From Our Friends at The Works Bakery Cafe

(A Guest Post from our Friends at The Works Bakery Café! The Works has 8 delicious bakery locations throughout New England)

Sit back and grab an omelet. We’ve got a story for you.

You like eggs, right? At the Works, we buy, make and eat a LOT of eggs.

Which means a lot of chickens need to lay a lot of eggs. Farmers sort these oblong gifts of white-gold nutrition into five sizes from small to jumbo.

Here’s the thing. Generally speaking, we like big eggs. We like eggs that fill up a carton like the Hulk fills jeans. Big is not only beautiful, it’s the only thing our moon pie eyes can see.

But, chickens, man. Chickens… They lay what they lay. Big, small, medium. So what’s a chicken farmer to do?

Ten years ago Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs were swimming in petits oeufs when they met #TheWorks founder Richard French, who couldn’t find local, organic eggs at a price that would work for his customers. No recording of the conversation exists, but we have it on good authority that it went something like this:

RICHARD: “The Works needs eggs! So many eggs.”

PETE AND GERRY: “Dude, we have eggs.”

R: “Are you from New England? We try to be really thoughtful about where we get our food.”

P&G: “Yep. Monroe, NH.”

R: “Are your eggs organic? Any chance?”

P&G: “Organic, free range, from small family farms. Certified Humane. B Corp Certified. The works.”

R: (shakes his head, looks at the ground, grins, looks up to the sky, shakes his head again and says) “Wow. But man, premium eggs — that’s a path to the $12 breakfast sandwich.”

(There is a long pause, with a hint of pessimism hanging in the air. Then…)

P&G: “Do you care about size? Would small and medium sized eggs be okay?”

R: “Heck yeah. But can we get ’em already cracked? No way we can crack 400 eggs on a busy breakfast line.”

(P&G and R look at each other. A general feeling of “Dude, we’ve come this far, we can figure this out” fills the air.)

P&G: “Dude, we’ve come this far.”

R: “We can figure this out.”

NEARBY CHICKEN: Bravo, gentlemen! Strong regional economies start when producers and restaurants get together, tell each other what they need, see what products aren’t fitting into the market right now, figure out how to use them, and come up with a solution that benefits everybody. Creativity, practicality, patience, good will. Awesome. BWAAAAAAAAAWK.

Ten years on, The Works and Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs remain partners in getting awesome eggs to our customers.

 

Excuse Me, Why Do ‘Medium’ Eggs Exist?

In an article published by bonappetit.com Alex Beggs explains why medium eggs exist.

“So I called up Jesse LaFlamme, the chief executive farmer of Pete and Gerry’s organic eggs. Yes, I too was disappointed his name was neither Pete nor Gerry. (Okay, Gerry is Jesse’s father). He told me that medium eggs are typically from younger hens. They’re the hen’s first round, so to speak, so they’re smaller and have a thicker shell. He even thinks they might have a tastier yolk, but he admits, “that might be in my head.” Things get a bit scrambled in there. Too much? Sorry.”

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How Big Food Wants the FDA to Define “Healthy”

A recent article published by vitals.lifehacker.com explains how any food companies find the FDA’s definition of “healthy” to be out dated and are pushing for them to redefine what healthy really means, which is good news for the egg industry.

Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs: “As the owner [of] Pete & Gerry’s Organics LLC, a Certified Humane, free-range, network of small family farms, it’s not often that I see eye to eye with the [United Egg Producers], as we disagree on farming practices. Where we do agree is that eggs are a very healthy food.”

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Good Feed makes for Good Eggs

You are what you eat, as they say.

We all know that a good diet is essential to good health. That’s one reason many of us eat eggs. And yet, too often, as people, we don’t always do a great job with our own nutrition, ill-advised temptations being abundant. At Pete and Gerry’s, our organic, Certified Humane, free range hens have it a little bit better. To begin with, their “treats” are finding insects in the grass. And when it comes to their main meals, they get the benefit of PhD nutritionists as their personal chefs, something few of us enjoy.

Les Morrison, of Morrison Custom Feeds in Barnet, Vermont, a Pete & Gerry’s feed supplier, puts it this way “people food is in the stone age compared to what the hens get for balanced nutrition.” Feed mixtures are developed with an eye to making sure that a hens’ every nutritional need is met in terms of nutrients, protein, sodium-balancing bi-carbonates, ground limestone for developing a strong egg shell, electrolytes and much more.

Contrast that to the giant factory farms that make most of the eggs sold today which use a “least cost formulation” for their feed. That means exactly what it sounds like ­— whatever is the cheapest way possible to give the hens enough calories to lay eggs that day. You can see and taste the result in the eggs.

There are between 30 and 35 separate organic ingredients in our feed mix. And the mixture is adjusted continuously, based on the weather (cold or hot), the flock’s age and point in their laying cycle, general health, and a range of other factors. That’s why another of our feed advisors, Heritage Poultry Management Services, employs two full-time PhD animal nutritionists on their staff.

There is a lot of science to the way we formulate our feed. But one aspect of science that you won’t find in any of our feed is pharmaceuticals ­– something you will find in just about all feed that goes to factory farms, which make up 90% of the eggs sold in the U.S. According to Morrison, that’s just putting a Band-Aid on a problem that won’t actually fix it. “The way to keep birds healthy, besides feeding them properly, is to make sure their living environment is clean and not overcrowded” he says. “Good egg farmers are in their barns every day. They can see problems before they happen, sometimes just by listening to the birds” (quiet hen houses can be an indication of a virus starting to spread through the flock).

That’s why we don’t treat our free range hens prophylactically with drugs that are only going to decrease their resistance and then wind up in the eggs. We treat them with care instead.

Morrison concludes, after admitting to a weakness for potato chips in his own diet, that if he were to die and come back as a hen, he would hope to be a Pete and Gerry’s hen.

Why Do Good Eggs Cost More?

At Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs, we do understand the question. From the outside, one egg looks a lot like another. And when you regularly see eggs at the store for $2 dollars a dozen (and sometimes less) you begin to see this as the “real” cost of eggs. From there it’s natural to assume that anyone who charges more is just padding their profit.

But before we talk about why our free range organic eggs cost more, let’s first look at why their eggs cost less. Consider that a typical hen can lay almost one egg per day. But to feed and house her in a heated, ventilated barn for a year is not inexpensive. After an egg is laid, it must be collected, washed, inspected, and graded for sale. Finally, the eggs must be packaged and shipped to market. It’s a pretty labor-intensive business. When your great grandparents’ generation was selling eggs straight off the farm to neighbors or to local stores, the inflation-adjusted cost was way, way over $2 a dozen. In those days, people accepted that food had to be a significant part of their overall household budget because most people had first hand knowledge of how difficult it was to produce that food.

The reason that commodity eggs can sell today for an almost laughably small amount of money (less than a bottle of water, less than a cup of coffee) is the result of giant agribusiness and the blind pursuit of “efficiency.” Efficiency sounds good, and it is good when balanced with other costs and considerations, but in this case efficiency means putting hundreds of thousands of hens into a warehouse, stacked floor to ceiling with battery cages that cram six hens into a space the size of a microwave oven. The overcrowding, filth, disease and general misery of the animals is so extreme that it stands out even in the world of mass-produced animal agriculture. Their feed is a “least cost formulation” lacking essential nutrition, but that does usually include antibiotics to control the diseases that spread in the overcrowded barns. But, it is efficient! They can crank out millions of eggs and still make a small profit at $2 a carton.

We simply won’t do that. It’s bad for hens and bad for people. And thankfully, now that consumers are learning about these practices and speaking out, change is coming. “Cage Free,” which doesn’t quite mean what it sounds like (i.e. the birds are still confined in massive numbers, cannot go outside, etc.), will still be an improvement in terms of animal welfare. It is likely to come at a higher price at the shelf too. And, it will be money well spent for hens and consumers, despite its shortcomings.

Our farming practices are far better still. We are USDA Organic, Certified Humane Free Range, which means free access to ample pasture space except in very cold weather, ample space in the barn, no confinement whatsoever (“Cage Free” can’t say this, learn more here), roosting spaces, nesting boxes, high quality organic feed and much more. We do this on true small family farms that support real farm families and their rural communities. So, when all is said and done, you will get 12 humanely raised, organic, antibiotic free, protein-filled, nutritionally dense eggs for a few dollars. When you compare that value to your cable bill, your car insurance, or just about anything else at the grocery store – it starts to seem like a pretty good deal.

So the question we ask is not why Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs cost so much, but why do those other eggs cost so little?

Big Changes to Our Small Farm

As those of you who have read past posts on this blog know, our farm up here in the Upper Connecticut River Valley of New Hampshire was where it all started. Way, way back it was a dairy farm. Then my grandfather Les decided to try chickens, after he returned from World War II, because there were so many other dairy farms in the valley at that time. My father and mother converted the farm to Organic, Free Range back when barely anyone had ever heard of such a thing. They did this because they were being priced out of the egg market by giant agricultural factory farms that could vastly underprice anything they could do. In the process, they discovered the joy of farming in a humane, responsible way.

When I took over the family business, demand for our ethical Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs was growing very quickly and we were adding barns here on our property to meet it. It was then that I was struck by the fact that if we just kept adding more barns, pretty quickly, we would become just another giant egg producer. Maybe we would be a more ethical giant egg producer, but we would be a giant nonetheless. And that would mean pushing other small farms like we once were out of the way.

That’s when it hit me, why not support all the other small farms out there that were just like us when we started, but that don’t have the same opportunity from a sales and distribution standpoint as we do? Some 130 small family, partner farms later, Pete and Gerry’s is still growing by staying small and by supporting real families out there who still have a dream of farming responsibly while making a living.

So successful this has been, we’re now even managing to reduce the footprint of the home farm even more. At our peak, we had nine barns in use with over 100,000 hens on the property, all meeting the Certified Humane Free Range standard. If that sounds like a lot, it’s actually not that much when you consider that factory farm competitors routinely cram over 300,000 hens into a single barn and have millions on site. But it was still more than we wanted given our belief in a different type of farming model. In the past six months, by not repopulating barns whose flocks reached the natural end of their lifecycle, we are now down to just two barns and less than 40,000 hens.

We plan to always have Free Range hens on the home farm. We feel that the best way to be good stewards to our partner farms is to know exactly what their lives are like and what challenges they face. And it keeps one humble, standing in a pasture of hens every day, listening to what they have to say. Still, we’re very pleased that we’ve managed to meet the growing demand for our wonderful, free range, organic eggs by staying small ourselves and thereby benefiting other small farms and the countless communities they thrive in.

The 7 Best Clean Dairy and Dairy-Free Products

Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs was named in one of the 7 Best Clean Dairy and Dairy-Free Products by cleaneatingmag.com.

“These top-quality, grade-A eggs come from free-range, certified-humane hens fed with 100% organic feed. $6, peteandgerrys.com for where to buy.”

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Organic’s New Animal Welfare Standards Are In Jeopardy

A recent article on forbes.com explains that the new organic welfare standards my be in jeopardy as the USDA announced important amendments to its animal welfare standards for organic livestock and poultry.

“Most companies operating under the USDA organic logo are also in favour of these new standards. Perdue Farms, the largest broiler chicken producer in America, supports the new standards as they plan to expand their organic business in the coming years. Pete & Gerry’s, the largest organic egg producer in the US, is already in compliance with the new rules.”

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NH business concerned about changes to organic food rules

In a recent article by John Koziol on UnionLeader.com, Jesse Laflamme, CEO of Pete and Gerry’s discusses Donald Trump’s recent promise of an across-the-board rollback of government regulations, especially one that would further define the word “organic” and bring more attention to the care of laying hens.

“The bottom line is that consumers could become confused about what a truly “organic” egg is. Pete and Gerry’s could lose market share if cage-free eggs are allowed to be produced on an industrial scale by companies that might meet the technical definition of organic, but not the spirit.”

“The rules are part of the voluntary opt-in for egg producers who want to be certified organic, and because they are voluntary, they have been praised in the past by Republican lawmakers as examples of ‘good regulations’.”

With a constantly growing egg industry, Pete and Gerry’s plans to rely on marketing to showcase the story and values of our company.

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