Egg entrepreneur finds growing market for pasture-raised poultry

By Jodi Schwan

When Stephanie Peterson had four backyard chickens outside Washington, D.C., “it was kind of a novelty,” she said.

“People would come over and want to see the chickens. Whenever we’d go somewhere, we’d bring a dozen eggs instead of a bottle of wine.”

But when she moved to Brandon three years ago, the poultry hobby gradually grew into a business.

“I hadn’t even been here a month and I ordered 16 baby chicks,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in homesteading, and the local food movement has been something I’ve been passionate about – trying to get back to where we all came from.”

Fruit of the Coop

As the hens started producing more eggs than she knew what to do with, the idea for a business took root. But first, Peterson determined she would need more than 500 chickens “to make any real money.”

It was important for her that the hens be pasture-raised, but while her own flock had grown to 30 birds, she wasn’t up for raising hundreds of them.

Fruit of the Coop

“Then I started thinking how I know a ton of people who live on small acreages and have chickens for hobbies,” she said. “They have 20 to 80 birds and do it for fun and have way too many eggs and don’t know what to do with them.”

She posted some messages on Facebook pages and got two dozen responses from interested suppliers.

“My first supplier was a guy in Lennox who had a full-time job and his wife had a full-time job and they had goats and ducks and chickens and more eggs than they knew what to do with,” Peterson said.

She started picking up 10 to 20 dozen from suppliers every week or two, got her ag license from the state and found her first customer at Cherry Rock Farms, a Brandon vegetable farm stand that wanted to sell eggs along with its produce.

Her business – Fruit of the Coop – had launched.

That was last summer. As sales increased, she added another organic vegetable farm.

Fruit of the Coop

By the time summer ended, she had three suppliers “and then winter came and everything came to a screeching halt.”

Peterson used the cold weather to take online marketing courses geared for small farms, and she started to diversify into supplying restaurants.

Her first stop was Josiah’s Coffeehouse & Cafe, where longtime friend and owner Steve Hildebrand agreed to start buying 10 dozen eggs a week.

He wants eggs from pasture-raised chickens because they have three times the omega-3 fatty acids as a non-pasture-raised egg, he said.

While producers can market cage-free eggs, “all it means is the hens are not cooped up in a cage,” he added. “It’s what the chicken eats that matters. If they eat grasses, shrubs, insects, their natural environment, that’s when they produce a healthy egg.”

Healthy eggs stay together when cracked open and fried, and the yolks are “really orange,” he said.

Eggs from Fruit of the Coop are “very good,” Hildebrand said.

“Our demand goes up and down, and she’s been very accommodating to get us the number of eggs we need each week. She’s very prompt. She’s made special trips into town to get us extra eggs.”

Peterson also has added Breadico as a client, providing eggs for the restaurant’s new pasta offerings.

She now has six suppliers for eggs but is “constantly looking” for new ones, she said.

“This is not something I had in mind. It’s just kind of been built as I went along, and we’ve had to be creative, but it’s super fun and I’m having a blast.”

Egg entrepreneur finds growing market for pasture-raised poultry

Stephanie Peterson started with 16 baby chicks. She now manages hundreds of eggs from pasture-raised hens for her growing business, Fruit of the Coop.

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