By MARINA WATERS
In tall, black letters on the side of a small shed on Highland Church Road, a cooler offers cartons of farm fresh eggs ready to be sold — on the honor system.
The concept is simple; pick up a carton of eggs or two, and drop the money in the tiny wooden box for hen owner and farm operator Tony Hester, and his farm-working kids, to collect later in the day. For Hester, the egg stand started as a way to earn a few dollars from owning a piece of land and turned into a full-on, roadside operation.
“I was having a talk with a buddy of mine who made the offhand comment that he thought if you owned land, it ought to be able to help pay for itself,” Hester said. “That got me thinking what kind of agricultural endeavor could we pursue over there on Highland Church Road that could help pay for the land. That led eventually to plusing up our chicken flock.”
Now it’s not just Hester’s project; his high school-aged son and daughter clean, collect and package each egg from the flock of 450 chickens on the Hester property. But by now, they have it down to a science.
“We have spent a great deal of effort trying to do egg-laying smarter not harder,” Hester explained, laughing. “My son and daughter built those nest boxes. I set up the foundation, but I told them how to do it and they built 96 nest boxes on a single Saturday.
“The chickens lay the eggs, the eggs roll down that padded carpet into the collection gutter and that’s when the kids do a sanitizing dip and rinse and place them in a drying rack. They can do 25 to 30 dozen eggs in the same amount of time it used to take them to do about 12 dozen eggs last year.”
As for sanitation, that’s something the Hester family takes into consideration before setting up shop at the bottom of their driveway.
“We’re awfully tempted to not even do the sanitizing dip but we do that because it keeps momma happy (laughs). But they do come out very, very clean,” Hester said. “In Europe, if you want to get Grade-A eggs, you cannot wash them and you cannot refrigerate them. That way the consumer knows they are getting very clean, well-taken-care-of eggs as well as very fresh by not being refrigerated.
“Granted, FDA has different standards in the U.S., but we like to think that if we were in Europe, we’d have Grade-A European eggs.”
One might worry about the integrity of any old customer lacking the good will to pay their due, but Hester said the stand has been well-respected with little to no problems.
“It is on the honor system, but we’ve been very fortunate that a vast majority of the people do indeed leave money,” he said. “It does work very well, but it does help that we’re on a busy road and it’s highly visible.”
The stand’s not just been a side-job for the Hester kids who get to make a little money in the process; it’s also been a spectacle for passers by — and the farming family — on Highland Church Road.
“It is a lot of fun to be sitting up on the porch at the house talking to my wife or chatting on the phone with a friend and I’ll see a couple of cars pull in and get eggs in the course of the phone conversation. It’s just a lot of fun. Not typically (do they watch), but it is very fun to see that unfold.”
The stand even has a Facebook page called “Hester’s Happy Hens honor system egg stand”. And out in the community, it’s been a fun topic of conversation and somewhat of a landmark.
“We don’t know most of our customers,” Hester said. “On so many occasions in the course of conversation, the egg stand comes up. And they’ll say, ‘man we’ve been buying your eggs for two years! They’re fantastic!’It’s so fun to meet people who have been coming to our place in the past couple of years and we’ve never met them. It’s very Mayberry. It’s very gratifying.
“The stand’s only been there about three years, but it’s become a local landmark for friends—they use the egg stand to give directions to their house,” Hester said. “They’ll say, ‘if you go down Highland Church Road you’ll pass an egg stand and on we’re the next right-hand turn and the fourth house down.’ You know you’ve arrived when you become a land mark.”
But it’s not just about the eggs for Hester; he wanted to instill an appreciation for hard work and the value of a dollar in his children.
Now that the egg stand helps to pay for things such as his daughter’s phone, the stand has worked just as he hoped it would.
“Her friends said, ‘Do you pay for your phone?’ And she said, ‘No, I paid for it.’ And her friends said, ‘You must get a big allowance then.’ She said, “No. I don’t get an allowance.’ ‘Well how do you pay for your phone?’ She said, ‘I sell a lot of eggs,’” Hester said, laughing.
“She was very proud to be able to come back and tell me that story. It has just given them a big boost of confidence. I hear from all their teachers that my kids have such tremendous work ethic. And that’s very pleasing to a father.”