At Berkeley Bowl, we strive to offer our consumers ethically sourced products. We work with farms that engage in humane practices in raising and tending livestock, and regularly visit the farms of our vendors and partners to ensure that they are engaging in ethical and humane processes.
On a warm May morning, we went to visit the Berkeley Bowl Chickens, which produce the Berkeley Bowl brand Pasture Raised eggs. The farm is in Petaluma, off the main road and down just the kind of dirt path you expect to see leading to a chicken farm. Our road crew consisted of Sunny D. who oversees our dairy and eggs including our Berkeley Bowl Pasture Raised eggs (and Chi our marketing manager who is unapologetically urban and entirely unprepared to come face to face with 2900 chickens).
As we turned down the road to the farm, you see pastures on either side of the dirt road filled with chickens roaming around. In the near distance, a large structure on wheels looking every bit modified mobile home sits at the edge of a patch of green with chickens freely roaming in and out and what looks like a conveyer belt protruding from the front end. Nearby two giant Newfoundland dogs sit in the shade looking like polar bears that wag, keeping an eye out for threats to the chickens (the Newfies jump up quickly in response to a hawk screaming overhead and to these visitors to the pasture who got a very good sniffing.)
Farmer Don met us by the side of the pasture looking every bit like he’d be heading to Mavericks’ as soon as he was done with us, to catch some waves on a longboard. A knit cap with the Vans logo, the cargo shorts, and beard stubble spotted with grey, like badges of his Gen X membership complemented his easy smile and friendly laugh – instantly making us feel welcome. Nothing like the farmers from childhood picture books – instead of overalls and a sheaf of wheat, Don looks like Old Macdonald if Old Macdonald listened to Pearl Jam with his dog.
Don let us into the pasture thru a gate that reminds you that chickens don’t have thumbs and walks us down a dirt path toward the coop along with a lone chicken serving as our escort. As we get closer, the chickens come to check us out – some from a distance, some close enough to untie our shoes most looking for a snack the way my dog does when I get home from work. Immediately noticeable is how clean the birds look – fluffy, glossy, full feathers, bright red combs, and surprisingly (to me anyway) chatty chickens doing their thing, popping up like gophers from the tall grass. It’s difficult to describe how the chickens look except to say they looked happy if a creature without lips can convey a smile of happiness.
Don spoke to us about the farm at length – he’s a 5th generation farmer, having taken over the farm from his mother and grandmother who raised sheep on the grounds. Don transitioned from Sheep to Chickens because he had heard about senate bills that passed, with new requirements around the space required for raising chickens in California, he realized he had the space, thought it was a good idea, and decided since he was already compliant – eggs would be a good move. And it was – especially for the chickens! Don is committed to the health and wellbeing of the birds – regular inspections from every conceivable agency consistently demonstrate adherence to the highest standards. Seriously – happy chickens!
The hens are kept in mobile coops, so their “houses” are moved regularly to comply with regenerative farming practices keeping both the birds and the land they live on, healthier. The coops are cleaned out regularly and have been custom fitted with solar and wind-powered electrical systems with backup generators to keep the birds comfortable in the valley heat.
Inside the coops, there’s a complex system with two rows of feeding stations that allow the chickens to eat at their leisure (which appears to be often), and an area with curtained egg-laying cubbies so the chickens can have an enclosed “private” space to lay their eggs. (I had no idea chickens were shy like that…) As eggs are laid, they slide down onto a conveyer belt and are hand-gathered ensuring a minimally disruptive collection process while still allowing the team to do an initial quality check on the eggs.
The coops are also fitted with fans, misters, and a cooling system to ensure the comfort of the chickens. Shuttered windows allow a breeze to move thru the coop, supplemented by fans when it’s warm. Multiple doors and ramps on either side that the chickens can use to come and go as they please, and just outside of the coop, running along the length of one side are multiple hydration stations where the chickens can drink plenty of fresh water under the watchful eye of their Newfie bodyguards.
The chickens themselves are acquired after they have been hatched and sexed, so the majority of the birds are egg-laying hens. We say majority because occasionally a chick can be misidentified and a rooster is brought in as part of the flock but here, they are kept as part of the flock roaming the pastures with the hens – Don explained that it’s good to have the roosters around as they help to keep the hens safe from predators in the countryside around the farms (#farmlife #fam).
Overall there’s a calming sense of tranquility on the farm – despite a select gang of feathered hoodlums that seemed determined to poke holes (unsuccessfully) into my shoes. Don believes happy chickens lay good eggs and we have to agree!
Our private label egg portfolio consists of
Conventional Berkeley Bowl Dozen
Conventional Berkeley Bowl 18pk
Organic Berkeley Bowl 18PK
Pick up some Berkeley Bowl Pasture Raised eggs next time you’re in store and know that they came from our happy chickens on the farm!
*If it seems like we're obsessed with dinosaurs, it's because we kind of are! Check out this article from the Smithsonian magazine for the inspiration behind our antics!
Hand Gathered Eggs