By Elliott Bochstein, Rural Community Assistance Corporation staff writer

Mornings arrive early in Hoopa, a small community nestled amidst the towering redwoods of Humboldt County. This secluded rural California town, where the Hupa Indigenous people have stewarded the land for countless generations, marches to its own beat. Before the first light, Jack McNertney stirs. A member of the Yurok Tribe, he begins his day by caring for the 50 hens in his custom-built chicken coop. These hens are vital to his small business, NDN Eggs, providing the essential product that underpins his venture.

Hoopa, Humboldt County, California

“You gotta take care of your chickens first thing, or there won’t be any eggs,” he explained. “Living out here, you get up when it’s light. The chickens get up when it’s light, and everyone else is still asleep.”

This corner of Northern California feels its own remoteness. Jack knows it well, having spent much of his life on the Hoopa Valley Reservation and neighboring Yurok Reservation. “A lot of people gravitate towards Hoopa, where there’s electricity, running water, and those basic necessities,” he observes.

But even with separate reservations, the communities are tight-knit. “Many of my tribal members ended up here, and we all went to school together,” he added.

The Pandemic Pivot

Jack’s mission to produce fresh, locally-sourced food began largely out of necessity. He once relied on seasonal income from his vending business, Bear and River Outpost, selling handcrafted Indigenous goods at Native cultural events and festivals nationwide.

Then came COVID-19. The pandemic, slow to reach Hoopa, shut down the nationwide festival circuit; it wasn’t long before Bear and River Outpost’s revenue stream also dried up.

“For almost two years, there were no powwows,” Jack said. Seeking an alternative, he and his wife turned to sewing masks—some featuring cultural motifs, others raising awareness for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) movement. While helpful, this was far from sufficient in making up for the lost revenue from the vending business.

Yet sometimes a crisis can be a catalyst. “We had already dabbled in raising chickens casually,” he continued, “but with the powwows completely shut down, we focused on increasing our egg production.”

Cracking the Local Market, One Egg at a Time

In the early days of NDN Eggs, around 2018, Jack took a direct approach to sales. He went door-to-door, pitching his fresh eggs to potential customers.

“Our eggs are the best around; we feed them worms, chicken scratch, and good chicken feed,” Jack said. “Plus, they’re free-range and happy, which is important. Sometimes we let them out completely, so they’re not always confined. Chickens don’t lay well when they’re cooped up.”

Even with such high-quality eggs, Jack initially struggled to find buyers. “People would avoid me when they saw me coming,” he recalls with a laugh. However, he persisted and eventually found a consistent buyer in Trinity Farms, a small, local business. This partnership allowed Jack to focus on production, knowing he has a reliable outlet.

As his flock grew, so did the need for additional buyers – but Jack wasn’t about to go door-to-door again. To secure a permanent home for his expanding operation, he invested in the Hoopa property he’d previously leased. ”

“I ended up buying this place in 2022 and needed somewhere to live, so I bought a trailer to move onto it,” he said. With characteristic resourcefulness, he and his wife turned to the local mill for supplies. “We got those flat pieces they cut off when they’re making logs and used them to build our first chicken coop. It looked like a little log cabin with windows and everything.”

Fueled by a desire to ensure a consistent and abundant egg supply year-round, Jack decided to install lights in the chicken coops. “Nobody around here was doing it. People I considered competitors were falling behind, and we were cornering the local egg market.”

The investment proved successful, and his flock soon grew to 50 chickens, producing roughly four dozen eggs per day. However, the cost of starting up and maintaining the coop quickly strained his finances.

RCAC RELieF Loan Fuels Expansion

To alleviate the financial pressure of expanding his business, Jack turned to Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) and its Re-Emerging Loan Fund (RELieF), a program created to support rural small businesses and entrepreneurs as they navigate post-pandemic recovery.

Programs like RELieF directly impact rural economic development by providing capital and support to small businesses like NDN Eggs. RCAC’s Loan Fund helps overcome limited access to financing in rural areas, fostering job creation and strengthening community economies, addressing the systemic barriers faced by businesses in underserved regions like Northern California’s majority-Indigenous communities.

“I was looking for a loan after I got into debt, and everywhere I went, I was maxed out,” Jack said. Through the RELieF program, he secured a $25,000 loan with a 3% interest rate and a five-year term. This type of flexible financing offers access to capital for borrowers in Indigenous and rural areas who often struggle to qualify for traditional loans.

Applicants work directly with a coach to assess their financial health, determine effective loan structures, and receive tailored business guidance. RCAC proactively aids in post-pandemic recovery by equipping borrowers with tools for resilience and long-term success.

The RELieF loan allowed Jack to invest in essential supplies, expand his flock from 50 to 150 chickens, and significantly increase the production capacity of NDN Eggs. This investment is projected to triple his egg output to about 12 dozen a day, substantially raising his annual revenue by over 200% to an estimated $22,000.

The personalized coaching sessions from RCAC’s Building Rural Economies team also helped him build financial literacy, strengthen accounting practices, and identify new sales channels.

“Sometimes in business, you need things laid out a certain way,” Jack explained, acknowledging how the guidance helped him navigate the complexities of running a small business.

A Vision for the Future: More Eggs, More Opportunity

Jack hopes NDN Eggs can one day supply the broader Hoopa Valley community. “It would be amazing to get to the level where we could supply the main Hoopa store, maybe even more,” he said. His plans call for expanding his operation with a larger enclosure while maintaining his commitment to strict ethical and quality standards. One day, he may even need to hire some additional help, providing both jobs and delicious eggs to his community.

Jack is deeply grateful for RCAC’s support, which allowed him to establish a strong foundation for NDN Eggs.

“There aren’t too many people out here, but I’ve told others in the community that RCAC has been very good to me, it gave me the resources I needed,” Jack affirmed. “It makes a real difference for folks trying to build something out here.”


If you know a small business interested in RCAC’s lending or
small business coaching programs:

Download the Re-Emerging Loan Fund (RELieF) flyer Visit our Small Business Coaching page


For information, call 1-855-979-7322


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