What’s better than perusing the stalls at the Great Barrington Farmers’ Market on a Saturday morning? How about picking out your heirloom tomatoes and greens while enjoying a fried egg sandwich on a buttery brioche bun? Thanks to young farmers Anna Houston and Rob Perazzo and their new business Off the Shelf, that’s now possible.
Originally from Vermont and New Jersey, respectively, Houston and Perazzo apprenticed on many farms throughout the New England region before deciding to launch out on their own. The light bulb went off soon after taking a job on a different farm in the fall of 2017. Houston reflected that the “transition made us realize that we should be going out on our own.” Not only did they have the confidence and farming skills needed to start their own farm, but, as a graduate of BerkShares Inc.’s business planning program Entry to Entrepreneurship, Houston had the skills to write a business plan for their potential enterprise.
Through their combined experiences on area farms, Houston and Perazzo noticed a trend in the market and a gap in the local food system—farmers fell short at meeting the demand for eggs at farmers’ markets and wholesale accounts. To fill that need, they decided they wanted to focus on pastured poultry, particularly organic and non-GMO eggs, with the majority of their business through wholesale accounts at local restaurants and small grocers. Over the winter, while working part-time, Houston and Perazzo spent their days determining the feasibility of their business idea and devising a strategy to launch their import-replacing business right in time for the first farmers’ market in May.
The young farmers knew that they needed to come out of the gate strong, with a leg up on the competition. With the help of their social media followers, they decided to cement their identity with the use of hot pink egg cartons. Not only do their eggs look different than what you would see at a grocery store, they are sold at a different price. At $6 (or 6 BerkShares) a dozen, the cost of their eggs reflect many different factors that go into running their business: the price of organic, non-GMO grain grown locally at Stone House Farm in Hudson, New York; time spent collecting eggs by hand and moving the chicken tractor and fences daily; and overhead costs like renting the land. There are other factors that aren’t reflected in the price but are just as resource- and time-consuming such as troubleshooting to perfect the protein ratio in the grain to get the best eggs or accommodating brood hens in the heat to maintain consistent egg production. In addition to their 700-hen laying flock, they are raising 150 pastured chickens and 13 grass-fed Katahdin lambs for meat.
Houston and Perazzo are cautiously optimistic about the future of Off the Shelf. Business is off to a slow start and, like many farmers, they work additional jobs, but they foresee a time when Off the Shelf is their primary source of income. Although it comes with a steep learning curve, they enjoy being entrepreneurs and finding out what it takes to be successful in the Berkshires. They see BerkShares as a tool that helps to connect Off the Shelf with the local business community while allowing them to reach a wider audience through added marketing benefits. Every bit helps, as in “true millennial” fashion, Houston says, their outreach approach is simple: no website, no Facebook, just an Instagram page. Follow these young entrepreneurs on their journey and help the pink egg cartons fly “off the shelf.”