, this really is a chicken doing what a chicken wants to do. It is a different egg and far excels in the look, deliciousness, the nutritious, being nutrient dense but it’s also paying homage to this chicken that laid that egg because she really does have a great life.”
According to Lynn, the origin for Annabelle and Michael’s Eggs came when they were living in a subdivision and her husband found this farm. They started in a homesteading environment and were just looking at ways they could feed themselves with fruits and nuts, and then the chickens came along.
They started out with a couple of chicks from the school incubation project — which soon turned into a realization about how delicious these eggs were — and from there, the organic farmers knew this would be a business the children could run themselves. Church was their first stop when it came to finding a viable market, and then they realized they needed their egg handler’s license to be able to expand, so the kids went to egg handler school and it took off.
“Being a business owner and being capable of providing an atmosphere for a strong family unit. That’s what I think is important in where we are as a farm and as a business with Annabelle and Michael’s Eggs,” Lynn said. “That’s part of our farm and part of our lifestyle. The lifestyle revolves a lot around care tending animals.”
A number of clients come and visit for duck eggs, goose eggs, and chicken eggs. For many years, the Rushing family has sold at the Good Food Co-op and For Pete’s Sake farm as well as many other clients.
One of the neighborhood clients that Annabelle and Michael’s Eggs supplies is Hamburg’s Ramsey’s Country Store. When manager Ashley Mason was looking for the best local eggs online one day, she stumbled upon the brother-sister team.
“It was a fluke. I got online and looked for local eggs and it brought up Michael and Annabelle, when I contacted them I found out it was two little kids,” Mason said. “Annabelle was nine at the time and Michael was eleven, they’re wonderful kids and little entrepreneurs. I can call them up, and they will deliver the eggs that day. It’s crazy sounding, but the eggs are still warm.”
“This really is free range, this really is grass-fed, this really is a chicken doing what a chicken wants to do.”
The attention to detail that Annabelle and Michael have come to emphasize in the quality of their business and their relationships with customers are well-advanced for someone their age.
At 11 and 13, Annabelle and Michael understand the concept of business and more importantly, the concept of generosity. Most kids would do chores for maybe a toy or an electronic device but these kids use their money from their business account for their organic feed for the chickens, ducks and geese and on other things.
“To pay the expenses, tithe to our church, donate to McConathy Farm, Lexington Humane Society, Kentucky Equine Humane Center and military missions.” Annabelle said. “For fun money, we get to do Scouts and fun activities like camping.”
Michael and Annabelle are homeschooled by their mother, allowing them to balance their day with farm life and learning. They read four hours a day, make frequent trips to the library, and seek out fun learning adventures. They recently went to Fort Boonesborough, took a culinary class, attended bee school, and went to goat school.
“We got a lot of time when we’re not doing homeschool,” Michael said. “We’re not sitting at a desk all day.”
They take flying lessons, horseback riding lessons, martial arts, and help with seniors. They’re also very involved at Walnut Hill Church and Michael is a First Class Scout in the Boy Scouts of America, traveling all over (he even slept on an aircraft carrier in South Carolina).
One of the most important things to the Rushing family is the military and honoring veterans. They participate in Honor Flight, a non-profit organization. Ever since the Rushings got involved through Michael’s Boys Scouts group, it has become a family affair.
In addition, they work with Military Missions who package containers to ship off to active duty. The family spends a lot of time packing especially before Christmas where these gift boxes will include handwritten cards, bibles, snacks and toilet paper.
“Giving to our service men and paying our respects. We’ve even hopped out of the car at a red light to salute a veteran that was parked in front of us,” Lynn said. “We try to spring it on them and show them kindness and love any way that we can.”
At Annabelle and Michael’s Eggs, they have a generous policy for veterans. As Michael tells it, there was that one time where they were selling a few roosters to a guy. He told Michael and Annabelle that he had been an enlisted guy in a submarine during the Cold War and shared some funny stories. And because he was a veteran, the children gave him his roosters for free.
“I just like to see the look on people’s faces when you do something and they’re totally amazed,” Michael said. “I think we owe veterans a lot because they did stuff that not everyone can do and they gave up many years of their life to do it.”
Annabelle makes sure every animal on the farm has a name, and spends a lot of time talking to her rabbits, all 22 of them, taking care of her favorite,“Kit Kat” and tending to the chickens, while doing all of her other farm chores before breakfast.
Her connection to the animals is always evident. Annabelle has brought along baby bunnies when delivering egg orders, and then there was that time where the family found a young gosling with a lame leg. They gave up a bathroom in the house so it could use the tub for water therapy. They named her “Gloria” after the receptionist at their veterinary clinic. Annabelle would carry it around everywhere and it even slept beside her bed in a laundry basket.
It’s no surprise that Annabelle’s long-term plans consist of having a large farm and rescuing animals. The siblings are already saving money to purchase more farmland and have even discussed who gets which animals.
But Michael wishes he could have had some additional help. “I want to work a big farm. The only problem is, my mom only had two kids. She should have had like 20 because we have plenty of room,” Michael said. “We could have had a baseball team.”
Two siblings running a business could cause conflict for some but Annabelle and Michael understand their daily tasks and play to their strong suits. Annabelle collects the eggs, cleans the eggs, and packages the eggs. Michael is usually the one who does the feeding and keeps the chickens, ducks and geese alive long enough to lay the eggs. They each have a side of the garden to take care of.
But they’re still brother and sister and it’s amusing to listen to them discuss their working relationship in a way that one would expect from young siblings. She smirks as she admits that “Sometimes it can get off course.”
Her brother casually expresses the benefits of the relationship, “If she wasn’t around, I would have to do her chores,” Michael said.
Angie Quigley, who runs For Pete’s Sake Farm, met Lynn at a neighborhood meeting for an herbal field realized she was a neighbor that was also interested in farming. While Lynn specialized in eggs, Quigley’s farm was vegetables and herbs. They developed a partnership from that and she witnessed the growth in Lynn’s children over the years in character and in harvesting. It brings back fond memories for Quigley.
“They remind me of my father and his generation. I grew up in the country and we didn’t have all the chores obviously that Michael and Annabelle have now but my dad’s generation, that’s what they did. They lived in the country, they had their own animals, they had large gardens so it wasn’t even a chore, it was a matter of survival and a daily practice of sustainability,” Quigley said.
“They’re very responsible, very smart, constantly learning, constantly reading books about the farm, about how to protect their flock from predators. They’re enthusiastic about their jobs. They love what they do. They don’t think there is anything abnormal about it so I don’t even know if they consider themselves entrepreneurs. They just consider themselves productive human beings on the planet.”
The two know how to weave, they learn basic skills and common sense tasks like doing dishes, washing and folding clothes. They cook and know food prep. Michael can make a loaf of bread and Annabelle woke up on her birthday last year and made a cake, cookies, and biscuits from scratch.
“It’s a joyful life,” Lynn says. “I’m thankful that my kids can feel free to bake a cake and know how to bake a cake. Life skills, how to be honest, how to be honorable, how to be giving, how to be thankful, those are things that I think are important in raising kids.”
This article also appears on page 8 of the April 2018 print edition of Hamburg Journal.
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