Of Birds and Bees

MyPanera® member Orren Fox is an ordinary high school student with an extraordinary passion for chickens, ducks, and bees.

Like a lot of teenagers, Orren Fox is fascinated by the birds and the bees. But when the 16-year-old from Massachusetts talks about them, he’s referring to the flock of chickens and ducks and the seven hives he cares for. “The birds and bees are so interesting to watch and to be around,” he says. “Even though they’re not pets like cats or dogs, you can really get to know them, and they get to know you.”

Despite his uncommon interest, Orren is a normal high school student. He likes playing lacrosse, longboarding, and hanging out with friends, but for the last four years, he’s been collecting eggs and honey before he gets together with them. A few books Orren read in fifth grade sparked his interest in chickens, and he began spending Saturday mornings at a nearby farm, taking responsibility for the needs of the flock there. Within a few months, he was bringing home his first chicks to raise himself. A few years later, he took responsibility for a couple of bee hives. “I really like the food they produce,” he says, “but the best part is just seeing them do well while I’m taking care of them.” 

Sweet reward: “The eggs I get from my own chickens and ducks taste so much better than the ones you buy at the store. And my bees’ honey is the best—it tastes like peaches, apples, and the Atlantic Ocean. I love it in hot cereal, on toast, and in iced tea.”

Tough challenge: “Telling my friends I couldn’t get together until after I took care of feeding the chickens and ducks and checking on my hives wasn’t easy at first, but after a while they and I got used to it. My responsibility to the animals is most important, and I never forget that—even when it’s freezing cold outside and I have to trudge through deep snow to get to the hives.”

Hard lesson: “I know that chickens and ducks don’t have long lives, that some of them will pass away even before they get old, and I’m a little sad whenever it happens. It’s the natural cycle, and I’m learning to accept it.”

Frequently asked question: “Kids who don’t know me well always ask if I am going to eat my chickens. I’m not against eating chicken, but I get to know mine too well to ever eat them.” 

Satisfying achievement: “Before I had my own animals, I went to the Topsfield [Massachusetts] Fair every fall and was really into checking out all the different breeds that are shown there. For four years, I took my own chickens and ducks to show at the fair. In 2012, I was so proud to win the grand champion award. I clean them up a little before the fair, but I think I won because I just pay attention to making sure they are healthy so they look really good.” 

Wow moment: “I was invited to the White House to be a part of a Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food event. I couldn’t believe it when Sam Kass [executive director of Let’s Move and senior policy advisor on nutrition] challenged me to a ‘Honey Off,’ to see whether my hives made better honey than the ones at the White House. I think I have a good chance to win.”

Future plans: “This is a hobby I’ll always be passionate about, but I’m not planning to make farming or beekeeping my career. I’m interested in so many other things, and I want to explore some of them before I make a decision about my future.”

Favorite Panera Bread® menu item: “The Mac & Cheese is so delicious—just right. I eat lots of different panini sandwiches, but I keep coming back to Mac & Cheese.”