How a pair of Atlantans created gourmet snacks for chickens

Dispatches from Atlanta and beyond. Also in this month's edition: BYOB (buy your own bridge) and remembering Marshall Rancifer


Grubbly FarmsGood Grub
by Lia Picard

It’s raining bugs, but Ms. Frizzle doesn’t mind. In fact, she’s thrilled, the feathery poof atop her head undulating as she scratches around in the mulch for the fallen treasures.

Ms. Frizzle and her five flockmates—Ruth Bader Hens-berg, Roy Kent, Keeley Jones, Cleopatra, and Not Waffles (an homage to a predecessor named Waffles)—live in the Druid Hills backyard of Patrick Pittaluga, who founded the sustainable-animal-feed company Grubbly Farms with his cousin Sean Warner in 2015, when both were students at Georgia Tech. The two grew up minutes from each other and share a love of animals—Pittaluga’s parents had various pets, and Warner’s mom was the “crazy dog lady” who rescued strays—that they channeled into Grubbly.

The chickens did not come first. With the goal of making a sustainable protein source using insects, Warner and Pittaluga dabbled in different products. “We even tried making a burger patty for human consumption, and it was horrible,” says Pittaluga. They landed on the backyard poultry market when they discovered it was a growing industry—more so since the beginning of the pandemic—and opted for soldier flies because they’re easier to grow than crickets and mealworms, two other common insects used for food.

At first, Pittaluga and Warner grew their own grubs (aka larvae), but it became unwieldy. “We learned as much as we could, but we realized we were lacking what was needed to scale,” says Warner. Now, they work with farms that feed their grubs fruit, vegetable, and grain waste, and Grubbly handles the processing and manufacturing. Offerings include the “Grubblies” that Ms. Frizzle and her colleagues enjoy as a snack—whole, oven-dried black soldier fly grubs—as well as processed chicken feed and dog treats that incorporate grubs among other ingredients.

Only this past spring did Pittaluga get his own backyard flock. Twenty-one weeks old and not yet laying eggs when I visited recently, the birds live in a custom coop that opens automatically at 6 a.m. to let them into a fenced-in run. “They have a lot more personality than you would imagine,” says

Pittaluga. “I hear them making noises from my desk throughout the day, and that always puts a smile on my face, or I get excited thinking that they might be laying their first egg.” Having a built-in market research group is an added bonus.

Then I Have a Bridge to Sell You
by Sam Worley

The housing market may be harrowing, but if you’ve ever dreamed of owning a bridge, there’s no better time to buy: The Georgia Department of Transportation has some it’s trying to offload.

For instance, where Old Thompson Mill Road crosses the Little Mulberry River. The bridge there now is a Bailey bridge, named after Sir Donald Coleman Bailey, a British civil engineer during World War II. Bailey’s prefabricated truss bridges were easy to move and assemble rapidly—all parts could fit in a small truck and be lifted by six soldiers. Crucially, when assembled, the bridges could bear the weight of heavy military vehicles. (Bailey’s schematic has been called “the bridge design that helped win” the war.)

Part of the postwar surplus, Barrow County’s bridge was installed in 1966. “Growing up, we were always told that it was on loan from the Army and that if we went to war again, they would come take it for use on the battlefield,” recalls Terry England, who represents the area in the Georgia House. “Either they forgot about it or they figured it was long gone.”

Good backstory, right? Unfortunately for you, this property has been snatched up: The City of Winder agreed to purchase the old bridge and move it to a park in town, where installation will begin in the next 18 months. The deal was part of a GDOT program to rehome old, historically significant bridges that have outlived their usefulness, which the department is making available to entities, public or private, wishing to adopt them. (Costs vary; some funding may be available.) Preference is given to public use, and to uses that will keep the structure in the state of Georgia. “If you, or your organization, are in the market for a bridge,” reads a website set up for this purpose, “please browse below to see if GDOT has one that might meet your needs.”

In Winder, the Bailey bridge will meet a specific need when it’s moved to City Pond Park, a verdant space bisected by a small waterway called Cedar Creek, where it’ll do what bridges do best: help people get to the other side.

Kindred Spirits

by Heather Buckner

Marshall RanciferAfter weeks of trying, Ross Hegtvedt finally got on his friend Marshall Rancifer’s calendar: lunch at Soul Good Fine Food. Rancifer’s car had broken down, so Hegtvedt gave him a ride from downtown, where Rancifer was serving free meals to unhoused people. In the car, Rancifer asked if they could pick up some fliers for a rally he was helping organize.

Then, he heard from a woman who needed help “leaving a bad situation.” The two drove to Vine City but didn’t know exactly where she was, so Rancifer got out of the car and walked the block, asking around. “People are waving at him; he knows everyone’s names,” Hegtvedt recalled. When they found her—and secured her a safe place to go—all three went to eat. “We ended up having an early dinner,” Hegtvedt said. “I looked at Marshall and said, ‘That was nice. Should I drive you home?’ Marshall responded, ‘No, we’re just getting started.’”

People who knew Rancifer were familiar with this kind of situation—another friend called it “getting Marshalled.” Last fall, working on a story about homelessness, I found myself frequently trading messages with Rancifer, an unrelenting advocate for Atlanta’s unhoused community. His work made it a challenge to pin him down. “When people call me,” he told me, “if it’s three or four o’clock in the morning—guess what? I get up out my bed and I go if they say, Marshall, I’m ready for treatment. When people say they’re ready, you got to be ready.” He estimated that he helped more than 2,000 people get off the street.

Rancifer told me he’d lived three lives—before, during, and after his struggle with substance abuse in the 1990s. He worked for a time as a police officer, in narcotics; he tried crack cocaine for the first time after he left the force, and his experience with substance abuse led him to live mostly unhoused for more than four years. “When I decided to get help, I was looked at like a piece of shit,” he said. “I was looked down upon like I was the scourge of the earth.” He was turned away from 18 churches, he said. The one that finally opened its doors to him—Central Presbyterian—also hosted his funeral service in September. After months of compounding health problems, Rancifer died in his sleep in hospice care at age 66. He’s survived by three children, 14 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

When Rancifer started treatment in 1997, he said he promised God he would work to save others from the indignities he suffered. He kept his word: Nearly every night of the week for 24 years, he passed out meals, blankets, socks, and tents to Atlanta’s unhoused communities. The organization he founded, the Justice for All Coalition, worked closely with the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition, distributing clean syringes, fentanyl test strips, and overdose kits; he also administered HIV and hepatitis C tests. Rancifer spent his own money when funds came up short. At City Hall and elsewhere, he was known for what Hegtvedt called a “low tolerance for bullshit.” He could be withering in his assessments of local politicians and wasn’t shy about sharing—on Facebook, in person, at committee meetings. When he died, officials from Atlanta and DeKalb County issued proclamations celebrating him. “The folks who were targets of Marshall’s criticism, who voted for that—you know, I can see Marshall as a spirit cackling a little bit,” Hegtvedt said.

Last year, Rancifer sent me a poem he’d written from the DeKalb County Jail, after he’d stopped using drugs and turned himself in for a probation violation. He called it “Unconditional Love.” In it, he wrote:

A coat can only provide
warmth, it can’t provide dignity.
A plate of food can only
provide sustenance, it can’t provide pride.
Shelter can only provide
protection from the elements, it can’t provide courage. . . .
Help me, and then allow me
to stand on my own two feet, and
I will regain my pride, my
security, my courage and my dignity.
Then you and I will walk
together into a prosperous future, Kindred Spirits.

This article appears in our December 2022 issue.