You find yourself at the farmer’s market every week, making a beeline to your town’s “egg guy.” Maybe you even have notions of raising backyard chickens yourself, following a national trend. However you’re either a) restricted by neighborhood rules, or b) too lazy.
If you live in Central Florida, Don Huntington has the answer. Huntington happens to raise chickens – happy hens and roosters that roam a 25-acre pasture all day – along with his cows, turkeys, ducks, rabbits, and goats.
From him, you’ll get eggs, which are as natural as any you’d retrieve from your own yard birds. The catch is – you’re renting his hens.
Sign a paper stating that you’ll rent two hens weekly, for $2.50 apiece. “I’ll take care of them, and you’ve got visitation rights,” he says. Ultimately, from “your” hens, you’ll reap one dozen farm-fresh, unpasteurized eggs.
Most customers forgo the visits; they just show up at Lake County’s Clermont Farmers Market on Sunday morning. There, Huntington swaps the eggs for “rent” payment from a trailer that’s designed to look like an old-fashioned red barn.
The rental agreement is to keep things legal. Under a somewhat murky law, fresh, unpasteurized eggs are not allowed to be sold for human consumption; they’re intended for pets only.
The 50 dozen eggs he has packed generally sell out by 11 a.m. So Huntington supplements the business by supplying egg sandwiches to vendors before the market open, and be selling salsa, beverages, wheatgrass, wheatgrass juice, and sunflower sprouts throughout the day.
Each dozen eggs looks different. Inside the signature purple carton, the eggs are a variety of sizes and hues. That’s because they come from Rhode Island Reds, Araucanas, Buffs, Cuckoo Marans, Plymouth Rocks – about half a dozen breeds in all.
They’re all well-fed. In addition to whatever bugs and such they pick up from the ground, the hens eat sunflower sprouts, old vegetables provided by a fellow farmers market vendor, laying mash, and black soldier-fly larva – “a fancy name for maggots,” Huntington quips – that he raises himself.
Huntington owns 10 or the 25 acres of Center Hill farm, but just as a hobby. His main business is selling used airplane parts under the banner Quality Aircraft Salvage, which is in Groveland, his home. The sometimes-farmer began raising the chickens for himself, then for friends and family, and soon an enterprise was born.
He’s up to 600 chickens with 600 more chicks being groomed for the flock. Huntington takes care of them himself with the assistance of three homeless men who offer assistance in exchange for lodgings on the farm. The trio let the chickens out at 7 a.m., feed them, and bring them back to their cages at 7 p.m.
As for growth plans, Huntington says, “I just play it by ear.” But, he notes, “Some people rent a cow.”
This article first appeared in the winter 2016 issue of Florida Food & Farm.
Written by Rona Gindin
Photos above by F. Scott Michael