By Isaac Bonnell
Scratch and Peck
Owner: Diana Ambauen-Meade
Start date: Aug. 23
Square feet: 4,800
Address: 3883 Hammer Drive
Diana Ambauen-Meade raised chickens in her backyard long before the phrase “urban farmer” came about. But she balked at feeding her flock the regular pellet food she found in stores.
So she started making her own chicken feed by mixing various whole grains to create the right blend for her hens.
“It was always something I did for my own chickens,” she said. “I’ve never bought feed for my chickens.”
Now that urban farming is becoming more common, she sees a market waiting to take flight. So she started Scratch and Peck to make organic feed for chickens, turkeys, goats and any other backyard farm animal.
Ambauen-Meade is no stranger to the business world. She previously ran a used book store in California, and was a mortgage broker during the boom years. Then she decided she wanted to do something that was more in line with her values. Word of her whole grain chicken feed had spread and she found herself making large batches for friends.
“I started meeting more people with chickens and they asked if I could make some chicken feed for them too,” Ambauen-Meade said. “For my first ton, I borrowed my neighbor’s cement mixer. It wasn’t easy, but it worked.”
When she first started the business in June 2009 she worked with a mill in Oregon to produce the precise mixture of whole grain chicken feed. Through posts on Craigslist and word of mouth, sales quickly rose to more than 5 tons a month in direct sales to customers from Bellingham to Olympia.
But Ambauen-Meade wasn’t satisfied with the business model. There was too much transportation involved and she wanted to get her ingredients from local sources. So she decided the best option was to build her own mill.
She found the right space in Irongate back in April and has spent the past few months installing a refurbished grain hopper, elevator, mixer and hammer mill. The facility is a huge step up from the cement mixer Ambauen-Meade used for that first batch.
“There are no little amounts around here — everything comes in one-ton bags,” she said. “Most of our blends will run in a 2-ton batch and we’ll sell them in 25-pound, 40-pound and 50-pound bags. Our challenge will be having enough storage space for all our grain.”
Scratch and Peck chicken feed will be for sale at the mill and also at Portal Way Farm & Garden, Lynden Farm & Garden, Kelly Ridge Farm & Garden and Hohl’s Feed & Seed. When combined with existing demand, Ambauen-Meade expects production to reach 50 tons per month by the end of the year.
Though the mill isn’t certified organic yet (that process can take up to four months) all of the ingredients come from certified organic farms, Ambauen-Meade said. And all of the wheat, triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye) and barley are from local farms.
With local and organic ingredients, Ambauen-Meade knows her product isn’t the cheapest on the market, but she is targeting the growing number of urban farmers who are concerned about what goes into the food they eat.
“You are what your animals eat,” she said. “My feed isn’t going to be the cheapest out there, but I feel good about the product and the way it’s produced.”
The best part about making chicken feed, Ambauen-Meade said, is getting to meet other people who raise chickens.
“People who raised chickens are just really neat people,” she said.