© Wendy Elliott
Kingsport‚Äôs Oakview Farm must find a way to recoup after losing 1,000 hens by March 21.
KINGSPORT - The future of a small farm in Kingsport is in jeopardy after Kevin and Jennifer Graham were ordered to get rid of 1,000 hens, but community backing is strong.
The Grahams, who run Oakview Farm, do not have a license or quota for egg production. Under provincial regulations, they are allowed to have 200 hens, but they currently house 1,200 birds that roam free in a barn.
The Egg Farmers of Nova Scotia (EFNS), an organization that promotes and regulates the egg industry, ordered the Grahams to get rid of the excess hens by March 21.
Jennifer Graham said March 9 that interest in the case has been widespread. She noted an online petition was started, letters are being written and even supportive strangers have called.
According to Graham, they are currently living in limbo. Meanwhile, the couple has a mortgage and bills to pay that will be challenging without the income from their eggs.
The Egg Farmers of Nova Scotia (EFNS) would not talk specifically about Graham's case, but general manager Patti Wyllie said in a phone interview from Truro that regulations are set out for the province‚Äôs 22 egg producers in terms of food safety and animal care. She noted that two producer members have fewer birds than Oakview Farm.
The Kingsport farm has never been in compliance with the regulations. In 1996 when the Grahams bought the farm, there were already 500 hens there. Their egg production has expanded over time due to demand.
EFNS has a new program that was set up late last year for select new egg farmers offering a quota for up to 500 hens provided they produce free range or certified organic eggs. Between four and six producers will be selected from the eligible entrants.
Wyllie said feedback from across Nova Scotia led to the new program.
‚ÄúWe are hearing that people want the rules to be as equal and fair as possible and beneficial all over the province,‚ÄĚ she added.
According to Wyllie, free run eggs are available in most grocery stores now, not just from farmers.
In the past
In 2014, Aaron Hiltz of Lake George, was fined $1,000 after he entered a guilty plea under the province's Natural Products Act for owning too many hens.
When his case came to light the young farmer had between 700 and 800 birds that he pastured. His wife, Laura, said March 10 that friends and customers created a GoFundMe page that collected enough money to pay the couple‚Äôs fine.
She said they currently keep a total of 400 birds on two different properties, which are inspected twice annually. The couple has also set up a registered egg grading station.
‚ÄúWe have fewer birds than we‚Äôd like,‚ÄĚ Hiltz noted, saying consumer demand calls for more eggs.
‚ÄúThe system is not working for customers who want free range eggs,‚ÄĚ she said.
In 2013, EFNS doubled the number of hens a farmer can own without buying quota to 200 from 100. Hiltz said she and her husband are convinced the regulations changed due to the media attention around the young farming couple‚Äôs woes.
Did you know?
A petition has been created online to support Kevin and Jennifer Graham. It also calls upon the Nova Scotia Egg Marketing Board to reflect the demands of consumers who want to buy from small farms in their communities.