Are Major Retailers Embracing Local Farmers?
It was nearly 20 years ago when my parents began asking tough questions of themselves about how we as farmers were producing food. At that time our farm was just another cog in the wheel of an industrialized agriculture system. It was ultimately our personal experience with a family health matter that lead us to a new belief system about agriculture. We now believe that as farmers we have a sacred responsibility to produce food in a way that not only considers the health of our land but also the community of people it supports and feeds.
In the early days this kind of thinking inspired plenty of eye-rolling from neighbors and even some friends. A decade ago not many consumers had even heard of production practices like “grass-fed” and “pasture-raised.” In our early years it was hard enough convincing any passerby at the farmers market to consider the benefits of such products and it was nearly impossible to convince a grocery store buyer to consider our products.
However, the tides now seem to be changing. Consumers are beginning to demand higher standards in food production as well as transparency and authenticity. It appears that even the largest of retail grocery stores are now changing their tune when it comes to offering locally sourced products.
Surprisingly, this year alone five midwest grocery store chains chose to begin offering pasture-raised eggs from Seven Sons.
Recently my wife and children and I took a road trip to visit many of the new grocery stores that offer our eggs. This was a very rewarding experience as it caused me to pause and reflect on the years of investment and sacrifice that my parents made to pursue a way of farming that they truly believed in.
Below is a brief photo journal of our little family road trip showing the destinations we stopped at to find our eggs.
(Pictured above are my son's Bryton and Tyton with me in front of the Indianpolis Whole Foods Market.)
Whole Foods actually made contact with us a number of years ago requesting to offer our eggs but we were never able to see a partnership come to fruition until this spring. Before being approved to sell in Whole Food's stores, we received a visit from representatives from their corporate and regional folks who conducted an initial audit. Interestingly they had not seen many farms that were conducting daily pasture moves for each flock of hens. We hope they begin to develop policies that encourage other producers to adopt similar pasture-based models that embrace holistic multi-specie farming practices.
Currently we are supplying Whole Foods stores in Indianapolis and Chicago.
#2: Earth Fare
Earth Fare recently celebrated 40 years in business. An interesting fact about these guys is that every single product Earth Fare offers is free of high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, artificial colors and sweeteners, and synthetic growth hormones in fresh meat and dairy.
Our relationship with this retailer began when they asked us to supply their new Fort Wayne, IN store with our eggs. Earth Fare currently has 36 locations in 9 states. This year our relationship has expanded to their Carmel and Greenwood Indiana stores.
#3: Market District
Our relationship began with Market District just this year when they opened their 15th store location in Noblesville Indiana. Market District's parent company Giant Eagle has over 210 grocery store locations and they remain a private family owned business headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA. At this time we are supplying Market District in Carmel, IN and Dublin, OH.
I must say that Market District has done a fantastic job promoting and displaying our eggs. The fact that Market District remains a family owned business definitely shows itself in how personal and accommodating they were to us during the initial vendor on-boarding process.
The Market District shopping experience is like nothing we've ever seen from a grocery store. Watch this video to see what I mean:
#4 Lucky's Market
(Photo: Provided by Lucky’s Market.)
While we did not have a chance to visit Lucky's Market on our trip, we are glad to begin supplying their Bloomington Indiana location this year.
Founded in 2003 and based near Boulder, CO, Lucky’s Market operates 17 stores in 13 states throughout the Midwest and Southeast United States. Lucky’s “Organic for the 99%” store format emphasizes its expansive selection of natural and organic food.
#5 Kroger Marketplace
(Pictured above is my wife Charis and our son's Bryton and Tyton at the newly opened Kroger Marketplace in Franklin, IN)
As you can imagine Kroger was not even remotely on our radar as a store we ever considered supplying. However, this changed last year when we were invited to the Kroger Food Show hosted by Indiana Grown. It was there that my brother Brooks and I had the opportunity to introduce our farm to Kroger's head person for their Central Division. To our surprise, a year later we are now supplying two new Kroger Marketplace stores located in Columbus and Franklin Indiana.
Kroger has publicly stated that they are committed to working with local farmers and artisans. Believe it or not, if you walk into any Kroger Marketplace store you will notice that they are beginning to deliver on this commitment.
Make no mistake, Kroger's willingness to support local farmers is solely driven by consumer demand. Kroger is the nation's largest supermarket and for a company of this size to be seen supporting local food producers is a prime example of how consumers truly have the collective power to shape the food system of tomorrow.
While all this is encouraging to see, we continue to advise consumers to always do their research about the farm or brand you choose to support. This is why every carton of our eggs includes an invitation for folks to come out for a farm tour to meet us personally and see our operation for themselves.
So how are we going to supply all these eggs?
Our partnerships with the retailers highlighted above have come to fruition under very amicable arrangements. It's of highest priority to us that our farm continues to grow at sustainable pace without giving way to compromise or distracting us from our core purpose and beliefs. We have established very workable relationships with regional distributors that allow us to take on new store locations only as our supply allows. This has enabled us to grow our pastured laying hen flocks at a healthy planned pace.
Laying hens also happen to be a very scalable enterprise as our hens simply follow along our cattle in their grazing rotations. Since our pastured production model is "stacked" on our existing operation, it doesn't require additional land investments. In contrast to conventional egg production models that require massive buildings to house hens, we simply build portable four season green houses that accommodate daily pasture moves in the growing season.
Currently our production is managed and supplied by two of my younger brothers; Brice and Bruce Hitzfield. They each operate their own independent production enterprises that "stack" on our current land base. Brice and Bruce both have a few thousand hens that they manage each day with the help of several hired hands.
As the egg enterprise continues to grow it is promising to be an opportunity for the next generation of young people in our community to be involved in sustainable agriculture.
Left to right: Luke Fisher, Jake Lock, Brice Hitzfield (3rd son), Bruce Hitzfield (6th son) and Jarod Morris.
The fellows in the picture above proudly refer to themselves as the "Egg Crew." These guys are an efficient team that take their jobs very serious yet at the same time are having a blast together as friends and co-labors in the ministry of healing our land and communities.
In a current era when the average age of the American farmer is 60 plus years old, thanks to your support these youngsters have a bright future in agriculture ahead of them. Together with the help of the consumer, we are proving that American's broken agriculture system can be rebuilt from the ground up with youthful energy of inspired young farmers!