Keeping Family Farms Alive -- One Egg at a Time

Jesse Laflamme grew up on the same New Hampshire farm his great-grandfather
worked in 1900. He learned to raise chickens by working on the farm. His favorite
pet was a brown hen named Nellie that rode around the farm in his bicycle
basket. As he grew up, Jesse developed an appreciation for farming that has
stayed with him.

“I grew up with pet chickens,” Jesse recalls. “They’re one of the funniest creatures
on earth. I knew I wanted to run a humane farm with organic produce.”

Jesse returned after graduating from Bates College and is now the Pete & Gerry's
egg farm’s Operations Manager. He does everything from dealing with
supermarket buyers to working out in the barns. Like most farmers, you’re as
likely to find him repairing a watering system as you are to find him at his desk.

Jesse is committed to conservation, organic foods, humane treatment of animals
and small-scale farming. Running a growing business without sacrificing these
values is a constant struggle, but it’s one that he relishes. He’s always looking for
more environmentally-friendly packaging, more energy-conscious ways to ship
his eggs, and better ways to care for his livestock and deal with the waste it
produces.

“This is a growing farm. We’re aware of our environmental impact, and we want
to minimize it,” he explains. “Our goal is to become a zero waste facility. We
plan to compost our waste and maybe even use it to grow feed for our hens. We
want to close the circle.”

In the last ten years, this family farm in New Hampshire’s White Mountains has
grown and prospered to the point that it can barely keep up with the demand for
its 100% organic, cage-free eggs. Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs has become a
family farming phenomenon.

To solve his supply problem without resorting to factory farming techniques,
Jesse is recruiting other small family farms to join him as suppliers. To date, he
has added three other New England family farms and is actively looking for
more.

The Rolfe Family Farm in Belmont, New Hampshire and Thornton Brother’s
Farm in Bryant Pond, Maine both raise chicks to laying-age hens for Pete and
Gerry’s. The Vose Family Farm in Walpole, New Hampshire produces organic
eggs for them. All three are true family-owned and operated farms.

“We’ve found some great farmers,” Jesse states with pride. “They’re hard-
working people who believe in family farming.”

The Rolfe Family Farm

Dave Rolfe has lived on farms all of his life. He and his wife, Kelly, bought their
Belmont, New Hampshire farm in 1999 from a farmer who had worked it for 40
years. Dave and Kelly have five sons and one daughter. The two youngest boys,
Mac and Tyler, help their parents work the farm.

Dave started raising chickens for another farm, but he wanted to change to
organic farming. He was concerned about exposing his family to chemicals and
antibiotics. Now he raises organic chicks to laying age for Pete and Gerry’s.
He averages about 40,000 birds and likes the size of his operation. Dave says it
fits his lifestyle.

“Maintenance and upkeep are constant, and you have to stay on top of today’s
standards. It’s hard work; but I spend a lot of time with my family, and they learn
where their food comes from.”

Dave is keen on humane treatment of animals and a natural promoter of good
organic foods. He loves to educate people about farming and organics.
“I feel like I have a purpose in organic farming,” he continues. “It gives me a
great sense of accomplishment to be part of the food cycle.”

The Vose Family Farm

Ernie Vose grew up on a family farm in Peterborough, New Hampshire. From the
8th grade on, his chores included taking care of the family’s 3000 chickens. His
family wholesaled eggs and frozen broilers as well as selling them at the farm.  
After studying animal husbandry at UNH, Ernie began raising heavy breeders for
Hubbard Farms.  In 1977, he and his wife, Susan, bought a poultry farm in
Walpole, New Hampshire. After 28 years of raising hatching eggs and doing
research work for Hubbard, Ernie decided to produce organic table eggs for Pete
and Gerry’s.  

“It was a big change,” he explains, “I had to switch to open pens. They showed
me what equipment to buy and how to set up a nest system and conveyors. Then
their crew helped me set it all up.”

Ernie has about 14,000 birds. A retired farmer helps him part-time during the
week and his son helps out on weekends.

“The feed is automated and the eggs are automatically conveyed to the packing
room where they’re put on 30-egg flats in cartons and then onto pallets.”
“I like contract farming because there’s no risk,” Ernie explains. “Pete and Gerry’s
supplies the birds and the feed, and I take care of them. Then they pick up the
eggs and market them, which I’m not interested in doing.”

“Family farms can’t compete with big farms, but there is a niche market for
farmers who want to produce good, local food. People nowadays are concerned
with how animals are raised.”

The Thorton Brother’s Farm

Charlie and Cher Thorton know a thing or two about chickens. The two brothers
have been raising them since 1960 on a 240-acre farm near the Androscoggin
River in Bryant Pond, Maine. The farm has been in their family since 1927.
The Thorntons started raising hens to laying age for Pete and Gerry’s in 2001.

They average about 28,000 birds with the help of their hired man, Steve Palmer.
“We raised chickens for other farms, but they all moved on or went out of
business,” Charlie explains. “Now we have organic hens for Pete and Gerry’s.”

“The change to organic was not too hard. We opened things up and found a used
feeder in Belfast that delivers the feed to individual pans. The hens run loose on
the floor and can go outside to range.”

“Working with Pete and Gerry’s gives us income that helps keep the farm going,”
Cher adds. “Small farming is dwindling, but we still enjoy it.”

Why are family farms important?

The preservation of family farms is important for
many reasons. In addition to providing safe
nutritious foods, family farms serve as responsible
stewards of the land. They live on their farms
and preserve the surrounding environment
for future generations. Because they have
a vested interest in their communities, they
are more likely to use sustainable farming
techniques to protect natural resources
and human health.

Family farms also play a vital role in rural economies. They provide jobs to local
people and help support local businesses. And they preserve an essential
connection between consumers, food and the land.

Jesse Laflamme is passionate about family farms. “They are a valuable resource
in maintaining a diverse, safe, food supply,” he exclaims. “If they can adopt new
management and production systems that capitalize on their hard work and
ingenuity, there are real opportunities for small farmers to serve growing niche
markets for high-quality organically grown foods.”

“We can provide information on how to convert to organic and get the necessary
certification. And we can give family farms a stable market for their eggs.”

If you’re an experienced poultry farmer who is interested in working with
Pete and Gerry’s to farm organic eggs, contact Jesse at 603-638-2827.  Visit Pete &
Gerry's Web site at
www.peteandgerrys.com
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