Eggs-cellent Work: Jesse Laflamme

Photo by John Hession

When Jesse Laflamme was in college he was considering a career in high finance, but he decided instead to return to the roost and join the family egg business. The fifth-generation farm was struggling at the time, nearly out of business, a victim of competition from very large caged egg farms in the region. They decided to switch their production to accommodate a new trend - organic eggs.

It was, to say the least, a good move. Today the business - Pete & Gerry's organic eggs and Nellie's cage-free eggs - ships, in partnership with other family farms, about 10 million dozen eggs a year. That means the business has the largest market share in the Northeast and is third in the nation. And it's still growing at 30 percent a year.

It's a long way from the time when he was 5 and rode around on his bicycle with his pet hen, Nellie. It is a little-known fact, he says, that chickens love to ride on bicycles.

What's the secret to your success? People are starting to question where their food comes from. Agriculture has changed dramatically over the last 50 years, often not in good ways. I believe we've been successful because we share the same concerns and values as our customers. We believe very strongly in treating our hens humanely, in food free from pesticides and antibiotics, in sustainable family farming and, most of all, in transparency.

You produce both organic eggs and cage-free eggs. What's the difference? Organic eggs are always from cage-free hens, but cage-free eggs are not always organic. Cage-free eggs appeal to consumers who care about animal welfare, but may not want to spend more for organic eggs.

Your slogan is "Happy hens lay better eggs." How do you keep them happy? We let our chickens act like chickens! This sounds so basic, but it is so important. Battery-caged hens are crowded into a wire-floored cage with up to nine other hens, with less room than 2/3 of a sheet of paper to live their entire lives. Our girls can go anywhere they want, they can lay an egg in a nest, they can scratch, they can roost and during the summer they can dig and dust bathe in the grass.

Is it true you even have screened-in porches? Because our winter is so long, we decided to build what are called "Winter Gardens." These screened-in porches allow the hens to go out in the fresh air and sunlight even when there is snow on the ground or the pasture areas are muddy.

How many "girls," as you call them, do you have on the farm? The farm has a lot of acres, so we actually have about 160,000 of the girls spread out in nine different barns. This may sound like a lot, but most battery cage farms are now building barns with 250,000 or more hens in each!

What do you love most about what you do? We now partner with more than 30 other family farms. We have an opportunity to bring back struggling farms and give these families a fair living for their hard work. This is what our customers expect.

Ever regret you didn't go into high finance? Not for a second. I am incredibly fortunate to be a part of this farm and business. I find a very strong purpose in what I do, and I am always challenged.

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