Consumers shell out for small farm eggs

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat /

Deborah Kalkowski didn't get into the egg business on purpose.

Kalkowski said her children first talked her into adding chickens about a year ago at their 50-acre Groveland farm, Red Tail Ranch, where they already kept horses. They built a coop for 16 chickens, which helped keep the bug population under control and provided fresh eggs for the family.

Kalkowski said she started giving extra eggs to friends and neighbors, and an enterprise was born.

"It's a lot easier than I thought it would be," Kalkowski said last

week. "I can't keep up with the demand. Groveland is a small community.

Word of mouth gets around pretty quick around here."

Kalkowski will soon be one of a handful of farmers in the county

who produce and sell fresh eggs to local customers as a side enterprise

or part of a running farm. She registered her business name in recent

weeks and is in the process of adding about 32 chickens to her property

so that she can keep up with demand.

Kalkowski's chickens are free range and roam the ranch during the

day. She said her customers like the free range aspect of the

operation, as large-scale poultry farms are often associated with small

cages. California voters had a say in that association in recent years

when they approved minimum cage sizes for poultry farms.

But Kalkowski also said it often comes down to the taste.

"I think right now, a lot of people are just paying attention to

what they eat," she said. "I can tell the difference when I scramble

the eggs. The yolks are yellower, they're richer tasting."

Kalkowski said she is looking into selling at farmers markets, though she's still "toying with the idea."

In order to do that, she'll have to be registered with the state

Department of Food and Agriculture as an egg handler, according to

Tuolumne County Agricultural Commissioner Vicki Helmar. Last week,

Helmar said five local egg producers are certified to sell eggs at

local markets. There are about 15 known small egg producers in the

county.

Helmar said all the egg producers in Tuolumne County are small

farms, many of which, like Kalkowski's, sell their extra eggs to

friends or neighbors who want the fresh products. The county tries to

keep aware of who is producing and selling eggs and inform them of the

state regulations.

The state Department of Food and Agriculture monitors quality,

grading, size, storage and production. The Tuolumne County Department

of Agriculture has brochures and contact information for local egg

producers on the rules and registration information.

"For most people, they get started in the egg business because they

get their own chickens and they have some extra eggs … They have a hen

house, and they just let them out in the yard," she said.

That's how Dennis Kittredge got started at his Sonora area farm. He

dove in the egg business about 15 years ago as a "hobby," selling to

friends and neighbors. Now, he keeps about 300 free-range chickens and

produces between 60 and 70 dozen eggs a week.

He sells to natural food stores and supermarkets in Sonora and Twain Harte, as well as at farmers markets.

They have multiple breeds of chickens, which Kittredge said means

they produce eggs of all different colors - white, brown, green and

blue.

"My wife won't buy store eggs anymore," he said about the quality. "It's night and day difference. It's unbelievable."

Though there is a downside to buying fresh eggs, one people might notice around Easter.

"The only bad thing about the farm fresh egg is you can't hard-boil them. They won't peel," Kittredge said.

Contact Chris Caskey at ccaskey@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4527.

11870486
The Union Democrat
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