It’s amazing how little you know about the people you know.
Don and Sharon Gingerich were friends of my parents when I was a kid, and at times they were our babysitters, too. They live on the same side road as we did, a few country blocks away.
They are the parents of eight, grandparents of fifteen, and the proud caretakers of hundreds of “happy chickens,” as Sharon emphatically calls their flock.
The Happy Chickens
I knew the Gingerichs produced and sold organic eggs, but what I only recently found out was just how rare their operation is, and how well they have established themselves in the organic foods community across Southwestern Ontario.
The Gingerichs have a small organic egg farm. Though you might have some concept of what that looks like, the reality might be more impressive than you imagine.
For starters, there are the regulations imposed on every egg farmer. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) stipulates that every egg sold in stores in Ontario must be graded according to federal standards at a facility authorized by the federal government. Official grading stations are often far from small egg farms, and transporting eggs is costly
Then, there are the Pro-Cert organic certification regulations, which stipulate things like what the hens are fed and how the eggs are cleaned. In all, the Gingerichs comply with seven sets of regulations, all in order to do what they feel they must: produce premium organic eggs.
This is not to mention quota. The Egg Farmers of Ontario (EFO) regulate the production of eggs, so that production does not exceed consumption. Any farmer with more than 99 laying hens is required to purchase quota from the EFO to the tune of $250/bird.
Don and Sharon have been in the egg business since the early 1970s, so they were “grandfathered” into the right to have 499 birds without buying quota, instead of the current 99. In recent years, in order to keep up with their demand, they have leased quota at the much more affordable rate of $7.80/bird/year, so that they have up to 1000 birds at any given time. They always have three or four stages of hens on the go: chicks; young hens, which start laying at about 6 months old; laying hens, which “work” until they are about a year old), and “spent hens,” which are no longer producing, and so they get slated to be made into organic ground chicken.
One of the things that really sets the Gingerichs apart is the fact that they are Grader/Producers: they have their own federally-authorized grading station, right in their barn. It took two years of aggravation and inspections to get the station set up, but it was worth it.
Don rotates an egg at the candling station, looking for any blemishes in the shell or yolk
Every morning, eggs are collected with wire baskets, then washed in a rotating tub filled with hot water and hydrogen peroxide. After being rinsed, they are placed in plastic trays to dry before grading.
The grading station includes a bright light which, when the eggs are held up to it one by one, shows any blemishes or cracks in the shells. This is called candling.
Here’s the process of grading, in pictures:
(Please forgive my pictures – I forgot my good camera, so these are kind of dark and blurry)
Don works the grading station
Eggs on the grading station
Eggs get organized according to size
Eggs waiting to be placed in cartons
Graded eggs are placed in these cartons according to size
Don points out a fluff on one egg
Eggs in carton, ready to be labelled
Labelling the cartons
Labelled and ready to go! (Except for the best-before date stamp)
Between the Gingerichs and you, no one else has touched the eggs. Now that is fresh!
I said earlier that it’s amazing what you don’t know about the people you know. It’s also surprising what you take for granted about the resources in your own neighbourhood. I didn’t realize just how lucky I was to be from a rural area and to personally know an organic egg farmer.
According to a Globe and Mail article updated in January of this year, farm-fresh organic eggs have garnered a cult following. In some Ontario health food stores, organic eggs aren’t on the shelves, but if you say the right thing (think: password), a carton just might appear from a hidden shelf.
[Our] eggs are from Don Gingerich’s Farm. Of all the eggs we’ve carried in our stores, these are consistently of the highest quality.
They’re delicious, they’re nutritious, but they’re not as cheap as you have come to expect of (non-organic, non-free-range) supermarket eggs: The Gingerichs’ eggs sell for $6-$8 per dozen at the stores mentioned below. Knowing the Gingerichs, I can guarantee that you get what you pay for. Every time.
Okay, so here’s what you’ve all been waiting for: where you can get these delightfully fresh, free-range organic eggs.
- LOCAL: Zehrs Country Market, 75073 Bluewater Hwy (Hwy 21), Bayfield, ON. Phone: 519 565 5566
- London Food Co-op, 621 Princess Ave, London, ON
- Field Gate Organics, Covent Garden Market, 130 King St, London, ON
- On the Move Organics, Western Fair Farmer’s Market, 900 King St, London, ON (Saturdays 8-3)
- Lyn-Dys Health Food, 1016 Oxford St. E, London, ON
- Quarter Master Natural Foods, 176 Wortley Rd., London, ON
- The Gentle Rain, 30 Rebecca St, Stratford, ON
- Fiddleheads Health, Kitchener, ON
- Olliffe, Scrivener Square Block, 1097 Yonge St, Toronto, ON
- The Big Carrot, 348 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON
- Karma Co-op Food Store, 730 Palmerston Ave, Toronto, ON
- The Healthy Butcher, 2 locations in Toronto, ON (one on Queen St., one on Eglinton)
- Bender’s Foodland, Parkhill, ON
Also, you can expect to enjoy Gingerich organic eggs when you eat at Garlic’s of London on Richmond St in London, ON.
If you would like to see Don and Sharon’s eggs in your local health food store or market, ask the owner about them. Some store owners believe that they don’t have a market for premium organic eggs, but perhaps they do!
For some more articles about Gingerichs’ eggs:
Ingredient: farm fresh eggs
Gingerichs’ Listing in the Canada’s Who’s Who of the Poultry Industry (bottom of page 74)
And, a random point of interest, Don & Sharon are the parents of Ben, the owner of Coastal Coffee Company. That organic apple didn’t stray far from the tree!
Oh, and this isn’t the last you’ve heard of the Gingerichs. There’s more!