07/20/18 Hunter Haven Farms and Pearl Valley Eggs

Oprah Winfrey once said, “The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.” I believe this is also true for our communities.  It is so easy to focus on the challenges we must overcome that we often lose sight of the victories we have won.

I had the privilege of sharing many of the successes in our community with Erika Harold last Wednesday. Erika Harold is a candidate for Illinois Attorney General, a successful lawyer, and was crowned Miss America in 2003.

Erika visited Stephenson County twenty years ago, before she ever considered running for public office. She was bullied so badly when she was in high school that her parents had her switch schools.  The following year she gave several speeches throughout Illinois on the importance of standing up to bullies.  Two of those speeches were at Freeport and Le-Win High Schools.

Erika is on a “listening tour” of Illinois, visiting communities across the state to celebrate their achievements and understand their challenges. We made a total of 14 stops on our community tour and I would like to share some of the things we learned throughout the day.

Nestled along the Stephenson/Carroll County line is Hunter Haven Farms, owned by the Doug and Tom Block Family, a 1,000 head dairy farm in Pearl City, Illinois. Their father originally bought a small family farm in 1950, and they have turned it into a 1600 acre powerhouse dairy operation.

In 1997, they converted from a 90 cow farm to an 800 head dairy farm. That conversion has helped Hunter Haven Farms become a major milk supplier to dairies making Swiss cheese.  Doug estimates their farm, “produces enough milk (on an annual basis) to make enough Swiss cheese to supply the population of the city of Chicago for a year.”

Between 2005 and 2008, the Blocks installed a 260 kW anaerobic digester (AD) gas-fired combined heat and power (CHP) system and a second 130 kW genset to comply with increased government regulatory issues, and rising energy costs. Doug said, “At the time, we never knew our energy costs would rise so much.  We just wanted to make our operations more energy efficient.”

The machines produce natural gas from cow manure, cutting heating costs, while also creating solid “byproduct” that can be used as bedding for cows. Both products generate savings for the farm, with approximately 40% on the energy side, and 60% on the animal bedding side.

Congratulations to Doug and Tom, their families and staff for their hard work and innovation. You make Northern Illinois proud!

Later in the morning we visited Pearl Valley Eggs a couple of miles from Hunter Haven Farms. Owner Ben Thompson gave us a tour of the offices and packaging facility.

Pearl Valley’s genesis is similar to Hunter Haven’s. Ben’s dad, Dave, was a school teacher in Joliet, Illinois who began hatching eggs for his grade school classroom experiment.  The chicks eventually retired from the classroom to the Thompson farmhouse, and eventually, Dave began selling the eggs to other teachers in his elementary school.

Dave’s love of eggs persisted, and in 1987, he bought the farm between Pearl City and Kent that would become Pearl Valley Eggs. Today, the Thompson’s employ about 230 people at the main plant, producing 1.7 million eggs a day.  

The farm produces every sort of egg, from non GMO, organic, brown, white, and cage free. They also produce egg liquids like the egg whites some folks buy in the carton at the grocery store and dried egg powders.

The chicken manure is dried and screened before being packaged and sold as compost and fertilizer products.

Pearl Valley eggs are distributed from California to Florida, are sold in Mexico and even in Dubai. If you’ve bought an egg from WalMart, Costco, or Sam’s Club, chances are it came from Pearl Valley Eggs.

Both Hunter Haven and Pearl Valley Eggs have concerns about making sure people understand the challenges in agriculture today. Doug Block has said, “My concern is, 75 percent of the people are making rules for the 25 percent of us who work in production agriculture, and the 75 percent don’t have the knowledge of the care that goes into good production agriculture.”

Ben Thompson believes people need more information and hands on experience to understand egg production. He said, “We have an open door policy.  Whether you’re USA Today or a grade school class, we welcome everyone who wants to learn about our eggs.”

I was honored to visit these farms, and I was proud to share them with Ms. Harold. Northwest Illinois is home to many success stories and I will continue to share more of the places we visited and the stories we heard in next week’s column.

If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, you can reach me or John at 815-291-8989, or click on the Contact Us tab at the top of this page and use the form to send me an e-mail.

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