ADDISON COUNTY— Throughout the country, consumers have become more cautious in the wake of a salmonella outbreak that sickened some 1,000 people and affected upwards of half a billion eggs from two Iowa producers.
The larger chicken farms in the United States can expect lasting repercussions and tightened safety standards, but the recall may have unexpected benefits for local egg producers. Jackie Devoid, who with her husband, George, owns Maple Meadow Farm in Salisbury, said that there’s been an increased interest in her family’s eggs since the recall.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in sales and the number of people coming into the store in the past two weeks,” she said on Tuesday. “We’ve received two calls today for accounts, and those were directly related to the egg recall.”
Devoid said that the most common hesitancy about buying local eggs is the price. Eggs from the larger producers, many of them out West, are cheaper than ones produced on a smaller scale because the factories can produce in bulk and process their own feed.
Smaller farms like Maple Meadow, which has around 65,000 laying hens and produces around 55,000 eggs each day, simply can’t compete with these lower prices. Their distribution ranges throughout Vermont and into Ticonderoga and Port Henry in New York — far from the large scale of Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, which both came under fire for contaminated eggs.
Devoid said the family has run up against Wright County Egg owner Austin DeCoster before, when he owned DeCoster Farms in Maine. The farm paid $2 million in fines for health and safety violations in 1997.
“He was a thorn in our side in Maine for years,” said Devoid. “He would overproduce and flood our markets. But they’d all come back to us because the quality of the eggs wasn’t as good. Any corners that he can cut, he does.”
The recent egg recall seems to have changed the minds of some customers, said Devoid. She had a caller on Tuesday who was looking to buy eggs in bulk, and she asked if he wanted to know the price.
“He said, ‘Actually, it doesn’t matter, I just want local eggs,’” Devoid said. “That was really refreshing. Most of the time we’re continuously explaining our prices to people.”
Maple Meadow already adheres to the high cleanliness and safety regulations set by the state of Vermont after a salmonella scare in the early 1990s, and the family’s feed provider also called shortly after the first Iowa eggs were recalled to assure the family that their feed was free of salmonella. Devoid said that the family also made the decision about seven years ago to vaccinate their hens against the disease before they entered the flock, although they had never had any incidents of salmonella.
“It’s a lot more expensive,” she said. “But my husband considered it an insurance policy.”
And to her, the insurance policy has paid off. Jackie and George Devoid, as well as their daughter and son-in-law, Jennifer and George Sheldrick, are confident that the eggs they produce are quality.
The Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op sells Maple Meadow’s cage free eggs, and bulk section manager Reiner Winkler said he sees a constant high demand for those and other locally produced eggs, though he said he hasn’t seen any changes since the egg recall.
“We get organic eggs from out of state,” he said. “But by far the most eggs that we sell are the others. Our customers very much prefer local eggs.”
In addition to eggs from Maple Meadow, the Co-op purchases eggs from smaller local farms and families who raise chickens, who aren’t covered by any specific health regulations. Winkler said the store and the customers trust the quality of the eggs because they know where they come from.
“We accept eggs from small farms in the neighborhood,” he said. “Each carton of eggs is labeled very clearly — (the customers) know where they come from. It’s based on trust.”
Devoid agreed that trust is an important factor in buying local eggs — it’s her family and their six other employees, plus many others that they know in the community, who eat the eggs laid at Maple Meadow.
“We produce for all of our friends and families — we’re feeding those people. So it has to be safe,” she said.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at firstname.lastname@example.org.