ZACHARY, LA (WAFB) - It's another day at Yardbird Farms in Zachary. Yasin and Elaine Muhaimin are letting out the family hens and roosters for a day of foraging in the woods.
Elaine said, "These are actually my children..." as she opened the chicken coop door. Fluffy hens of beautiful colors came spilling out with the occasional rooster. Elaine explains that she and Yasin have raised every one of these adult chickens from birth.
The Muhaimin's story stretches back to 2005. "I was a teacher, and a network administrator, and instructional coordinator with Orleans Parish Schools all this was prior to Hurricane Katrina," Yasin said. Forced from his school system job, the Muhaimins left New Orleans and moved to a 13-acre farm in Zachary. At Southern University, they studied HOW to be farmers. They credit Southern with being extremely helpful in their effort. They've attended seminars and workshops and seek every new expertise they can find.
Yasin said, "It started off rough, like we started off with 50 chickens. We didn't know what it would take." Elaine added, "It was a challenge, but we got it." She giggled.
The heritage hens' eggs are not Yardbird Farm's main business however. The Muhaimins raise "pastured poultry", in other words, happy chickens that you cook.
As WAFB's Donna Britt is visiting, some juvenile chicks have brooded in a coop with heat lamps until they grow all their protective feathers.
The Muhaimins tell Donna that a group of chicks are graduated to grass-grazing that very day!
They load crates of chickens and water and food dispensers. The Food kegs hold the nutritious grain that Elaine concocts and is produced by a mill in Kentwood
The chicks are clucking excitedly as their crates are pulled out of the pickup truck and brought inside a screen pen with a canvas roof. The Muhaimins move the birds one at a time into their new grassy place, and the chicks sense grass for the first time.
The Muhaimins have 13 acres and use that land to keep their organic chicks in very clean pen environs at all times. Yasin said their pens are moved every day, "We pull it one cage length, then they're out of yesterday's excrement and on clean grass."
Donna joked, "You also have very green grass!" They all laughed.
The Muhamins say they are permitted by the State for 20-thousand chickens but they keep it between 2 and 5,000 so that two people can take care of it all.
They're proudly growing more and more things for their own family. A hot house has fresh young plants. The Muhaimins admitted that starting a farm was taking a big risk.
Next 9News moved from a hot house to a backyard of a home in Bocage subdivision. Liz Holloway, Bocage resident, is also owner of Bocage Honey, and plants special foliage in her yard for her bees.
Liz points to a plant and says"It smells like your grandmother's linen closet."
Holloway's first career was as an actress with producer Joe Papp's Theater Companies. She's a native of Maringuoin Louisiana and returned to Louisiana to sink her money into bees.
As she walks Donna and the 9News photographer back to the hives, she says, "We've got a lot of really nice honey back there right now. It'll be the last pull for the year, because we have to leave them a minimum 60 pounds for the winter. After all, honey is what the bees eat!"
As an employee spreads the smoke that will make the bees sleepy and non-aggressive, Liz explains that she actually has six locations and will soon add others where she collects honey. Hollyway treats honey like fine wine and emphasizes their diverse flavors.
She says Bocage Honey is the only company that does keep it all separated, "Labor intensive like crazy, but all other beekeepers mix their honey altogether. We don't do that."
Holloway took her company vertical with a store on Lobdell next to Rocco's Poboys. Bocage Honey sells products made from her bee hives, candles, balms, creams.
Donna Britt tries all the flavors of honey, including Bayou Blue from a grove of Tupelo Trees. A "Bud's melon patch" is where bees grazed on cantaloupe or watermelon.
A jar on the counter holds small tester plastic spoons "So you can sample honey like gelato! " Donna says.
Holloway says her store is beginning its third year. And though she's been selling honey longer, she's just now hoping to break even or even make a profit on her honey store.
Britt points out that Liz has employees who can help her lift heavy bee trays, so that theoretically Liz could work into her 90's.
Britt says the risk involved in what these two "farmers" have done is greater than you may think. The State Agriculture Department and the LSU Ag Center both confirmed the trend of white-collar to farm, but had no stats. The Red Stick Farmer's Market had plenty. Of the five farmers who abandoned desk jobs and are working, there were five more who failed and are already back working in an office.
The bottom line is proceed with care.