August 25th, 2010
12:00 AM ET
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The "eat local" movement has driven more Americans to seek out their local farmers' markets, instead of the nearby supermarket chain, for everything from eggs, produce, even meat.

There are a variety of reasons that more people are turning to local food: some just want to support local business, while others have concerns over food safety – from pesticides in produce to the way animals are treated on large farms.

In Florida, Dale Volkert, who owns about 20 acres in Ocoee, just outside Orlando, decided to convert his property into Lake Meadow Naturals - a small, free range chicken and duck farm. He sells his eggs to local farmers markets, small supermarkets and area hotels.

And, on Saturdays, it's BYOC – that's "Bring your own cartons" – at the farm.

Volkert says his business is run like the family farms of the 1950s – without the use of hormones or byproducts – but to today's health regulations.

"We are about taking care of the animal and giving them a good life, the short life they have," he said. "We take care of our animals as we think they should be."

Free range eggs in Florida must be certified by the state of Florida, unlike many small other small farm operations, Volkert said. To meet state certification Volkert says eggs must meet all standards for grading, sanitary handling, and refrigeration.

Free range eggs that do not meet state standards can only be sold as animal grade food.

Although the USDA nutritional value is the same for mass produced eggs and cage-free eggs, Volkert says he believes his free range eggs are healthier than the big egg producers.

"We are different than the big guys, we don't put our chickens in cages," said Volkert. "They are about volume and we are about quality."

Volkert says his farm's mission is also to support the "slow food" movement – kind of the antithesis of "fast food."

"The slow food movement is about how things were done in the past like back in the 50's," he explained. "We use breeds of chickens that are older breeds, heritage breeds. We have people who deliver house to house.

"It's more about connecting with the person who grows your food and knowing where your food comes from."

Volkert is aware of the debate stemming from the current salmonella outbreak over whether cage-free chickens are any safer than those on larger farms, who produce cheaper eggs.

But, he says, "I think you if you take care of your animals they will take care of you."

See all egg recall information on Eatocracy and full coverage on CNN Health

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Filed under: Animal Rights • Backyard Chickens • Business and Farming News • Eggs • Farms • Food Politics • Local Food • News • Recalls

soundoff (139 Responses)
  1. Scott

    Who cares about this crap,Get a Life

    August 26, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
    • realityckeckChick

      A lot of people do care about this and if you don't care, go waste your time posting on another article that interests you. I'm sure there is one about the Jersey Shore that may peak your interest more.

      August 26, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
  2. Anne MacPherson

    Very interesting article and video and I applaud him for what he is doing. His hens are however not Rhode Island Reds, they are a cross between that breed and a White Leghorn, hence the white feathering. They are great producers for the first year or so, then off they go. Real heritage breeds, like the Dominique, Wyandotte, and the true Rhode Island Red are not considered productive for most farmers. However, those of us who keep our hens for longer appreciate the beauty of these breeds. I have free range birds, and yes sometimes someone gets picked on, but proper management eliminates the need for debeaking. And the bloom, which is the natural protection that the hen puts on each egg is washed off in that hot water.

    August 26, 2010 at 7:53 am |
    • Waldo

      You may have a point about the chicken breeds. I don't know enough about them to be able to tell a Rhode Island Red from a hybrid. But you are right about the washing. That is why it is nice to go to the farm and pick your own eggs. The bloom stays on them and those do taste better than the ones that are washed in the "egg soap". The taste is much better.

      August 26, 2010 at 11:38 am |
  3. Tony

    I actually sell Dale's eggs at two local farmer's markets here in Orlando, and I have to say that every single time I go to his farm to pick up eggs, it's an oasis of just the awesome love Dale has for these animals. Dale does trim beaks to prevent them from pecking at each other, and per a discussion I had with him, he tried to not have to do that, but found his mortality rate was too hi. These animals are clean, and are loved, and are taken care of to the highest degree. I believe that, and I believe in Dale and what he is trying to do for our community, and I am proud to be able to carry his eggs and call him a colleague and friend. Want a more in depth and detail oriented tour of his farm? Check out my blog,, and see more of the beauty that is Lake Meadow Naturals!

    August 26, 2010 at 12:29 am |
    • Waldo

      Thank you for the video. I think it will help to answer some of the questions people have about the operation. Yes, if you are keeping a few backyard chickens you don't need to shave the beaks. Dale has 3000 chickens. Not a tiny operation but not a huge one by agribusiness terms. The important thing is he is happy to have anyone come out to his place to see it. No hiding anything. He is proud of his operation and I am sure if people have questions he is more than happy to answer them. I have been out to his farm a couple of times. It is beautiful. My son raises chickens but he lives in Gainesville, about a two hour drive. He brings them to us when he comes and I blame him for our acquiring a taste for fresh eggs. After you have tasted real eggs the store bought ones just don't taste good. Because we can't always get eggs from him we go out to Dale's farm on Saturdays and pick them up for us, my parents and my daughter. It is a twenty minute drive for us. Dale also has honey, the orange blossom honey is exceptional, as well as cheese and butter from the Amish and grass fed beef from Deland.

      August 26, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  4. Daniel

    Chickens don't range, however they do forage and will travel quite some distance from their coop during the day. Mine go up 1/16th of a mile from their coop as they forage for food. They are out from dawn until dusk. Our dogs do a good job keeping predators away and there are many bushes and trees for the chickens to hide under when hawks and eagles fly overhead. They have rather intricate social structures with certain ones having their group of friends. They are very entertaining.

    August 25, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
  5. Jeremy

    I have a chicken farm and sell the birds and eggs. I have about 600 chickens in rotation and free range them after 12 weeks. I have never once debeaked a bird and never plan on it. I do not have chickens cannibalizing each other and the other things I have to worry about are hawks and skunks. They will peck at each other some but they will just lose some feathers that grow back with their next molt. This pecking is natural and is where the term "pecking order" comes from. I disagree with it being to "improve livability".

    August 25, 2010 at 10:53 pm |
  6. Maty

    People care more about about chickens than they do other human beings. I guess it's easier, somehow.
    By the way, there's no such thing as a "free range" chicken. Chickens don't "range". My grandfather had a chicken/egg farm, and the adage "You can tell what kind of person one is by the way they treat their animals". Raising chickens for eggs or their protein is not inhumane. If you start of with the presumption that it is, then all farming, and any manufacturing using animal-based materiel is all inhumane. That just doesn't make any sense. Keeping your animals and their areas clean and less crowded, makes sense from a sanitation point of view, you don't have to add in the false morality and guilt trips.

    August 25, 2010 at 10:18 pm |
  7. Jason

    Also, it's funny that I spelled "ignorance" incorrectly

    August 25, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
  8. Daniel

    Our chickens forage a great deal during the day, getting earthworms and bugs out of the ground. They use the tips of their peaks extensively. I can't imagine how they could manage having their beaks clipped. In four years of raising chickens I've never had cannibalism and pecking is at a minimum. There is so much space that other than when they are eating grain or seed we've tossed, they are too far apart from each other to peck. At night they do huddle together on their roosts, but they seem to enjoy being close together for warmth and safety. There is very little pecking even then. Like I mentioned in my earlier post, you need lots of space to raise chickens this way. You're not going to feed millions this way unless 20% of the population is farming and the cost of food is two to three times what it is now.

    August 25, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
    • farmer X

      exactly. It seems that most people think we can continue to give them $4 per gallon milk, $2 loaves of bread, etc. without chemicals, hormones, fertilizers or feed lots. As it is, the "evil farmers" are all abusing animals and polluting the earth. If it were done their way, the "evil farmers" would be starving people by charging so much for food. And the same people would be complaining. Like one poster said earlier, if you don't like the way your food is produced, produce your own. Looks like you took that advice to heart, i wish more would.

      August 25, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  9. Daniel

    If you give the chickens enough space, there is no need to debeak them. We have 40+ chickens but they have 5 acres of woods, pasture, and brush to roam. At night they are in a coop, but at daybreak they are out. Debeaking is cruel, but unless you are willing to pay $6 or more per dozen and have farmers raise chickens on plenty of land, that is what you will get. Since we're only raising the chickens for ourselves and some friends, we go an extra step and don't buy hatchery chickens. We let our hens hatch the chicks and raise them. A hen will spend from 4 weeks to 8 weeks raising chicks. The chicks certainly prefer being raised by a mother than growing up without one. They are much calmer with a mother hen looking out after them. In an ideal world, this is how farmers would grow chickens and provide eggs, however it takes lots and space, no more than 50 chickens per acre, and lots of work. You do get outstanding quality eggs and meat, but in order for it to be economically viable egg prices would need to be $6 a dozen and individual chickens would need to sell for $20 to $25 or more. Unfortunately, it is just a fortunate few who get to taste what real eggs and chickens taste like. The masses will have to settle for an inferior product, or grow your own chickens.

    August 25, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
    • Tari777@gmailcom

      I'm willing to pay $6 for a doz eggs, and $25 for a whole chicken if these foods are truly clean and organic!! Yes, I'm willing. Where can I find a place like you describe in or around Tampa, Fl? Thx!

      May 30, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  10. Krista

    It comes down to one thing. If their are nerves in the beak, the practice is inhumane, especially when we have farmers even in this thread who have shown that chickens can be raised without cannibalism, if treated appropriately. If there are no nerves in the very tip (which I would find hard to believe for a species that 'finds' its food through pecking) then cutting just the sharp tip off may not be inhumane if there are actual pecking injuries occuring.

    August 25, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
  11. Anna

    What is NOT mentioned is the fact that even cage-free eggs are associated with animal death. Why? They can't keep the males with the females, or the eggs will be fertilized. So what happens to the males? They are either killed at birth (literally ground up alive in machines), or they are eaten. And females who are too old to produce end up being killed. Even the kindest farmer won't waste good money on feeding nonproductive animals. Don't fool yourself into believing that abstaining from meat yet eating eggs doesn't hurt animals.

    August 25, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
    • realityckeckChick

      Enjoy your tofu.

      August 26, 2010 at 9:31 am |
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