Somewhere in the world right now a corporate office dweller is spending a sliver of their workday staring out the window, daydreaming about what it would be like to overhaul everything in their current life in favor of one with more nature and simplicity. I know this happens because I’ve met people up here who have followed that exact daydream right out of their corporate job. Andria Metrakos traded in her white collar job in the automotive industry for a garden, a farmstand and a bus full of chickens.
Eight years ago Andria bought a Maple City home that sits on five acres of land. The house was meant to be a summer and weekend home, used as a getaway from city life.
“May of 2013 I moved here full time. I’m from Phoenix, Arizona. When I got out of college I got a job in the auto industry in the Detroit area. My best friend from college, her grandma had a house on Big Glen. We graduated in December of ‘94, so the summer of ‘95 was the first year I came up here. After that first winter here I was ready to leave, and then we came up here and I fell in love with northern Michigan.”
From 1995 to 2012 Andria came to northern Michigan every summer whether it was for a long weekend or an extended stay. With each passing summer, Andria fell more in love with the region and thought more about her desire to farm.
“I bought this place and decided I wanted to try to live here full time. These trees right here,” she gestured to a cluster of small trees, “I planted in 2013. They were like sticks. I was like, ‘holy cow this is a lot of work. If I think I’m going to have a farm I can’t wait til I retire.’ So that was kind of the impetus to quit my job, sell my house in Rochester and move up here.”
Andria grew up with parents who loved to garden, and she attributes some of her passion for farming to that. Her mom would spend summers with her in Maple City and the first summer she was living there full time, Andria’s mom came to stay and help her start a garden.
“I had an awesome garden. We would plant it together, but she would tend it. I only grow heirloom vegetables. I don’t use pesticides, I don’t use herbicides.”
A friend helped her build a farmstand where she could sell her veggies and whatever else she wanted to include in the stand.
“I’ve had chickens every year since 2013. I would get the chickens in the spring, we’d keep them all summer and I’d sell the eggs and then I usually gave them to my neighbor who’s now my fiance. He would take them in the fall.”
When she knew she wanted to move up full time, she knew she would need a coop big enough to house all of her chickens year-round. She bought a greenhouse structure she was going to convert into a coop.
“And then mid-November we got like 30 inches of snow. So, there was no way to do it.”
Her neighbor worked at Glen Lake schools and knew there were buses for sale. He put a bid in for one of them and got it.
“We had gotten a big 20-foot ladder for them to use as a roost where they sleep at night. He built nesting boxes, then he brought his chickens over and we integrated the two flocks.”
Like the Brady Bunch?
“Yes! For chickens.”
Andria already had a Facebook page for her farmstand, Red Gate Farm, and she didn’t think that her friends would care much about a bud full of chickens. So she started a separate page for her feathered friends.
“So I created a separate page called Maple City Chicken Bus. It was crazy because my Red Gate Farm page had very few followers and the Maple City Chicken Bus bypassed it initially by leaps and bounds.”
She has 35 chickens living with her on the farm. She hasn’t grown tired of caring for them, and fans of the bus haven’t grown tired of seeing them. Everyday looks the same for the chickens. Andria lets them out in the morning where they’ll happily roam the grounds until it’s time to retire to bed in the evening.
“I make almost the same video almost every day. I’ve had customers stop and tell me they watch all the videos and know all the chickens’ names. They like it.”
Seeing chickens scurry out of a bus like schoolchildren doesn’t get old for them or for Andria. She opened the farmstand in March, two months before it’s usual Memorial Day weekend opening.
“With the pandemic and people being stuck at home, I feel like the chicken bus really took on a life of its own. Through that, I decided to open my farmstand early this year on a whim and it got really busy, busier than it’s ever been.”
Beyond providing some powerful and accidental advertising for the farmstand, the chickens also provide eggs for it. Each chicken lays an egg every 26 hours.
The farmstand is open for the season and you can find in-season vegetables, lavender from a neighboring farm, chicken bus postcards designed by an artist friend, baked goods like brownies and pie, and of course, fresh from the bus eggs. Andria wouldn’t have it any other way.
“There are times when I make next to nothing and think, ‘what the hell am I doing?’ But, I am so at peace up here. I’m so much happier. I’m so thankful that local people have discovered the farmstand, it’s allowing me to stay up here.”
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