The following story was written by Heinen’s partner Elaine T. Cicora.
When it comes to CARE Certification – the voluntary third-party program that certifies participating farmers and ranchers as using “best practices” in caring for their animals, their environment and their communities – the farmers for Kidron-based Gerber’s Amish Farm seem to have a firm grasp on what caring looks like.
Consider Jeff Kauffman, who has been raising Gerber’s chickens on his farm in Wooster for over 23 years.
From the time the chickens arrive to Gerber’s Amish family farms from the Orville Hatchery, they are provided with fresh water and Gerber’s own special blend of vegetarian, additive-free feed and are free to roam and explore their surroundings. The idea is to keep the chickens safe and well cared for under the most humane standards.
“It’s fun,” Jeff says of the well-practiced routine. On arrival days, “Grandma makes cookies, and once the truck leaves, we have our snacks celebrating the day, preparing ourselves to do the best job we can during their stay.
It’s hard to imagine a more caring start than Jeff provides his birds. But as one of 150 family farmers raising Gerber’s chickens throughout Ohio’s “Amish Country,” the Kauffman’s are just one example of the commitment and care that goes along with raising chickens. Since its founding in 1952, Gerber’s has gone to great lengths to raise healthy, stress-free chickens, employing a team of dedicated farm technicians and a system of regular company audits to ensure consistent, humane treatment for all their birds. Along the way, they earned humane certification from FACTA (Farm Animal Care Training & Auditing) in 2014; their products have also carried the Colorado-based Where Food Comes From “source verified” label for a number of years.
This year, however, Gerber’s has gone one step farther, becoming part of the national CARE Certification program, an exacting process that included third-party onsite audits of 70 of the producer’s farms. With standards addressing everything from chicken housing conditions and waste management to employee working conditions and compensation, CARE Certification not only ensures sustainability, but also provides Gerber’s with a way to share their story with their customers, many of whom are valued Heinen’s shoppers.
While their CARE Certification may be new, Lisa Gerber Shoup – company vice-president, granddaughter of founders Dwight and Melva Gerber and one of 10 family members currently working for the company – says Gerber’s has always adhered to the highest standards of caring for its workers, its chickens and its environment. “From the hatchery to the farms, from processing to shipping, we always strive to go above and beyond expectations. It’s the way we operate. It is just the right thing to do.”
Jeff Kauffman concurs, citing his relationship with his farm technician as a key factor. “It’s obvious that Gerber’s wants an excellent product, and my farm technician is here every week, to provide technical support, to answer questions and advise on best practices. The company has always focused the health of the chickens, and it’s clear to me how their support and guidance have helped us improve over the years.”
It’s core values like these – trust, teamwork, integrity, commitment and respect – that have made Gerber’s a valued partner for Heinen’s for more than 20 years. “I remember my first meeting with Tom and Jeff Heinen and thinking what a great relationship this could be,” Lisa recalls. “Our goals are perfectly aligned: To create and offer the best possible product to our customers. Our relationship with Heinen’s has grown stronger over the years and has been a wonderful experience for us all, as well as a wonderful way to create relationships with our customers.”
Today’s Heinen’s shoppers can find a full range of Gerber’s Amish Farm CARE Certified chicken products in the meat department, including boneless and bone-in breasts, tenders, thighs, sausage and whole and cut-up birds; shoppers will also find Gerber’s products, including marinated chicken breasts and fried chicken, in Heinen’s meat service case.
“People tell us it’s like the chicken they had growing up on the farm,” says Lisa. “It tastes like chicken should, simply delicious, and remarkably good!”
Interested in learning more about Heinen’s CARE Certification program. Click here to view more information and delicious recipes!