(Nov. 28, 2014) True story: Minh Vihn and wife, Kathryn Le, moved from San Diego – he left a financial consulting job, she left four salons – to grow chickens in rural Worcester County.
Rural, as in 20 minutes west of Snow Hill and navigating the unpaved Forest Road off Old Furnace Road for 20 minutes rural.
“You don’t think of this as Snow Hill, do you?” Vihn asked, “It takes some getting used to. It’s a change but we adapted real quick and now we like it.”
His brother-in-law turned him onto the idea of growing chickens a few years ago and now Vihn operates 10 chicken houses raising 480,000 birds per flock and turning over about five-and-one-half flocks per year.
The most exciting thing to Vihn, he said, is that the technology to maintain this kind of volume has progressed so far in the past decade allows him to do “80 percent” of the work from a computer comfortably nestled next to the refrigerator in his house.
Originally from Vietnam, Vihn and wife are one family among an increasing number of growers hailing from the region who have relocated to the Eastern Shore to farm chickens.
According to the 2010 census, “Asian-only” people accounted for only 1.4 percent of Worcester’s population. In real terms, Vihn said he knows there are about 30 Vietnamese families on the lower Eastern Shore farming chickens.
To get started, Vihn needed a loan, like so many other businesses do. He was surprised one morning three years ago when he got a call from his banker asking for help. A number of other families from Vietnam had joined the poultry industry and were themselves seeking loans. Enough people were coming that the bank needed help translating documents. They called Minh Vihn.
“We started a Vietnamese Poultry newsletter,” he said, and workshops offered by the University of Maryland Eastern Shore for poultry growers also needed Vihn’s translating services.
“We started with the workshop. How to handle the manure and how to compost the chicken in the right way. Most of them already know what to do, but they just want to make sure they carry out the regulation,” he said.
The workshops run every 4-5 months according to Vihn, and the newsletter is published quarterly.
“People don’t know who farmers are and what they do,” Mike English, executive producer of Maryland Farm and Harvest said, “Mr. Vihn risked everything to come here and was welcomed by the agricultural community and is finding success.”
Neither Vihn nor English really knows who contacted whom first, but Vihn’s farm will be featured on the Jan. 6 broadcast of the show featuring magazine-style segments on what they call Maryland’s “Ag royalty,” oyster farming, chicken farming and a feature on strawberry rhubarb pudding.