Highland High School student Ayden Gartenlaub just turned 16, but he may already be contributing to his retirement nest egg.
The soon-to-be high school junior started his business two years ago as a freshman with 12 chickens and a few small coops on his school farm. Now he has 350 hens and is selling an average of 75 to 90 dozen eggs every Saturday at the East Hills Farmers Market in northeast Bakersfield.
The name of his business is Ayden's Eggs. And the secret to his success? A ton of hard work, love for his chickens, and the eggs — which come in several colors — are just plain better, noticeably better, than store-bought eggs.
"It's the freshness," Ayden said as he showed a reporter around at Highland's Agricultural Center across the street from the northeast Bakersfield campus.
Store-bought eggs may be 30 days old before you buy them, he said. Ayden's are usually less than a week old.
"I can definitely tell the difference. They're really good," said customer Lori Clemmons, who said she also likes the idea of supporting a budding young entrepreneur who puts so much work and pride into what he does.
How much work?
Every week, on Sunday through Thursday, Ayden spends two hours a day feeding, watering, gathering eggs and checking the wellness of his flock, said Ayden's dad, Lyle Gartenlaub.
Every Friday he spends five to six hours washing, sorting and packaging eggs. In fact, Friday is such a busy day, Ayden needs help from his entire family.
And on the seventh day — you guessed it — he works.
Saturday is farmers market day, when the young farmer transforms into the salesman, engaging with customers, telling the story of why these eggs are not only white and brown, but robin's egg blue, light green, copper-colored and occasionally, even a blush-rose shade.
After the market closes at 2 p.m., another 90 minutes of feeding and watering rounds out Ayden's Saturdays.
And another seven-day work week is complete. Until Sunday.
"We just finished incubating 150 chickens," Ayden's dad said with a chuckle. "My wife wasn't too happy having a huge incubator in the living room."
Ayden is not sure exactly how many varieties of chickens he has, but they include americaunas, leghorns, Rhode Island reds, buckeye reds, sebrights, and many others.
"This guy is Freddie. He's the rooster I showed at the Kern County Fair last year," Ayden said of a handsome buckeye.
He won first place in "the perfect egg" category that year.
As an A-student, a sousaphone player in marching band and a defensive lineman for the Scots football team, something had to give.
After the demands of his business became too much, Ayden decided he had to drop out of football.
"He's a hoot," his dad says of Ayden. "He's funny, silly, smart, articulate. He's a great kid."
Amber Carter, an FFA advisor and ag teacher at Highland, said Ayden's project has been an inspiration for other students.
"A lot of students don't think they have anything to offer in ag. Ayden's project shows them what can be done.
"This is his life," Carter said. "He's extremely passionate about doing this, and he's really good at it."
Ayden's mom, Marianne, said she's impressed that, even after the newness and novelty have worn off, her son continues to want to commit to his business.
"He loves his chickens," Marianne said.
And it's a darned good thing he does.