Where Do Your Eggs Come From?

If you’re a regular purchaser of our organic, free-range eggs, you know that we don’t produce all our eggs here on the home farm in New Hampshire. We did once upon a time, when we were just a small family farm ourselves. But as demand for our wonderful organic eggs grew over time, we had a decision to make. Should we keep adding barn after barn to our farm, which is certainly an efficient way to produce eggs, and wind up more like the enormous factory farms that nearly put us out of business only a few years before? Or, should we grow in a smarter, kinder and more sustainable way?

We choose the latter.

Where Our Farms Are

We now sell eggs in all 50 states, and those eggs are laid by hens on over 50 independent, small family farms that we partner with (see the interactive map here). They provide us with incredible, organic, free-range eggs. We provide them with the processing, packaging, and transportation they need to get their eggs to market.

Becoming a Pete and Gerry’s Organic Egg Farmer

Each farm in our partner network must go through a years-long vetting process with us, and become certified by Humane Animal Farm Care to become Certified Humane, which insures that they will be able to produce the kind of high-quality eggs our customers expect. It’s a true partnership with our farmers. We work with them throughout the process – helping them with barn construction, equipment purchases, and in most cases, really teaching them how to be successful as an egg farmer. And it doesn’t stop there, we are in touch with all of them weekly about the nutrition mix in their feed, flock health, and a range of other issues.

Every Farm Tells A Story

The result is farmers that stay with us for many years and are able to support their families with a livable income. Most of them have young children who help walk the barns picking up eggs, take care of the birds, and work in the packing room where the eggs are placed into pallets for shipping to us. You can learn about their lives here, or by watching this video.

Growing by Staying Small

Our customers like you tell us they appreciate that their eggs are helping to support their states and local communities. In that spirit, we continue to develop new farm partnerships further west and south as our grocery distribution expands in those regions. It is a multi-year process, but we’re making progress. As a B Corporation, we’re very proud of the difference this business model is making in dozens of small communities where our farms thrive.

To see where our farms are today, you can click on our farm map and see all the individual farms in the states where we have partnerships thus far. If we’re not already there, we hope to be in your state producing local farm eggs very soon.

Know of a farm that might like to partner with Pete and Gerry’s? Have other comments about our small family farm approach to making your eggs? Please share with us in the comments!

Pete and Gerry's Caged Hen

What the end of the OLPP rule means for your organic food

The OLPP rule was created to ensure your organic food met the standards you’ve come to expect. That rule was just overturned. Here’s what you need to know.

It probably comes as a little surprise to anyone who reads this blog that the Trump Administration is hostile to small businesses, to everyday consumers, and to, well, animals. On December 15, 2017, they made official what everyone knew was coming: they killed the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule.

Read more in this Washington Post article.

A quick review of the OLPP Rule:

The OLPP rule was developed to close a significant gap in the original USDA Organic Standards, between consumer expectations and industry practice. This gap allowed unscrupulous producers to sell cheap organic eggs and meat by raising them in factory farm conditions. As long as the feed was organic, it didn’t matter if the animals were badly cramped and grossly mistreated.

OLPP sought to update the standards such that consumers who paid more for Organic got what they expected: humane treatment and healthy living conditions. It also sought to protect small, responsible farms that were already maintaining high standards of animal care to be able to compete with the rock-bottom prices of Big Ag Organic.

The rule was seven years in the making, going from conception, through public review, and final passage by the Obama Administration in 2016. It was the definition of a thoughtful, democratic process and should have been left in place. Out of the 47,000 public comments made about the proposed rule change, 99.9% were in favor of it.

Just 27 individual comments were opposed to the new rule. These were obviously 27 very powerful voices, however, because the Trump Administration instantly sided with this infinitesimal fraction of the country upon taking office. As Brian Levin of Perky Jerky said: “it’s just about getting the fat cat fatter.”

The results of the decision to kill the OLPP rule

The tragedy here is manifold. There are the small farmers, like those we work with every day, who will continue to have to try to absorb the actual costs of responsible farming, while their giant competitors ignore those costs. And, there are the consumers who are becoming increasingly mistrustful of the USDA Organic seal. This is so unfortunate because so many things about this voluntary standard remain important and meaningful. But it’s no wonder that trust is eroding with decisions like this one.

For now, we will keep up the fight. The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has filed a lawsuit to see if a court will reverse this egregious abuse of power and process. Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs will continue to offer Certified Humane Free Range, Organic eggs that meet and exceed the expectations of our customers.

And you can help too; by learning which Organic eggs are following the spirit of the rules, and which are not. Share that knowledge with your friends and family. One way to know is to look for the Certified Humane symbol, the most respected third-party animal welfare certifier in the U.S.

Pete and Gerry's Pasture

What are Pasture Raised Eggs?

It’s a question we’re getting more and more. What does the pasture raised eggs label mean? How is it different from our Free Range pastured hens? And why aren’t Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs pasture raised?

We wrote a longer blog post about this, a little over a year ago, titled ‘Why We Are Free Range and Not Pasture Raised.‘ But, as the question continues to come up, it may be time for an update on the issue.

Humane Treatment of Animals

First of all, we support humane treatment for all farm animals, including hens obviously, and we sincerely hope that people will only buy free range and pastured raised eggs in the future. The Cage Free standard has already been co-opted by factory farms. It is better than the battery cages that still dominate the industry today, but only marginally better, as the hens are essentially confined to larger cages in massive industrial facilities with no outdoor access.

Pasture Raised Eggs vs. Free Range Eggs

As for the difference between free range and pasture raised eggs, they are both excellent standards; provided that they are certified by a credible 3rd party, such as Certified Humane, as ours are. Beyond that, our firm belief is that the amount of space our hens have is more than sufficient. You can see that in all of the photos of our family farms, where the hens rarely cover more than a small fraction of our substantial pastures.

History of Pasture Raised Standards

The much larger space requirement for Pasture Raised actually originates from a British soil management standard defined in the 1940s that was based on rotational grazing needs. In other words, the amount of space per hen was not based on having enough for the hens to be comfortable, but how much you need if you are moving flocks from pasture to pasture.

The idea was to ensure viable grass and soil for other crops or animals after the hens had been on it for a period of time. So the space requirement had nothing to do with animal welfare.

Despite this, it was adopted by the two primary certifiers in the U.S. as the “Pasture Raised” standard. And interestingly, the standard allows for “rotational fencing” meaning that even if they claim 108 sq. ft. per hen, that is the undivided total, not what is available to a hen on any given day.

More space is great. We applaud responsible egg farming at whatever scale. But the more space you use the higher your prices. One only has to look at the price of farmland to know this.

Pasture Raised Eggs vs. Organic Eggs

It’s important to not confuse Pasture Raised eggs with Organic eggs either. They are entirely different things. Laying hens, including Pasture Raised hens, do not get their primary source of nutrition from foraging. It comes from their feed, which is either organic, or it’s not. There are many Pasture Raised Eggs that are not organic as they are fed conventional feed that was grown with pesticides and herbicides.

Our Free Range Organic Eggs

At Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs, we don’t see a meaningful difference in animal welfare between these two excellent standards, so we choose to maintain the Free Range standard and sell our Organic eggs for a bit less money. If you prefer to buy Pasture Raised eggs instead, we are absolutely fine with that. Just know that when you choose our Organic, Certified Humane, Free Range Eggs, you are guaranteed that you are getting an egg laid by a hen that has an exceptionally humane existence.

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.”

Read Full Article>>

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.”

Read Full Article>>

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 on 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.