Janice Alamillo grew up loving animals and the rural lifestyle.
As a child in Moraga in the 1970s, she lived on a 2,000-acre property, cared for her own horse and watched her family members deliver baby cows on their farm.
She says it was like "an old fashioned Little House on the Prairie."
Now, the 43-year-old lives in a suburban Alamo neighborhood and is a practicing emergency room nurse, wife of construction company owner Larry Alamillo and mother of three children, Lauren, 11, Simon, 9, and Trevor, 6.
But Janice still has that little farm girl in her—she and her family own 68 chickens. They were born in August and will begin laying eggs in January, products that will be sold at in a new Alamillo family business venture, Alamo Farms.
Janice said the decision to start the business was not economically driven. Rather, it's a fun activity for the family that will teach her children about work, caring for animals and living a simpler life.
"It teaches a good lesson about how hard work pays off," she said.
The Alamillos first became chicken owners four years ago and enjoyed eating the birds' large, fresh brown eggs. A few years later, Janice said she thought about starting a business and made her final decision after owner John Bellandi encouraged her to do so.
"We thought, why not make a business out of this and have a little fun with it?" she said.
To prepare their property for the farm, the Alamillos transformed the dog run that had previously been installed on their property into an indoor coop with a roosting ladder and nesting boxes.
They added a caged feeding area and contained range, where chickens can roam and play on trees. Insulation and heat lamps were installed in the coop and organic feed was purchased for the chickens.
Getting the business up and running required the Alamillos to obtain an egg handler's license from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, open business bank accounts and order cartons and labels. While the eggs will be local and free-range, as well as meet all organic requirements, Janice said she chose not to certify them as organic due to the level of fees and inspections involved.
She said their start-up costs were approximately $2,000. Since their estimated annual profits will be only around $6,000, Janice said Alamo Farms is exempt from acquiring a business license and will operate under Bellandi's business.
Come January, the whole family will pitch in daily to keep Alamo Farms eggs rolling out their doors. Every day, the kids will help their parents collect, inspect, disinfect, dry, package and refrigerate the eggs. Then Janice will take a daily shipment of eggs (five dozen) over to Alamo Hay and Grain to be sold.
"It'll probably be like an assembly line," Janice said.
Janice said the eggs will sell for $6 a dozen, which she says is well worth the price considering their quality.
"The thing about our eggs is you could probably buy a dozen organic eggs at Whole Foods for $4.99, but they may have been laid a month ago," she said. "Ours are sold within a few days of being laid and that means freshness, quality, nutrition, everything."
Janice said other families in her neighborhood, who also enjoy caring for livestock, are "thrilled" about Alamo Farms.
"They're so excited," she said. "One neighbor joked, 'When are you going to expand? Because I want some bacon with my eggs!' The people to the left of us have three horses … it's a ranch farm neighborhood."
According to the Contra Costa County Department of Conservation and Development, the Alamillos' property is zoned R-40 (single family residential district). Permitted R-40 uses include: "Small farming; including the raising of poultry and rabbits or other grain-fed rodents, primarily for home consumption."
When asked if land use regulations could potentially interfere with her venture, Janice said her property is zoned for livestock and since she is exempt from a business license requirement, she's technically not operating a business on her property. She also said her family plans to eat a number of the eggs themselves.
Janice said she hopes the business will help instill values in her children about nutrition, dedication and simplicity.
"It's a fun cycle, and I hope the whole process is fun for them," she said. "Who knows where it will go from here? Maybe they'll join 4-H when they're older. It's exposing them to something different."