“How about we start a subscription club?” I suggested to Sandra. “We could invite locals to sign up for a weekly box, delivered to their door, which they pay for monthly and, in return for their commitment, give them a little discount on the eggs. We could all it Egg Club!” While I was particularly pleased with the idea, I was even more delighted with the name, dreaming it would become the coolest little club in town. Sandra agreed we should give it a go and so one evening we put out a post on social media inviting people to join. At the point of launch, I began to feel really nervous.
‘Do you think anyone will sign up? I mean we think it’s a great idea, but do you think anyone else will?’
‘Look calm down, OK. Let’s just give this a go and see what happens. It might just take a bit of time.’
Sandra has always been the steady ship between us as I bob around like a dinghy trying to navigate what can sometimes be a storm in a teacup. My impatience wants immediate results and when they don’t happen, I always think the worst and I don’t know why as panic can then start to set in. Sandra, on the other hand, is much more pragmatic and calm, keeping a grounded head as I huff and puff, usually completely unnecessarily. And this situation was no different from many that had gone before or would come after.
A number of our friends were immediate sign-ups as well as quite a few folks we didn’t know, which was really exciting and evidence that word of our work was beginning to ripple through the local community. After two weeks, our subscriptions were all full and we were thrilled...
The night before our first deliveries, I had a list of all the new members and where they lived so I could plan the most straightforward delivery route around the town, estimating that it would take about an hour to get round every house. Sandra had been preparing the boxes we would need throughout the week. With hens that lay blue, white, green and all shades of brown colours, she would carefully fill every bod, checking each egg from that day’s collection fro cracks or blemishes and mixing the colours up so that customers would get a rainbow selection. It was the very antithesis of mass processing where Radio 4 would be playing in the background as she took her time to make the look as presentable as possible.
On the first delivery day Sandra stayed on the croft to work on chores as I spent a little extra time on my rounds getting to know our new customers. Upon my return, it became apparent that the estimation of an hour per full delivery round had been grossly underestimated. It wasn’t that we had miscalculated the route, it was that the length of ‘talking time’ had not been taken into account, those few minutes when the customer sees you arriving and comes out for a friendly chat to converse on weekly happenings. As a result, deliveries were actually taking between two to three hours as I would have different catch-ups with different customers, not to mention the conversations with people I would bump into on the street or local shops while picking up some shopping in between. Although this wasn’t the ‘quick and efficient’ route we had planned, those two to three hours were some of the best invested and most enjoyable times of the week, getting to know our new members as they got to know us, building that bridge between their food and their farmer.
There was one customer in particular who lived in a first-floor flat, a lady we had never met before. I found the building and pressed the buzzer. “Hello,” came the greeting through the crackly intercom. “Egg Club,” came my reply. It was the first thing that came to mind to say, which came out in a sort of sing-song lilt. “Oh, hello!” was the response, said in a way that you can hear someone smiling as they speak. I pushed the door open into the dark stairwell as she let me in and we met half way up, spending a few minutes chatting and getting to know one another. This is one of the lovely Egg Club traditions that has continued to this day.
Not only were we starting to get produce out weekly, we were seeing money coming into our bank account monthly. It was only a small amount but it was a step in the right direction to replacing our dwindling external income. To save a little more, I decided to try delivering eggs by bike. I could just about fit twenty-five or so boxes into my backpack and with a couple of paniers, another eight in each. The road to Grantown, which fortunately is mostly downhill, was always a stressful ride as I cautiously navigated around every pothole and tiny lump and bump, acutely aware of my delicate cargo. I think Sandra thought I was a little mad, in some ways feeling just as anxious as she watched me pusht he bike up our stone track to the main road. But she just let me get on with it, knowing that if we could save any pennies at all, it would be worth a try.
One day, I had propped the bike on its stand as I walked over to chat with a customer. It was quite a windy day but I had become so distracted that I didn’t take due care to properly check how steady it was. A few seconds later I heard a belly-sinking crash, accompanied by the musical ding of my bicycle bell. I knew immediately what had happened. The bike had toppled over, crushing eight boxes of eggs and leaving me short for that day’s deliveries. I called Sandra.
“Do we have eight spare boxes of eggs and, if so, can you bring down and meet me in town?”
The long, silent pause that followed my explanation said it all.
“Okay, I’m on my way.”
Even though I knew she was annoyed, she didn’t give me a hard time, knowing exactly what I had been trying to achieve. But we agreed from that point on that eggs on wheels would be much safer delivered on four rather than two.
The following excerpt is from Lynn Cassells’ and Sandra Baer’s new book, Our Wild Farming Life: Adventures on a Scottish Highland Croft (Chelsea Green Publishing, March 2022), and is reprinted with permission from the publisher.