By Austin Price
Kenny Johnson was a part of the music scene in Austin before he took his creativity to the homestead life. He started out playing grunge — “It was the 90’s” — before managing a restaurant for nine years. Today he runs a pasture-raised egg farm called Happy Chick Farms with his wife Stephanie and two children, Nevin and Emma, ages 8 and 3 respectively. As with any small farmer, the struggles with Mother Nature have been real and arduous. When asked what sort of music describes his life today, Kenny shakes his head and answers with a laugh: “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”
The farming life doesn’t come easy, particularly to the small family man who wants to do things right for his chickens as well as the consumers.
Kenny tells story after story of his hardships. There’s the time when 1,800 pullets — adolescent hens — didn’t make it back to their coops the night of a rare Central-Texas-snowstorm. Kenny had to get out of bed to single-handedly pick up each bird and put her inside so she wouldn’t freeze to death. Another time, he had to feed his chickens while suffering a stomach bug. “It was one of the worst days of my life,” he says, recalling how he dragged through a hour-and-a-half process made longer by steady vomiting and heavy lifting.
And on top of it all, he threw out his back.
“You lose it, you completely lose it,” says Kenny. “You get beyond your capabilities. I’ve pushed myself way beyond my limits. Mentally, physically, the whole gambit.”
For years, he has worked through his pain. “I couldn’t stop because I have kids, and everything that we had done would have been for naught. I had two retirement accounts and cashed them both in for this place. I was not gonna let my back take it all away. And of course we don’t have healthcare because the government sucks.”
“This is why we need nonprofits like Farmgrass,” he says. Last year, Kenny applied for and received a grant from GroACT’s emergency medical fund to help with his back. This grant was made possible by the proceeds from Farmgrass Fest and the many farm and music lovers that support the work of people like Kenny.
The Johnsons stand as an example of why the small family farm is needed in this part of Texas — where our cities, as well as our farms, are rapidly growing.
“We’re artists, musicians. We’re creative when we need to be, and we really do make it work,” he says. He explains the joy of farming: “I spend a lot of time with my kids. We have breakfast every morning together. We host a market every other week for the community, with about 130 families involved, that come out and get fresh milk, cheeses, honey from other local farms. Grass-fed beef, pork sometimes. It’s a life unlike the one I grew up in, and it’s amazing.”
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