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 since 1998.
“Chick day” – the day the hatchlings arrive on his farm – has become a family-fun day for Jeff, his wife Nancy and their brood. Fresh from Gerber’s Orville hatchery, the chicks – or “babies,” as Jeff calls them – arrive for their 42-day stay in the Kauffman’s warm, spacious chicken houses.
To help move the little ones into their new home, Jeff recruits willing hands from among his five children and 11 grandchildren. Armed with a specific arrival time, the crew awaits the chicks’ appearance, then carefully unloads them from the delivery truck into baskets and hand-carries them into the houses, which have been pre-warmed to a comfy 90˚F. (Later, as the chicks’ feathers develop, the temperature is slowly lowered.) There, they are gently set down on the paper-covered floor, provided with water and Gerber’s own special blend of vegetarian, additive-free feed and allowed to explore their surroundings.
“It’s fun,” Jeff says of the well-practiced routine, which generally repeats every 52 days or so. “Grandma makes cookies,” (Nancy’s rice-crispy treats are a favorite, he allows) “and once the truck leaves, we have our snacks.
“It can be hot in those chicken houses,” Jeff admits, “but like I always say, many hands make quick work.”
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 Kauffmans are hardly unique. 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 that their granddad used to grow,” says Lisa. “It tastes like pure goodness.”
Interested in learning more about Heinen’s CARE Certification program. Click here to view more information and delicious recipes!