Rob Knecht
THE PROCESS: Rob Knecht, vice president of operations at Vande Bunte Eggs, explains the steps of washing, sorting, processing and packaging eggs to chefs from Creative Dining Services.

West Michigan chefs tour cage-free egg farm

Program provides inside look at Vande Bunte Eggs’ cage-free facilities.

More than 40 chefs from Zeeland-based Creative Dining Services recently toured Vande Bunte Egg Farm’s cage-free campus as part of their Chef Lab program. The behind-the-scenes tour gave the chefs a first-hand look at where and how the eggs they use in their kitchens are produced, as Creative Dining is committed to using eggs from cage-free farms by the end of 2018.

The chefs toured Vande Bunte Eggs’ cage-free hen houses, where birds are housed in a natural setting with perches, nesting boxes and space to exhibit natural behaviors such as dust bathing. They also walked through the Vande Bunte’s processing facility, where eggs come directly from the hen house to be cleaned, sorted and packed into cartons before they are shipped across Michigan and across the country to restaurants, grocery stores, food service providers and more.

Creative Dining, a hospitality management provider, operates food service programs for clients in 12 states. Some of the Michigan facilities include Davenport University, Calvin College, Samaritas, Grand Rapids Community College, Hope College, Stryker and Kalamazoo College.

On July 1, Creative Dining switched to using all cage-free eggs for their shelled egg products, and will convert entirely to cage-free (including liquid egg products) by December.

“Our chefs are passionate about using the best local ingredients, and want to see how and where they are produced,” says Janine Oberstadt, director of corporate sustainability for Creative Dining Services. “This not only supports the Michigan egg industry and the upcoming changeover to cage-free, but also makes our chefs feel great about what they’re serving our guests every single day.”

The egg industry has a total of $625 million in economic impact in the state of Michigan. Michigan is an egg “export state,” so many Michigan eggs are shipped out of state, and even out of the country. Vande Bunte’s hens are fed Michigan-produced corn and soybeans, further encouraging and supporting the local ag economy, as well as the goal of sustainable practices.

NATURAL ENVIRONMENT: Chefs from Creative Dining Services, completing their Chef Lab program, visit Vande Bunte Eggs cage-free hen house to learn about how the cage-free environment encourages the birds’ natural behaviors and how the eggs are transported from the hen house by conveyor belts into the processing facility.

“The safety and health of our birds is our first priority, because happy, healthy birds produce the best-quality eggs,” says Rob Knecht, vice president of operations at Vande Bunte Eggs. “The Creative Dining tour was a great opportunity to connect directly with our customers, educate them on our cage-free standards and practices, and show them how well we treat our animals.”

Michigan’s eight family-owned and operated egg farms care for more than 15 million hens, which produce 4 billion eggs every year, making Michigan sixth in the nation for egg production.

Eggs are loaded with vitamins and minerals, and are the least expensive source of high-quality protein per standard USDA serving.

“Today’s tour was a unique way to see first-hand that connection between birds, food production, and bringing eggs to the table in a sustainable and delicious way,” says Allison Brink, executive director of Michigan Allied Poultry Industries.

“There are primarily eight family farms who take care of the 15 million Michigan hens, placing the highest level of caution on protecting their feathered friends from any outside disease,” Brink adds. “Because of that focus on safety, tours for outside guests are a rare occasion. It was exciting to see the Vande Bunte family’s innovative and thoughtful approach recognized today by the culinary artisans who use their product.”

Source: Michigan Allied Poultry Industries.

 

 

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