Getting crackin’

Young entrepreneurs tie farm-fresh eggs with end food product at farmers’ market

Three students from A.J. Baker Public School in Kintore have decided that a working summer vacation may be just what they need.

Alia and Jorja Linton will be collecting eggs and carrying out other responsibilities on their family’s Uniondale farm. Hudson Seaton is going to help feed the chickens at what’s known as the Seaton Ranch in nearby Lakeside.

And on Saturday mornings, all three will fry eggs, make toast and flip peameal bacon for customers (and fellow vendors) at the St. Marys Farmers’ Market, as co-proprietors of The Breakfast Shack.

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Why it matters: The breakfast sandwich booth has been a fixture for much of the market’s 26-year history, but the young entrepreneurs can now tie what they sell back back to their work on their farms, creating a strong connection for consumers.

The enterprise was actually started last year by Hudson’s older brother, Alex, and another friend. Parents Becky and Hugh Seaton started selling their chicken from a booth at the market the previous year.

Market organizers, meanwhile, had been serving breakfast sandwiches on a break-even basis, hoping that someone would come along and revive the on-and-off downtown Saturday morning tradition.

The market offered the Seatons a portable barbecue for cooking the bacon. The family found a grill at an auction sale. Becky put her creative skills to work on a colourful chalkboard upon which to display the basic menu. And the Breakfast Shack was born.

But it’s thanks to 12-year-old Hudson’s evident charm with customers, and with the farm-to-table knowledge of the Linton girls (Alia is 12, Jorja is 10), this second iteration of The Breakfast Shack team has made a strong impression.

Also adding to the appeal has been the Linton clan’s connections to the province’s egg-producing community. For example, once Egg Farmers of Ontario (EFO) found out one of the families selected for its New Entrant Quota Loan Pool program in 2013 was involved in selling eggs directly to consumers, EFO’s Zone 3 leadership donated a bright yellow “Get Cracking” display tent.

“Every time you sell an egg, they’re happy to promote it,” mom Lisa Linton said of the EFO’s donation.

The Lintons now have about 11,000 hens, to go along with the 200-sow farrow-to-finish and cropping operation that was already up and running before the family’s entrance into egg production.

“For the summer, I’ll be working in the egg barn four days a week,” Alia Linton told Farmtario, during a recent lull in Saturday morning customers. Responsibilities for both Alia and Jorja, as well as younger sisters Cortney and Marci, include walking the rows to watch for sick birds, looking for cracked eggs and stacking flats of eggs in the cooler.

The Seaton Ranch, meanwhile, is one of almost 150 small-scale farms marketing through Chicken Farmers of Ontario’s Artisanal Chicken program, having been approved among the first group of successful applicants in 2016.

This year, the ranch operators plan to raise three lots of 550 birds each, processed by Schefter Poultry Processing in Gorrie and sold by the family at the St. Marys Farmers’ Market, through the freezer trade, and through other niche avenues.

For the Breakfast Shack, Becky Seaton typically buys the supplies and gets repaid from that Saturday’s proceeds. There’s a $5 weekly fee for electricity, plus a season-long market stall registration. Anything above that, the profit, is split between the three co-proprietors.

“We had to learn how to work with money and to make change,” said Jorja, who added she already had some experience thanks to helping her grandma sell at a charity food booth at Jacob Auctions in Mitchell. “It’s pretty simple.”

Oh, and one more responsibility that has been added to the trio’s already busy farm summers? Dishwashing.

“You have to clean everything up afterwards,” Hudson reported, a task that alternates, week by week, among the three young entrepreneurs.

About the author

Contributor

Stew Slater operates a small dairy farm on 150 acres near St. Marys, Ont., and has been writing about rural and agricultural issues since 1999.

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