When they heard Dan Hromas’ truck rolling in, the chickens came strutting. The auburn-feathered Rhode Island Reds stood out, even in the tall, green brome grass of Hromas’ rented 3-acre pasture outside of York, Neb.
The pasture is the center of Hromas’ new farming enterprise. For a little over a year he’s been selling farm eggs to local restaurants, grocery stores, and direct to customers in southeast Nebraska.
Hromas became a farmer after spending the better part of two decades as a soldier. Like farming, military service runs in the family. His grandfather served during World War II. His mother was a Marine. Hromas was even born on an Air Force base.
His military career took him far from where he and his parents grew up in Nebraska and North Dakota to Guantanamo Bay, Okinawa, and Malta. Then, in 2006 it took him to Iraq.
“It stunk like hell over there,” Hromas said. “You’d see burning trash out there and these scraggly dogs eating trash.”
When he returned to wife and children in Nebraska, Hromas said he felt restless. He had trouble holding down a job. He drove trucks at a few places.
Then he worked at a nearby dairy. Being around the cows took his mind back to the summers he spent on his grandparents’ farm in North Dakota.
“One of our favorite things to do on the farm was to look for eggs,” he said. “There were all sorts of different colors, green, blue, brown, white. Kind of like having an Easter egg hunt every day.”
Hromas decided he wanted to work for himself and he wanted to farm. But he couldn’t afford land or cows, so he started with chickens.
When Hromas walked from the truck to the egg-laying sheds the hens followed the way sheep might follow their shepherd. Inside, Hromas carefully reached under a nesting bird to pull out a perfect brown egg. The chickens depend on him for food, water and shelter. And they don’t just pay him back with eggs. Caring for them seems to give him a sense of mission.
“When you have somebody you’re responsible for on your left and right you don’t have time to be depressed or anything,” Hromas said. “That’s why I tell people: Boredom is the most hazardous thing to my health. I figured 500-some-odd chickens would keep me from being bored.”
It’s not a big row-crop farm like the old family operation now run by his uncles, but he still feels grounded by the connection the chickens make to his memories and his family’s legacy.
“Seeing these chickens here, the smells of the chicken coops, the chicken poop – it all takes me back to an earlier time,” he said. “It keeps my family’s memories alive.”
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