The factory at the end of the driveway

Kyleseggs2When most people are still asleep, Kyle Gardner heads out to his chicken coop to feed, water and care for his growing flock before heading off to school. Every night he makes sure they’re fed, watered and safe.

It can make for some long hours, but for this would-be entrepreneur, it’s just another day at the factory.

Kyle’s Egg Factory — the eponymous farm stand operated by Kyle Gardner, a 20-year-old with autism from Enfield — provides customers with fresh eggs and vegetables, and Gardner with a mission he loves.

“When COVID started and remote learning happened, we decided Kyle needed more to fill his day,” his mother, Lisa Gardner said. “He doesn’t do well with downtime. He starts to pace and get very antsy about what he should be doing. A lot of his schooling was ‘vo-tech’ — going out and doing small jobs and things like that at school, so we thought, ‘he enjoys chickens and collecting eggs so much, let’s start a roadside stand.’”

Kyle, whose functional language skills are limited, saw his idea take off. Though it started with just a few extra dozen eggs in the beginning, a steady stream of traffic along Lockehaven Road, where the family lives, ensured a flow of potential customers.

“He sold his eggs really well there,” Lisa Gardner says. “Then he started selling surplus vegetables from his grandparents’ farm — Sunset Harvest Farm. They’d give him zucchini or summer squash or cucumber, and he picked cherry tomatoes.”

Kyle was in the Mascoma School District, but found a good fit at the Spaulding Youth Center, in Tilton. “It’s been a wonderful school for him,” Lisa said.

However, he’ll soon age out at age 21, so his family began helping him plan for an expansion at Kyle’s Egg Factory.

That’s where the New Hampshire Council on Developmental Disabilities (NHCDD) comes in.

Lisa wrote a grant letter on behalf of Kyle to the NHCDD, which provides small grants for community projects and educational programs as part of its Council for its Employment and Post-Secondary Education Goals program. She explained how Kyle is essentially nonverbal and low-functioning, but loves animals and enjoyed tending a small flock and caring for baby chicks.

“He learned to feed, water, collect eggs, wash eggs, count how many he collected and notice how many eggs he needed still to fill up his carton,” Lisa wrote to the Council. “He even started to deliver eggs to a local neighbor on a regular basis. He took great pride in collecting his money and saving it in his wallet to then buy food and other supplies for his chickens.”

The goal: to grow the flock, and the business. Not long after sending the letter, the Gardners learned they would be awarded a grant. Now, Kyle’s Egg Factory would have more helpers — 30 new young pullets ready to lay this spring.

With the flock count now up to 52, the little wood and wire stand with the tin roof, red cooler, coffee can and American flag at the end of the family’s driveway would soon expand.

“On Saturday he collects eggs all day,” Lisa says. “He checks back with them about five times a day. He watches to see if they’re on the nest and then he’ll go back and check — he’s really good about getting eggs into cartons. He enjoys figuring out how many more he’ll need to make a dozen. He’ll say, ‘three more eggs,’ or ‘seven eggs.’ He likes counting and arranging them in cartons.”

Kyle’s Egg Factory now has a diverse feathered team consisting of chicken breeds such as Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Golden Lace Wyandottes and Barred Rocks, among others.

“He has one Ameraucana that lays a blue egg that he thinks is very exciting,” Lisa says. “He calls it his rainbow egg.”

The original smaller flock, which was housed in a converted treehouse, was a bit more personalized (Lisa claimed naming rights to the original collection of fowl). The new birds, however, whose home is in a newly built chicken coop, are grouped by breed, and categorized by nicknames such as Buffys (Buff Orpingtons) and Barbies (Barred Rocks).

Kyle has also learned to keep the flock safe. The family lives in a rural area, which means nocturnal visitors may drop by looking for a free chicken dinner. While the chickens were once free-range, a curious bear and a wily weasel have necessitated keeping them penned now, and protected by an electric fence.

When he’s not caring for his chickens and building a small business, Kyle enjoys swimming, riding his bike and fishing — a pastime he enjoys at Grafton Pond, Crystal Lake and with his cousin at Orange Pond — which may very likely lead to new offerings at the stand.

“We’re thinking he could expand it even more,” Lisa says. “He likes to fish, so he could sell bait out there, too.

“He also enjoys cooking — and eating it, of course. That’s his favorite part. He says he’s the greatest chef in the world — I think he gets it from ‘Ratatouille.’”

He also keeps books in his “library,” and even wrote one about how he wanted to one day be a farmer, and how he wanted to one day own goats and chickens.

“He’s been very excited,” Lisa says. “It feels like a business because he can see it. He’s very visual, very tactile. He can see that it’s his and it makes sense to him.”

Kyle also counts on some assistance from his family. In addition to his mom, Lisa, a paraeducator who has worked in the Mascoma School District for 18 years and who currently works with second-graders at the Enfield Village School, he is helped by a 22-year-old brother, Brandon, and his father, Russell.

“We were all so happy the NHCDD approved the grant,” Lisa says. “So much so that we’ve filled out a second grant that would help Kyle get more chickens for his egg factory. It was the first time they ever wrote a grant for chickens, but that’s really where his heart is. He really loves animals.”

Employment and Post-Secondary Education Goals  

The Council provides grants of up to $1,000 to support individual projects that support employment or post-secondary education goals which are related to the Council’s five-year plan.

  • Grants requests are usually considered bi-monthly by the Council’s Program and Planning committee, subject to available funds. Applicants may check the Council’s website or contact the Council office for the meeting schedule. Applications should be submitted at least 30 days prior to the meeting event date.
  • All grant proposals must help achieve one or more goals and objectives in the Council’s five-year plan, which must be identified in the application.
  • Only fully completed applications will be reviewed by the committee.
  • The Council may identify the goals and objectives in its plan that are of highest priority and give preference or limit consideration to applications for projects that address those goals and objectives.
  • Applications must include all information requested on the application form in order to be considered.
  • Preference is given to projects with the following characteristics:

— People with disabilities are pursuing integrated paid employment or post-secondary education.

— People with disabilities are exercising personal choice and desire to take part in activity.

— People with and without disabilities are engaged in activities together in integrated settings.

— People with disabilities play a significant role in the planning of the project.

— A plan is in place to evaluate the effectiveness and outcomes of the project and the applicant is willing to share the results with the Council.

— The project does not have other sources of funding available that are sufficient to carry out the project.

For more information about the grants or an application, call 271-7040 or email mailto:grants@nhcdd.us.

Categories: Autism, Stepping Stones NH