Sometimes I have the feeling our lives are governed by the orbits of giant cosmic cogs turning in enormous orbits behind the red velvet curtain of our consciousness – (whoah, think I just stumbled onto Swatch astrology). forget that, anyway a week ago I was in the warehouse standing face to face with egg farmer and owner of Willowzen Free Range Eggs, Kelvin Slade, and it was as if a big cog had just clicked full circle.
In 2003 a fresh faced Kelvin visited CERES Organic Farm; in the green farm paddocks that were once an old tip site, Kelvin saw a flock of chickens in with milking goats and dexter cows, a little market garden and fruit trees and there were people, clearly city folk turned city farmers, and Kelvin became inspired because if they could be farmers, then so could he be a farmer. A seed was planted.
Years past, there was travel and a marriage to Kumi from Japan and work and life in many countries. And all the while the seed grew in Kelvin and coincidentally or not (big wheel keep on turning) the same kind of seed was growing in Kumi too. They found 23 hectares at Willow Grove in the foothills of the Latrobe Valley near Trafalgar which they chose for the rich soil, reliable rainfall and a strong local community.
They also made friends with fellow egg farmers (Dan from Dan’s Free Range Eggs) who they learned from and met new farmers who they taught what they knew. Soon they would be taking each other’s eggs to town and co-operating in ways that would improve their farms and their lives. And then the other week Kelvin turned up at the Fair Food warehouse, telling his story of how he came to CERES all those years ago and now here he is delivering his first load of eggs and I can almost hear the big cog click over.
So there’s been a lot of talk about “free range” and what it means to be free range and how many chooks big egg companies can legally squeeze into a paddock and still call free range. The range of free range interpretations is as wide as this brown land – your average supermarket egg hen shares a hectare with 9,999 other hens. Fair Food egg farmers are at the other end of the spectrum – maybe even in another dimension. Kelvin and Yumi run 130 hens per hectare, Dan of Dan’s Free Range runs 200 and Madelaine runs 80 chooks per hectare at her place. My 2 cents worth to the free range debate is that if you are going to put a picture of chickens on your egg box then it should show the actual stocking density of chooks on your farm.
You can find Willowzen Eggs (that’s them in the picture up top reflecting actual stocking densities above) in the webshop.