When Svetlana Simon first moved to South Florida from Michigan, one thing the newbie transplant realized she missed most about home was the farm fresh eggs she'd grown up eating, gathered from the chickens her family raised in their own yard.
"I was here a few months when I bought my final tasteless, sorry-looking commercial egg and thought to myself, 'This is ridiculous,'" says Svetlana. "The next day, I came home with a heritage breed chicken. One chicken turned into two. Then four. Then 24."
That was in 2005, and as her flock grew, so, too, did the need for a larger home. In 2007, Svetlana and her husband, Marty, moved from a small home in Delray Beach to a 15-acre plot of land in west Boynton Beach. Here, nestled in a quiet neighborhood off South Military Trail, they founded Heritage Hen Farm.
For the past eight years, the couple has been operating the farm as a way to offer locals an all-natural, free-range, and healthful egg alternative.
The Simons purchase only rare heritage breed chickens, a way to keep the most coveted breeds popular and growing. At any given time, the farm will have anywhere from 300 to 400 chickens in total; they roam the property freely in large flocks and roost in a large wooden shed Marty meticulously cleans each morning.
To ensure the eggs supply the most nutrients, the chickens are fed a diet of native pasture grasses; organic fruits, vegetables, and sprouts; and a variety of organic nuts, dried grains, and seeds donated by Whole Foods. A USDA certified organic, non-GMO, raw chicken feed the couple ferments and sprouts themselves is also part of the chickens' diet.
Most importantly, says Svetlana, the hens are allowed to produce eggs as nature intended: according to their natural egg-laying cycle without the use of hormones, vaccines, or drugs. When you buy a carton, Svetlana promises you'll get at least one poulet egg (sometimes referred to as avian caviar) the term given to a young chicken's first egg, identifiable by its high yolk-to-white ratio.
"The large chain grocers have fooled people into thinking eggs are plentiful and should be available any time of year," says Svetlana. "But that's not how nature works. Many of my hens won't lay eggs for five to six months out of the year. We don't always have enough to keep up with the demand, but what you are getting is healthier, more nutrient-dense eggs. It also calls for the consumer to be more patient and really appreciate what nature is giving us."
Every Saturday morning, and for limited evening hours, Tuesday through Friday, Svetlana and Marty open their farm to the public to sell their USDA certified organic heritage eggs. Due to high demand, the eggs are only available on a first-come, first-serve basis and sell out frequently.
During winter months, the months that hens lay fewer or even no eggs, Svetlana says they often sell out before the farmers' market opens, when dozens are set aside for customers who have been making weekly purchases from the farm since its inception. New customers interested in learning more can inquire about how to purchase eggs year-round.
While Svetlana and Marty's heritage organic eggs have made their farm popular, still more people come to Heritage Hen Farm for its other specialty: raw dairy.
Like the eggs, the farm's raw dairy products are equally coveted for their health benefits, says Svetlana, from the probiotic health benefits of the raw kefir to the fat soluble vitamins and coenzyme Q10 found in the raw cream.
The couple's raw milk, the most popular of the dairy products, contains more than 60 digestive enzymes that offer native antiviral, antibacterial, and antiparasitic properties, says Svetlana. It’s also loaded with minerals, eight essential amino acids, every necessary fat, and water soluble vitamins.
"Today, commercial dairy is considered one of the most allergic foods in America — a dead, chemically-altered, ultra-heated product. It's pasteurized to remove pathogens and bacteria, a process that also destroys all the beneficial nutrients," adds Svetlana. "Raw milk, however, was at one time considered medicine."
She's referring to the 16-year Milk Cure study done by the Mayo Clinic where patients were administered raw dairy — referred to as "white blood" — to treat cancer and maladies like chronic fatigue.
For some, the possible health risks posed by raw dairy outweigh the benefits. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, raw milk can carry harmful bacteria and other germs that may cause everything from diarrhea, stomach cramping, and vomiting to less common side effects like kidney failure, paralysis, chronic disorders, or even death.
For that reason, Heritage Hen Farm is one of only a handful of farms that produces and sells raw dairy in the state. And although the production and sale of raw dairy remains controversial, Svetlana remains steadfast that it's not only safe, but — more importantly — good for you.
"When cows, like ours and the farms we buy our milk from, are pastured properly, they naturally produce a clean, healthy milk," says Svetlana, who must test everything on a monthly basis to ensure quality and consistency.
Like the eggs, Heritage Hen Farm offers more dairy in spring and summer, when pasture grasses are most plentiful to feed milking cows. The milk goes straight from the cow into a bucket where it's strained, then chilled and bottled. Sold by the quart, half-gallon, and gallon in vintage glass bottles, Heritage Hen Farm milk will stay creamy sweet in your refrigerator for up to 12 days, after which the liquid won't turn putrid but instead naturally begins to separate into curds and whey protein.
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Svetlana and Marty's slow food approach to farming is one of the reasons the couple was recently chosen as a one of several U.S. delegates to represent the country for the Terra Madre convention in Italy this year, a special honor for the local farm.
"We're all about working with nature and not asking too much from the animals or the land," says Svetlana. "For many, it takes some getting used to, but for us, it's the only way to live."
Heritage Hen Farm. 8495 S. Haverhill Rd., Boynton Beach; 561-767-9000, or visit heritagehen.com.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.