As respite from all of the Covid-19 – here’s an update from one of our favorite partner farmer couples:
Hugo and Amanda Gervais have been selling eggs from their Champlain Islands farm since about the time their first child, Leila, was born in 2006. Since then, they’ve had a son, Juneau, and the children have grown up collecting, washing, packaging, and delivering eggs to farmers markets and community-supported agriculture (CSA) stands around Vermont.
“The best thing is when you come out of the market, and you see somebody walking by and in their basket they have your eggs,” said Hugo Gervais. “That’s the best thing.”
Amanda and Hugo purchased a ten-acre piece of land in North Hero, Vermont, around 2000, where Amanda promptly started a garden. The garden quickly grew into a farm, and by 2005, they set up shop selling vegetables at a local summer farmers market. At that time, Hugo was working excavation and managing a crew for a local construction company, but the job was taking a toll on his health, and so he took the leap and started full-time farming.
“I was born in Montreal, and my father bought a farm in Isle La Motte when I was 11. He would stick us there in the summer, the four brothers, and we would just take care of the farm,” Hugo Gervais said. “We did a lot of learning.”
Hugo’s farm experience, as well as his work with heavy machinery, was helpful in the early days of Savage Gardens, which has since grown to 34 acres on North Hero and an additional 54 on Isle La Motte. “We have about 3,000 birds now,” said Hugo. “We’re trying to get closer to 4,000 or 4,500, and then it becomes a little bit easier to keep a good rhythm.”
Working with chickens is both rewarding and entertaining, according to Gervais. “I like chickens,” said Hugo. “I love them, actually, quite a bit.” Their quirky personalities keep every day interesting. Hugo walks into their barn each day and they abruptly stop their scratching and clucking and crouch on the floor in unison, tapping their feet, making for a strange sight. “It’s always gotta be quiet, if they get all nerved up, then forget about it,” Hugo laughed. “They go everywhere, up in the trees, and then you have to go and get them down.”
With 3,000 laying hens, Hugo Gervais knows a thing or two about eggs. If you’ve been to the grocery store lately, you’ll see dozens of egg varieties, each with a different claim: vegetarian-fed, free-range, cage-free. Many people would agree that there just isn’t that much difference from one brand to another when it comes to the taste and texture of grocery store eggs. That’s because, according to Gervais, the most important consideration is freshness, which is difficult to determine when you pull a carton from the market shelf.
“The main thing is if it’s a fresh egg,” said Hugo. “The yolk stands up, and the white will be nicely defined, a little bit cloudy. Then when you break it in the pan, it won’t spread all over. It will stay together.” Thick protein-filled whites, rich, golden yolks–you just can’t find grocery store eggs that match the quality of the Gervais’ fresh, pastured eggs. “For Walden, they’ll be just a few day old at the most,” says Hugo.
The Gervais built a semi-automated European-style chicken coup that nests the birds in the center of the building. Each morning at 5, Hugo wakes up and feeds the chickens, checks on them, and collects eggs. The eggs roll out onto a center electrical belt. Hugo turns the belt on, and the eggs slowly come to him and then get cleaned and put into trays. The coup has big wide doors that open up onto pasture, where the chickens can eat, exercise, and explore. “ I’ve got probably eight acres and just separate it in five slices with the poultry netting and then just manage it that way.”
This spring, Amanda and Hugo are busy getting the farm ready for the growing season. Their seeds have been started. The barn is painted and clean, ready for the new flock that’s arriving in April. Hugo is putting the finishing touches on a new egg washing room. It’s a hopeful time around the farm. As the Gervais prepare for their big selling season, Hugo reflects on the relationships he has with the CSAs members, farmer’s market customers, and Walden members, like you.
“[Working with Walden] gives us more breathing room in terms of our budget, and it gives us some good exposure,” Hugo said. “We’re really, really glad that it worked out this way. I’m really looking forward to growing that relationship.”