Nguyens ‘make a mark’ for family with farm
By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
GEORGETOWN, Del. (March 3, 2017) — If Jim and Samantha Nguyen had experienced a better home buying experience in Northern Virginia, they probably wouldn’t be chicken farming in Delaware now.
Searching for a home to buy in metropolitan Washington, the couple said even when they offered more than they were really comfortable paying, they were repeatedly outbid.
The experience gave them pause about putting down their roots in the suburbs and for Jim it was the final push he needed to pursue his dream of owning a farm.
“We decided, ‘You know what, why don’t we put our money instead of into a home, into a business.”’
Jim said he considered beef cattle initially but having some relatives who raised chickens, and seeing a lot more local information about growing poultry on contract, he focused on buying land for chicken farming. With two children then, Jim said the move was for them as much as for him.
“We decided we wanted to have a different life and make them more aware of agriculture and what Mother Nature has to offer,” he said.
Finding a farm that fit their situation proved to be no easy task either, Jim said. Existing farms they looked at were either too big or needed too much improvement to run at a profit and parcels of land that matched their needs didn’t readily emerge either.
After an intense period of searching, they started to think that plan might not pan out either.
“It was kind of rough,” he said. “We basically gave up.”
Then about a month later, after their third child was born, Jim’s broker phoned him and said a property they had looked at, had a contract issue and thought they could get it.
That turned out to be the 34-acre parcel the Nguyens bought and then built a house for the family and three poultry houses growing for Amick Farms. After breaking ground on the poultry houses in October of 2015 they endured a six-month delay due to weather.
“Nobody could work,” he said. “It just wouldn’t stop raining.” That put strain on the family, with Samantha and children biding time in Virginia, and Jim either staying with an aunt in Parsonsburg, Md., or camping in the woods on the property while doing construction on their home.
“It was actually a rough haul for about eight months,” he said.
But looking back, Jim is quick to say it was “all worth it.”
Jim said he caught the faming bug when he visited relatives in Vietnam as a teenager.
During the Vietnam war, Jim’s father and family narrowly escaped the country and were taken in by a parish in Vienna, Va. Jim said for him now to own a farm and run his own business is important to the family.
“We wanted to make a mark here, be around agriculture an live the real American dream,” Jim said. “We’re proud of our culture and proud of being American citizens. It means a lot to our family.”
In June last year, they moved into to their new home on the farm, in August, the first flock of chicks arrived.
Jim and Samantha said they worked together on each flock, learning as they went and making adjustments.
“We made it a point that the two of us could each master everything,” Jim said. “When we learn it here, I think it makes us that much better as growers.”
Before chicken farming, Jim worked in building maintenance and in his family’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning business.
Previous to that he was the chief engineer of a multi-use residential and commercial high-rise building.
He said he draws on his mechanical experience often in keeping the houses operating smoothly.
“That kind of started the foundation of understanding the controllers for the chicken houses,” he said.
Now he said he’s putting a big focus on litter management. He windrows litter between flocks as a management tool but said there’s a lot of nuance to getting the best results and, in general, knowing what to look for can be challenging as a new grower.
“If you have good litter management, you’ll have good birds,” Jim said. “That’s what the old timers have told me.”
In establishing the farm, Jim had a one-acre pond dug and had swales installed to divert all the runoff from the poultry houses, planted a tree buffer between the houses and the pond and plans to plant trees around the rest of the houses this year.
He credited neighboring farm families in providing substantial help in getting the farm in order to meet state stormwater regulations.
Fruit trees were planted around the farm for feeding wildlife and Jim recently stocked the pond with small mouth bass, sunfish and catfish.
“We’re huge into just keeping everything in a balance,” Jim said.
After composting mortalities in a pile under a tarp, Jim opted to get freezers to hold the culled birds through the flock’s growth, an easy choice, he said, looking back.
Their efforts in land stewardship got the farm recognized during Delaware Agriculture Week in January as a runner-up in the state’s environmental stewardship award program.