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140 Buffum Road, Monroe, NH 03771
Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs, Monroe, NH
When Jesse Laflamme graduated from college and came home to join the family business 16 years ago, Pete and Gerry’s – named after his dad, Gerry, and his cousin, Pete – was a one-farm show. Now, Pete and Gerry’s partners with more than 100 small farmers to meet the company’s booming demand, and the “home farm” in Monroe processes upwards of one million eggs each day.
Through hard work, creative partnership, and timing that has coincided with greater consumer awareness of how food is produced, Pete and Gerry’s has grown beyond family farm size while still standing by its mission of supporting small-scale, sustainable family farming to raise free-range, Certified Humane® hens.
As the business has grown, Pete and Gerry’s has developed partnerships with some 120 family farms (up from about 70 two years ago) around the northeast and as far west as Missouri. At the home farm in Monroe, nine barns house a total of 100,000 to 120,000 hens at any given time. The company, which also includes two other brands – Nellie’s Free Range Eggs and Carol’s Heirloom Eggs (named after Laflamme’s mom) – also employs about 150 people in Monroe and at a second egg processing facility in Pennsylvania.
“I attribute our growth to a more engaged consumer and to our mission to work with small family farms,” says Laflamme. “Our standard for partnering with a family farm is foremost size: the farm needs to be small enough to allow the family to take care of the hens without hiring outside help.”
Those family farming partners, who sign a five- to seven-year contract with the company, range in size from 5,000 hens to 19,000. (Laflamme says a 19,000-hen egg farm is comparable to a 50-cow dairy farm.) The partnerships with other farms – and farmers – has allowed Pete and Gerry’s to thrive in the happy middle ground between big agriculture and the backyard flock.
Whether they’re laying in Monroe or elsewhere, Pete and Gerry’s hens have access to large open areas outside for much of the day. They are free to peck at bugs hidden in the grass and scratch at the dirt; basically, they’re invited to act like chickens. Pete and Gerry’s technicians visit each of the partner farms weekly to ensure the company’s standards are met and help farmers work through any questions or challenges that arise.
Inside, the hens remain cage free, laying in specially designed boxes where the eggs end up on conveyor belts to move them out of the barn. All the eggs – upwards of two million each day – are transported to one of the company’s two grading facilities. Here, the eggs are washed, graded by weight, packaged, and refrigerated to meet USDA standards. Then they’re ready for delivery to the myriad stores where Pete and Gerry’s and the company’s other brands are sold.
For now, Pete and Gerry’s is primarily an East Coast brand, although it’s expanding sales into the Mid-West and Southwest, and even to a few places on the West Coast. Not bad for a small farm in a small town in New Hampshire.
Monroe was once home to several dairy farms, including the Ward Family Farm, where Laflamme’s great-grandfather grew up raising dairy cattle and hens. Laflamme’s mother, Carol Ward Laflamme, grew up here, too. Eventually she and husband, Gerry, along with cousin Pete, took over the family farm and started exploring alternatives to factory farming that would allow them to stay small, but be successful. They didn’t, however, expect to pass the farm on to the next generation.
“My parents actually discouraged me from returning to the farm, because we were small and they believed the farm did not have a future for me,” says Jesse. “The decision to convert our farm to organic and humane egg production provided me the opportunity to come back to the family business. I’ve always loved where I grew up, and I was excited by the opportunity to make a difference in our rural area of New Hampshire.”
In 2003 the company became the country’s first Certified Humane® egg producer, a label Laflamme is proud to carry. Although Pete and Gerry’s is small in comparison to the large-scale factory farms producing most of the eggs Americans buy, he feels the company is making an important difference – not only in how it is producing eggs, but in fostering the awareness of consumers. In that effort, Pete and Gerry’s strives to be transparent in their operations.
The hens – a hybrid of New England’s famed Rhode Island Red breed – arrive at the farm when they are 16 weeks old and lay for about 15 months – typically one egg per hen per day. When they’ve finished their laying time, the hens are sold at live poultry markets in the New York metro area.
“We believe that we can meaningfully change the egg category and how eggs are produced in this country,” says Laflamme. “We want to bring family-scale farming back. We hope to recruit more family partner farms and expand nationally. Ultimately, I hope that my children will become the next generation at the farm, but at ages five and seven they have a few years yet!”
Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs
140 Buffum Road
Monroe, NH 03771
Various markets throughout the region, including Market Basket, Stop&Shop, and Whole Foods
Meghan McCarthy McPhaul is an author and former newspaper reporter. She pens a regular column for the Littleton Record, as well as web copy and press releases for various businesses and her writing has also appeared in several regional and national publications, including Powder, Northern Woodlands, Forest Notes, and the Journal of the New England Ski Museum.
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