Entrepreneurs and Handsome Brook Farm owners Bryan and Betsy Babcock weren’t looking to create the country’s fastest growing private egg company when they bought a circa-1838 two-story farmhouse and dairy farm in upstate New York. All they wanted to do was own enough land to grow some blueberries, open a bed-and-breakfast and retire in the country. But a small flock of chickens changed their minds.
The founders of a variety of successful startups —including the Senior Pages, a large-print version of the Yellow Pages; Wings Over Wichita, an aviation supply store; and Lamar’s Donuts — moved to Franklin, N.Y from Colorado in 2005 to live out their post-working life dreams. Betsy, who grew up spending summers at her grandparents’ farm in Illinois, was particularly keen on spending her golden years enjoying the country lifestyle. And once she and her husband owned their fantasy farm, they thought it might be fun to add some chickens to the mix.
When the chicks were old enough to lay, the Babcocks started serving the hens’ eggs to their bed-and-breakfast customers, who raved.
the 85-acre farm includes a flock of six Rhode Island red/New Hampshire white mixed rescue hens, two sheep and the family horse who are all allowed to roam free.
“We noticed the eggs laid by our chickens, which are allowed to roam free all over the property, tasted better than any eggs we had ever eaten before,” Bryan said during a recent tour of the 85-acre farm, which includes a flock of six Rhode Island red/New Hampshire white mixed rescue hens, two sheep and the family horse who are all allowed to roam free.
The Babcocks became firm believers that foraging chickens not only have the best quality of life, they also produce the tastiest and healthiest eggs: The yolks are yellower, the whites are firmer and the flavor is more intense. After some research, the couple discovered pasture-raised eggs are also more nutritious than supermarket eggs. According to studies cited by the enterprising duo, such eggs contain twice as much vitamin E and omega 3 fatty acids, plus measurably more vitamins A and D, and have lower cholesterol and fat.
They also learned a few shocking facts about the lives of commercially raised layer chickens. Thus they made it their mission to educate the world about the benefits of organic eggs laid by pasture-raised chickens: the Handsome Brook collective, which includes organic, pasture-raised eggs from more than 40 farms up and down the eastern United States, was born.
The Handsome Brook collective, which includes organic, pasture-raised eggs from more than 40 farms up and down the eastern United States, was born.
Contrary to the thoughts conjured up by the term “free range” or by that cheeky insurance commercial, according to federal guidelines, commercial “free range” chickens are not thumbing rides on passing trains or even scratching around outside. Those classified as “organic” or “free range” only need to meet the minimum criteria of having “access” to a small grass area or concrete pad and are not necessarily allowed outside. These flocks can be confined to as many as 10,000 birds to a building with as little as 1.75 square feet per chicken.
Conditions for cage-free and free-roaming birds are less hospitable; they are guaranteed no access to outdoors and are allowed a mere 1.2 square feet per chicken. Caged birds, which produce 99 percent of the white eggs sold on supermarket shelves, according to Betsy, are confined indoors in spaces less than 1 square foot.
“The conditions can be deplorable,” she said while touring one of Handsome Brook’s organic farms in upstate New York. “Before we bought our farm in 2005, I thought an egg was an egg. I was shocked to realize how wrong I was.”
Today the Babcocks’ business is the 14th fastest growing food company in the country. Handsome Brook Farm Pasture-Raised Eggs are sold in 38 states, including New York, where they are sold at Stop and Shop here on the East End and beyond, plus Whole Foods, Kroger and Harris Teeter. Thousands of organic eggs are laid each day by Handsome Brook’s humanely treated chickens, which are allowed to truly roam free outdoors and enjoy 108 square feet per hen. The birds are able to do all the things that chickens are supposed to do, such as dust bathe, forage for bugs and other food, nest on perches and socialize, which ultimately leads to happier hens that produce healthier and better tasting eggs.
“We’re changing how people buy eggs. And how chickens are raised,” Betsy says. “Which is exactly what we set out to do.”