By Rebecca Persons
Photography by Pauline Stevens
On Milagro Farm, just outside of Austin, farmers Kris and Amy Olsen’s two large chicken coops sit perpendicular to each other—one facing a serene pond filled with bass and the other facing a garden waiting to sprout its winter bounty. The humming and chirping from the ladies inside the coops begin to rise as we approach; then, all of a sudden, we’re engulfed in a yellow blur of 500 two-week-old baby chicks.
Avery, the Olsens’ spirited four-year-old, plucks up a chick and effortlessly balances it on top of her head. “Avery is usually found with a chicken tucked in her dress, carrying it around in her pockets, kissing chickens, holding chickens, hugging chickens,” says Amy.
Chickens are simply part of the family around here, and customers who clamor for the Olsens’ fresh eggs often ask what makes them taste so good. But it’s not an old family secret; it’s just good tending. Kris feeds, monitors and raises every chicken they have, by hand. “I do all the labor but Amy’s the big thinker,” he says. “I work hard; she works smart.”
That hard work was partly inspired by Kris’s fond memories of being a Boy Scout, where an intense love for the natural world and living off of the land emerged. The interest continued to grow as he became an adult, and eventually led to survivalist periods where Kris challenged himself to live alone in the wilderness—sometimes up to 40 days with only a fanny pack and his hands for tools.
He took the skills he’d learned during these adventures and shared them with game wardens, hunting guides and sheriffs, but he still yearned for another way to connect people with the natural world he loved so much. It wasn’t until he read the first chapter in Mel Bartholomew’s book, The Square Foot Gardener, that he knew the answer. “A lightbulb went off at that moment in my brain,” he says. “I needed to be a farmer because that was the best way to teach people about nature.”
He had good success with a garden in his mom’s backyard, and eventually landed a gig running a 10-acre farm in Aguanga, California. In two years, that farm expanded from cultivating five to five hundred acres—participating in 23 farmers markets a week and selling to the Whole Foods Market distribution center. “It was a lot of work,” says Kris. “We’d sell over a million dollars a year and we didn’t make money.”
After Kris and Amy married in 2004, making money became more necessary because they wanted to start a family. They moved off the grid, to a modest two-acre farm plot on the side of a mountain about three hours outside of San Diego and became profitable. But the couple soon realized that they were too far from city life and they missed it. They began to search for a place that offered a balance of city and country life, which drew them near Austin to the land that would become their new farm.
Then came the chickens—Amy’s idea. They started out with 30 birds to complement their growing farm. “That first year we did so good,” says Kris. “This land was all virgin; no one had ever farmed it. There were tons of nutrients that made the plants healthy.”
But by the second year, the couple got a feel for Texas’s tempestuous weather. Bugs infiltrated their land and drought left the soil cracked and dry. But one thing remained the same. “During all those times I lost crops,” Kris says, “I noticed the chickens were always producing for us.”
Now with 13 acres of land and experience under their belts, the Olsens’ production line has grown to 2,600 chickens. And it turns out there really is a secret to the taste of those eggs. Kris says the key is irrigating the pastures. Without it, the chickens would be ripping up the dirt or chasing one another. Instead, they eat lush grasses all day, which give them the nutrients and energy they need to create the savory eggs he sells. “It’s what they naturally want to be doing,” he says.
Kris continues to believe in connecting people back to the earth and nature by growing good, nutritious food. This season, it’ll be onions, green garlic, lettuce, chard and beets; in the summer, it’s cherry tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and butternut squash. Their popular eggs, however, are available year-round.
Find Milagro Farm eggs and produce at the SFC Farmers’ Market–Triangle on Wednesdays from 3 to 7 p.m., and at SFC Farmers’ Market–Downtown on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.