Saturday, August 20, 2011

Egg-cellent Questions

Farm fresh eggs from Healthy Family Farms.
Edited for content: October 9, 2011

I have heard from a few friends regarding HFF farms products now. One says the liver smelled pastured to her, and the other says that the chicken tasted like any other pastured chicken she has eaten, which means it was probably tasty.

That's the thing...the products seem normal enough for a farmer's market product. In fact way better than any store bought battery egg or chicken. Heck, when I bought the eggs when we first moved to LA, they seemed good enough quality to me. Until I read Aajonus' website, and then doubt trickled in.

I am not the only one who was angered by the proclamations of Deputy District Attorney, Kelly Sakir, in the "Motion Regarding Source of Bail", nor am I the only one who has doubts about the authenticity of Healthy Family Farms products. It is coming close to a year now that these allegations have been swirling. I know Sharon Palmer and HFF employees are busy, but if they don't get busy showing their records and numbers...well, I don't have many numbers of consumers but it seems to me that people would be hesitant to buy. But then again, people are flocking to farmer's markets and what do they know of this saga? Where is the consumer protection for them?

Anyone who is interested in this story wants to hear from Hohberg Poultry Ranches. They have a website and are on Facebook, so they are social media savvy, yet they cannot seem to return emails or phone calls. If I don't hear from them soon, I will make sure I go visit them! If anyone wants to come with me, please email me or let me know.

Hohberg Poultry Ranches, Fontana and Ontario, California

Here is why we need to speak with the Hohberg's:
On the original website put together by a Southern California WAPF co-chapter leader, was a private letter from another local WAPF co-chapter leader describing her suspicions of Healthy Family Farms eggs. This letter was originally posted here but Farm Muckraker was asked by it's author to remove the letter. Loosely paraphrased: When asked about the possible outsourcing of eggs, a FM employee, Tina, said that Sharon told her she took the eggs to Hohberg's to have them washed. This co-chapter leader concluded that the eggs weren't outsourced.

Hohberg Poultry Ranches of Ontario are first mentioned in the investigative report:
"Approximately 5 or 6 months ago, there was a period of lower egg production at Nichols resulting in eggs not being available for sale through the retail store. At that time, Mr. Cisneros suggested Sharon Palmer try Hogbert Egg Farm in Fontana. Since that time, Sharon Palmer had not come back."

So who, then, are Chris and Christina? 
Victoria describes them as: "disgruntled former employees...two of our former market managers were let go for stealing (well, technically, one quit just before things hit the fan, and one was fired). They tried to extort additional money from the farm by threatening to get the farm in trouble if they didn't get a hefty severance package. We never told our customers why they left, because we didn't want to gossip; but clearly, they've headed down a lower road. What a shame – we've put that unfortunate situation behind us, and we're sorry that they have chosen to be vindictive. (And now we understand that they are letting people know that they left because of their concern over our "deceptive farming practices". What rot.)" in her original letter to HFF Customers. in the Fall of 2010.

Here is a testimony, in their own words, from Aajonus' website:
"Christopher and Christina Girard:
Subject: Healthy Family Farms And Rawsome Club Members Deceived For Years
As an interested party, I am forwarding this message to [Dr. Vonderplanitz]. This is the reason that Christina and I quit Healthy Family Farms. My family could no longer work and distribute products from Healthy Family Farms. Due to the fact that reporting this to you prior to having received your report, Christina and I could have been seen as just vindictive ex employee trying to damage my former employer. However, we did report it to the district attorney.
[Rawesome members and farmers’ market buyers] have been duped out of your hard earned money plain and simple. Test results show a 5 times higher than allowable level of Mercury in the eggs and Arsenic in the chickens. I will also encourage you to print this email and present it to the Farmers Market Managers and complain and encourage the managers to no longer allow Sharon Palmer and Healthy Family Farms to make a handsome profit at the Farmers Markets from pure deception and fraud. Christina and I thank you for all of your friendship and support.
I [Chris] took all of the photographs I sent you while my wife and I worked at Healthy Family Farms (HFF). As you see, Sharon Palmer had us repackage meats and eggs from commercial wholesalers as born, raised and layed at HFF as organic without soy. When we repeatedly complained about misrepresenting HFF products as organic, she fired us.
 HFF sold 523 chickens and game hens, and 18 ducks per week. Just at Hollywood Farmer’s Market alone, we sold about 12 pork rib racks. Customers would request things like organs etc. and we would not have them but would have 15-20 Racks of Lamb and 2-4 legs of lamb just on Sunday Hollywood Market. Since there were only a few pigs and one or no lambs at HFF, you can guess where Sharon bought the meat. The numbers of items sold on the chart on the freezer were weekly sales. Cases of eggs were 15 dozen per. Also Notice that the Hollywood Farmers Kitchen operated by SEE-LA (Hollywood FM Management) received 10 Large Chickens per week (Bottom of Picture just below "Hollywood" I would personally deliver the chickens to the kitchen. Let me know if you need more info.
Christopher and Christina Girard"

Did Sharon Palmer and James Stewart conspire to sell Rawesome customers outsourced eggs?

James words: "For your piece of mind, know that his claims regarding poor animal feed quality, negative laboratory testing results, alleged felony convictions, high temperature oil processing and huge profits are inaccurate and outlandish.

I have always been transparent and shared with everyone "exactly what I know” about the food represented in our club. If a food producer has lied, the minute those suspect items were proven to be false, they were removed from our club."

Notice James did not mention egg outsourcing. Notice his last sentence. 

From a conversations with those closest to this case, Sharon has admitted to buying eggs and repackaging them for Rawesome only. She said she had James' blessing to do so. The story goes like this: sometime in the year of 2009/2010 a mountain lion consumed a lot of the egg laying chickens. Sharon made arrangements with James to pick up eggs from other farmers. I cannot confirm if these eggs were repackaged as HFF, but it seems to me they were. She has admitted she only did this until she could raise more egg layers to support his co-op since she was only able to produce enough eggs for the Farmer's Markets.

Did Rawesome club members know that James and Sharon did this? I believe they found out after Aajonus' announced his suspicions. How did some of them keep buying eggs from Healthy Family Farms after the admitted fraud? I do not know. Here is word from an anonymous Rawesome member in an email to Aajonus: 
"I used to be a member of Rawesome Foods and agree with the concept behind what they stood for obviously.  I stopped shopping there about a year ago after you brought some important issues to light and after visiting HFF.  I definitely consider myself to have been “duped” regarding the eggs and was very frustrated (especially since I eat most of them raw) that I had taken Rawesome’s word for it.  I never liked the yellowness of the yolks (as opposed to the brighter, darker orange – a sign of a grass diet) or the way they poached (or didn’t).

I visited Healthy Family Farms during an “open house” on a Sunday and was extremely disappointed, even though I was bracing myself for a negative experience already.  The reps at the numerous farmer’s markets, HFF literature, and web info indicate that it is a grass/pasture based farm (i.e. Joel Salatin), as does Rawesome.  The farm is nothing of the sort as you know.  It reminds me of a petting zoo.  Since they have four open houses per year they can prepare to put their best foot forward each time and yet not one blade of green growing grass was available for any animal to consume.  They have permanent fencing and dirt “pastures” just piling up with bacteria.  The amount of nitrogen the animals are putting down is far too much for the soil to metabolize.  This kind of farming does not demand my food dollar.  For all the talk about James Stewart and Sharon Palmer working an “under the table” deal, did no other Rawesome leaders visit Healthy Family Farms and see this?"

Did James remove Sharon from the club? I do not believe so, because in the
"Declaration of Support of Motion Concerning Bail" Deputy District Attorney declares, "continued investigation, including an undercover buy made on May 18, 2011 at the food facility known as Rawesome, indicate that [Sharon Palmer] is still selling her illegal dairy products at that facility."
I do not have these answers, though, since I was not a Rawesome member. 

If buying eggs from someone else and repackaging them as coming from your farm isn't bad enough, how do we know what quality of eggs these outsourced eggs were? The investigators hired by Aajonus confirmed that at Nichols/Chino Valley eggs where Sharon was a known customer: 
"We saw commercial and organic eggs which were brown in color. The organic eggs were only being sold by the dozen at a cost of $3.50 per dozen. The commercial flats of eggs were sold at $1.99 per flat....We spoke with David Will, Steve Nichols General Manager. Mr. Will agreed to research invoices on Ms Palmer, but recalled that she had bounced a check on them and that he thought she was buying eggs from other companies.
He subsequently contacted us by phone and advised that Sharon Palmer had not purchased eggs from the company in at least six months. He confirmed that Ms Palmer was buying 10-15 cases of commercial (non-organic eggs), jumbo browns."

Victoria told me at my first WAPF-LA meeting that Sharon had apologized for this outsourcing. But it begs the question, is this the only time Sharon has done this? How do we know that not only did she not have enough eggs for Rawesome but for the Farmer's Markets as well? How do we know she didn't outsource eggs for the Farmer's Markets, as her former employee suggests? Surely Sharon would have known that outsourcing is against the rules of the farmer's markets. How do we trust that she will never outsource again?

And that, my friends, is the conundrum: trust.


  1. I live in the San Francisco area and $4.50 and $5.50 a dozen is unheard of for pastured eggs from reputable farms. We pay 6-9 a dozen. I think the market/economy is pretty similar to the L.A. area. What do you usually pay?

  2. @julied: the truly pastured eggs are the same price here $7-$9 per dozen. Healthy Family Farms and Lily's seem to be in direct competition with each other as both sell "grass-fed" eggs. Lily's charges around $5.50 for a dozen. Both HFF and Lily's are veg. fed...but not truly pastured chickens eating lots of bugs it seems.