Four generations and 4,000 birds: the straight-truth story of one farmer building community and connection.

Not all eggs are the same.

Four generations and 4,000 birds: the straight-truth story of one farmer building community and connection.
Laying hens, Sequatchie Cove Farms, Marion County, Tennessee

"It's hard to farm . . . The only way to make it work is if we work together."

Ever seen a flock of 2,000 chickens?

Ever heard a flock of 2,000 chickens?

It is a pecking orange-brown cloud of feathers, red combs, curved beaks and symphonic cluck-bawk-clucking. Chickens are funny little creatures, waddling around, scratching the ground. It's pastoral, calming and delightful.

The summer sun rises above us at Sequatchie Cove Farm in Marion County, Tennessee. The flock of 2,000 Novogin laying hens is protected by a series of strands of moveable electric fencing. A white Pyrenees moves through the flock with authority of soldier guarding the wall. Full of summer freedom, a boy rides by on an electric dirt bike followed by a pick-up carrying a flat bed of garlic harvested earlier that day.

Kelsey Keener, 35, leans over it all, abiding, head full of all the things a farmer must contemplate and watch.

In that genuine, no bull-shit Keener way, he distills it all into one simple truth:

"It's hard to farm. It's really hard to make a living," he says. "But we need to be doing this. It's an amazing opportunity and lifestyle. The only way to make it work is if we work together."

The Keeners – who've been farming this land for four generations – talk this way. They tell the truth straight, no chaser.

Not all farms are the same.

Not all eggs are the same.

Corporations and factory farms often act in nightmarishly cruel ways, treating animals – glorious, sentient beings – as commodities.

"This factory-mindset, this industrialized factory-mindset, tries to cram nature into that model," Keener continues.

The model is stunningly effective at producing mass and cheap food, but there is a damning cost. The bill always comes, Hemingway wrote.

"What we’re sacrificing in order to get these $1.99 eggs," Keener says. "We’re sacrificing really our entire planet ... The true cost of this food is the toll on our environment and planet. The toll on these horrifying conditions that animals are raised in. The toll on humans."

Kelsey Keener, Marion County, Tennessee

You may not be able to own a flock of 2,000 birds.

Or even 20 birds.

But we can support those who do.

We can buy local eggs from local farmers.

Sure, a dozen may cost $5, even more. No, not everyone can afford it.

But those of us who can?

"Every dollar that we spend and every piece of food we put in our mouth affects our community and affects ourselves," said Jason Bowers, local restauranteur.

Bowers is one of 20 or so restaurant owners who buys Keener eggs.

"We believe in the process in which they raise and take care of their chickens," said Bowers.

The stronger our local farmers, the stronger our local food landscape.

The stronger our local food landscape, the stronger our communities.

Each day, Keener, a pair of farm hands and sometimes his own children collect roughly 210 dozen eggs.

The process takes around five hours. Watering. Feeding. Collecting, cleaning, packaging and storing in a walk-in cooler.

Every Saturday, as his family opens up the farm trading post, he delivers eggs to LUNCH, a Sewanee-restaurant owned by Mallory Grimm (you'll read about her this fall) then onto Nashville, where the eggs are sold at Richland Park Farmers' Market and restaurants. (A complete list is found at the end of this story.)

Every Tuesday, he delivers eggs to Chattanooga stores, restaurants and, thanks to a grant, the Chattanooga Area Food Bank.

Food as a Verb thanks LUNCH in Sewanee for its generous support of local food.

LUNCH is quickly becoming a Sewanee tradition, offering a menu focusing on locally-sourced ingredients, "with an emphasis on seasonality, togetherness, and community."

Every Wednesday, the Keeners sell eggs, produce and meat at the Main St. Farmers' Market.

Every Friday, he delivers more eggs to a dozen or so local restaurants, including The Daily Ration, Bowers's north Chattanooga restaurant.

"Whenever there was the egg shortage, the Keener eggs were actually cheaper than the industrial ones because they hadn’t lost millions of birds due to the flu," said Bowers, who also owns Clever Alehouse, Bitter Alibi and Civil Provisions, a new restaurant on Signal Mountain.

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For Bowers, it's often a fiction that local food costs more.

"You may be surprised at how many items are almost exactly the same price yet, side-by-side quality is astronomically different," he said.

In January 2023, as the avian flu was causing the death of 58 million hens, Time reported claims of price-gouging: "America’s largest egg producer saw a 600% jump in profits in the last quarter alone."

"That’s how much they care about the consumers," Keener said.

Collecting eggs, Sequatchie Cove Farm, Sequatchie Valley, Tennessee

In the early 90s, Jim and Emily Wright bought 300 acres in the Sequatchie Valley; their daughter Miriam and her husband Bill began farming, along with Kelsey.

The farm has grown like a family: Kelsey's wife Ashley, their children, along with Nathan and Padgett Arnold's Sequatchie Cove Creamery. They added interns and employees, like Mattie Sienknecht and Ken Smart, started one of our region's first Community-Supported-Agriculture (CSA) programs, cultivating vegetables that grow best there: purple-hull peas, sweet corn, lettuce, beets, lots of tomatoes.

"When my grandparents first bought this land 30 years ago, none of us around imagined what this place would look like today," he said.

Kelsey is a leader within young Tennessee farmers movement, regularly hosting events – from u-pick to farm meals to presentations to Cumberland Folk School crafting class started by Ashley and her friend Carrol. The farm has seen national press, like the recent film Roots So Deep, mainly because people see the Keeners as practical visionaries, men and women who are grounded in the daily realities of farming, yet also have one eye on what’s possible. 

And what's not.

Four years ago, Kelsey was contemplating the cow-calf route of making money.

"We knew we wanted to farm, but we were working our butts off and making $10,000 a year,” he recalls.

Each market, eggs would sell out. They realized chickens created a closed loop system they could scale up: the flocks would fertilize the grass through rich manure, increasing the capacity of the land. Nearly every part of the hen could be sold or used – Grimm at LUNCH, as example, cooks stew hens and gives broth back to the Keeners, who sell it at market – with little or no waste.

They invested capital in nesting boxes, feed bins and coops. Bought two flocks of 2,000 each.

Now, they gross 73,000 eggs a year.

Feeding hens, Sequatchie Cove Farm, Sequatchie Valley, Tennessee

They decided to call them Wright Eggs, after his grandfather.

"Jim Wright bought the farm. He is the reason we are able to do everything we're able to do," Kelsey said.

Up before the sun, Kelsey has his first cup of coffee, sometimes writes, then a second cup as he makes his rounds: what needs attention first? What's the most pressing job today?

He learned to adjust different rations for different flocks; pullets that haven’t begun to lay yet get one ration while laying hens – he slaughters them after three years – are fed another. An animal nutritionist sells him custom feed, all depending on the age of chicken, size of eggs, the weather.

Feeding hens, Sequatchie Cove Farm, Sequatchie Valley, Tennessee

"If you’re doing 20 other things, it is so impossible to pay attention to other details," he said. "It’s inefficient and not making money."

Pay attention.

Not all farms are the same.

Not all eggs are the same.

What happens when a community supports its farmers?

"This is the way people farmed for 100s of years. In a village, with neighbors," Kelsey said. "We're having to rebuild community ... supporters and customers interconnected and interdependent on each other."

A co-dependency is realized, a bond of mutual support between farmer and neighbor that stretches back centuries while preparing the way for a stronger, more resilient future.

"Something inside you feels so good," he said. "This is what I am supposed to be doing now."

Collecting eggs, Sequatchie Cove Farm, Sequatchie Valley, Tennessee

All photography by Sarah Unger. Visit

Story ideas? Interested in sponsorship opportunities + supporting our work? Feedback or questions? Email David Cook at This story is 100% human generated; no AI chatbot was used in the creation of this content.

Food as a Verb thanks our sustaining partners for their generous support.

You can buy Keener's Wright Eggs at the following places. A complete list is also found here:

Pruett's Market

Main St. Meats

Gaining Ground Grocery

Niedlov's Bakery & Cafe

Bread & Butter Artisan Bakery & Local Market

Goodman Coffee


Lunch (Sewanee) + Piggly Wiggly (Monteagle)

The Honors Golf Course


Mac's Kitchen & Bar

The Daily Ration

The Grange (Nashville) + Audrey (Nashville) + City House (Nashville)

Dig in. (It's free)