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  • Writer's pictureAlison Bailey Vercruysse

Updated: Feb 3

My father never told us why the 18 rabbits all suddenly disappeared one summer evening in Farmers Branch, Texas. We would piece it together many years later - my brothers, sisters and me. My dad built a large cage four feet off the ground for the rabbits with plenty of room for the mom and her 16 bunnies to stretch out. Blackjack the 18th rabbit, the wild daddy, came to visit on occasion when the bunnies were hopping around the backyard and sipping water from the swimming pool.

Next door to our house lived a congenial turkey named George, a mean next door neighbor with a barrel shotgun, and an unruly German Shepherd who had the advantage of tall pines marking the boundary line so he could cross whenever he chose. When the sun had set late one summer night, the dog wrestled the rabbits out of the cage rendering them helpless and massacred them all.   

My father didn’t believe in guns only baseball bats. But the bat was kept in the back of the car and, one horror doesn’t mean another one needs to occur. The German Shepherd was hungry and following his natural instincts that hadn’t been curbed.

So what does this have to do with the fate of 18 Rabbits.  I can finally tell you. In 2017, we had a bar manufacturer Hearthside Food Solutions who despite every effort couldn’t produce our bars. They took our money and only produced a few of the half a million we paid them to make.  What they did produce was mostly hard and inedible. On what was to be the last production run with Hearthside Food Solutions, the samples we received could bruise your jaw and break your teeth the bars were so hard. The bar maker wouldn’t take responsibility or give our money back and in the end it crushed an already vulnerable 18 Rabbits.  

18 Rabbits was on a precipice.  With more stores and higher sales than ever before, we expanded quickly across the nation in grocery. There is only so long a store will allow their shelves to go bare.

For the ten years before then, we had sustained 18 Rabbits with investment and a smart customer mix that made money instead of draining it. Making organic granola bars is expensive. Getting them on the grocery shelves requires money to endure a couple of years of it draining the bank account before they take hold and start to fill it up again.  

So why now, 18 Rabbits sued the former bar maker Hearthside Food Solutions for breach of contract. The case took six years to get to trial. 18 Rabbits won. A jury of twelve found Hearthside Food Solutions guilty. It was a pyrrhic victory in that a bad actor supplier brought the company down but, there were not enough assets recovered from Hearthside Food Solutions to do anything more than pay the legal fees. Justice was served not in a wrapper but on record.

I am grateful for the time I had with the rabbits - both the real and the mascots. They brought me and my family much joy. The profound impact of 18 Rabbits still reverberates with its mission that everyone has the right to pure and simple food using organic and regenerative oats, fruit and nuts. 

I invite you to join me as I travel in a new direction. With over twenty years of baking experience, sourcing regenerative ingredients and traveling the globe, I share recipes for granola and other baked goods using regenerative flours, roots and sweeteners along with some writing on my website and Instagram @alison_very.

Thank you for being part of the 18 Rabbits journey. May your life be filled with treats and wonders of all kinds.  

  • Writer's pictureAlison Bailey Vercruysse

Updated: Feb 3

Enjoying your next baked good from an artisan bakery could help cool the planet.

With the opening of Krispy Kreme in Paris in December 2023 and a line of 500 people to get their first bite of an American donut, we have successfully outsourced our culture of pastries with empty carbohydrates and white refined sugar to even the French.

It could be a fad. It’s not that Krispy Kreme doughnuts are bad. It’s what they mean to propagating a food culture that has been a cause for the rise in diabetes and health issues for our youth. Enriched white flour bleached with benzoyl peroxide or chlorine dioxide with added synthetic nutrients and white sugar is the base for most of American baked goods. A host of preservatives and hydrogenated soybean oil are the icing on the cake to round out the naughty ingredients.

Enough complaining, let’s instead create a pop culture built on ensuring a future for our food supply and the wellness of our children. How do you ask?

Changing up the foundation of our baked goods is one way. America can once again be a frontier for discovery. Visit one of the many artisan bakeries across the country that either mill locally grown grains into flour or using regenerative flours. Over the last few decades, many mills have popped up to revitalize ancient grains.

Diversifying flours gives ancient grains a chance to reawaken and support regenerative agriculture.  Instead of toxic brown fields, the lush green fields yield the crops. Farming needs to respect and rejuvenate the soil, a term called regenerative agriculture. Carbon is kept in the ground where it is needed and not released into the atmosphere where it does damage. Carbon in soil provides nutrients where it also increases water storage in the ground.  The microbes created then get to work fluffing the soil and building a holistic environment for growing crops.

All purpose flour a product of industrial agriculture relies on inputs (pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides) rather than the earth to regenerate itself, the carbon gets released into the atmosphere - erosion, tilling, mono crops and the use synthetic chemicals/pesticides have all led to the degradation of our food. Let’s take back our baked goods for good.

Here are a few bakeries using freshly milled or locally milled ancient grains for their pastries and breads. I have enjoyed pastries and bread at many of them.

Seylou Bakery - Washington, D.C.

Boulted Bread - Raleigh, North Carolina

Hole Doughnuts - Asheville, North Carolina

Abby Jane Bakeshop - Austin, Texas

The Mill - San Francisco, CA

Kantine SF - San Francisco, CA

Faria Bakery - Sacramento, CA

Mt. Tabor Breads - Portland, Oregon

Brewers Bread - Portland, Oregon

Babcia Bread (closes Jan 27, will re-open in own location)- Portland, Oregon

Top row: 1st picture Babcia Bread and the rest Seylou Bakery, middle row: Seylou Bakery and last pic Brewer’s Bread, last row: KantineSF, Babcia Bread and Gee Creek Mill (at the PSU Farmers’ Market)

  • Writer's pictureAlison Bailey Vercruysse

Updated: Oct 4, 2022

Eating eggs pre-dates written history. Our early ancestors most likely saw other creatures invading birds’ nests for food and decided to steal some for themselves. Domesticating hens had to be a matter of survival as they may peck at us but, they cannot eat us. Now, pasture raised domesticated hens have a cushy life in exchange for their eggs. At least, that’s how they live on the Leras Family Farm in Santa Rosa, California.

Eggs an essential component of a vegetarian and omnivore’s diet contain a whopping seven grams of protein per 75 calories as well as choline in the yolk which may enhance brain development (1). One of the only food sources with Vitamin D, eggs depend on hens to lay them. How these hens are treated can determine whether there is even more valuable nutrition to be gained from the egg.

Leaping for joy around the chicken coop at the Leras Family Farm in Santa Rosa, CA, our dog Panda, a dwarf Bernedoodle, loves to stir up hens. Although Panda is unsuccessful at catching one, I do not think that is his desire.

Concerned for the chickens welfare, my husband Craig chases after Panda. Craig slides like a baseball player stealing a base to grab Panda (unfortunately not in the video). He ends up much more beaten up physically than the chickens emotionally as his legs scrape along the dirt.

The 200 hens inhabit the farm in three hen houses set inside a vast play area surrounded by a six foot high poultry fence. The gate to which remains open during the day. Free to roam the rest of the farm and garden at their leisure, the hens feed on food scraps, garden harvested veggies and insects in their path along

with a supplemental diet to ensure they eat their fill including a tub of raw milk from the resident Guernsey cows.

Plenty of creatures lie in wait in the wild for a free dinner - coyotes, foxes and owls. Hens prefer to fly up into tree branches to sleep which doesn't bode well for their survival. It's not an easy job for the farmer; the renegade hens have to be wooed out of the trees to go into the safety of the hen houses at night. Outfitted with ladders and 2x4's to imitate tree branches, the hens perch on these when the sun goes down. The hens awaken at sunrise, and politely exit the hen houses one at at time.

”Once the new chickens get their feathers, I will find six to eight of them in the trees”, says Michael Leras the farm owner. “Not so easy to get them down and in the house, I have to grab them. After awhile, they get trained and almost all go in (at night) except for one of two rebels, “

The chickens lay about one egg/day in the hen houses either in the plush cubbies filled with pine shavings. Or, if they find some other place they feel secure such as this burrowed hole in the compost heap.

A hen goes into a meditative state before laying an egg; her eyes rolling back in her head. Once the egg arrives, the chicken keeps it warm for a bit before remembering she's hungry and leaves the roost. My son seems to go into a zen state too as he waits for the hens to depart the nest and gently retrieves the egg.

The eggs sell at the Berkeley Farmers Market for $12/dozen which may seem like a vast sum considering “cage free” eggs at a grocery store sell for around $3.79 per dozen.

Consider what you are getting for the more expensive egg:

  • A peace of mind knowing the chicken lives a good life

  • Rich buttery taste from the orange yolk

  • Better nutrition - In a PSU study, pasture raised eggs had twice as much Vitamin E and long chain omega-3 fats, acids compared to those fed a commercial diet (2)

Let’s break this down a bit. If you are a meat eater, pasture raised hamburger meat costs about $10/pound, about three servings or $3.33. Eating two eggs for a meal costs $2. In addition to being considered vegetarian and more nutritious, pasture raised eggs are less expensive than meat. Gram to gram, eggs have the same amount of protein as ground beef - 7g/50g serving.

Where Do The Chickens Come From?

Chicks get delivered in the post, and they don’t all turn out to be female. A few roosters may end up in the bunch which leads to a more noisy environment; one where the females seem to be on edge. At 18 weeks, a chicken can lay their first egg.

What happens after their prime years?

At two years of age, chickens at the Leras Family Farm are sold to other families who want to have hens for homegrown eggs.

Egg labeling can confuse even the most savvy consumer. Here are the differences when shopping at a food market.

Pasture Raised chickens roam free on land and forage for food along with supplemental food to ensure they get all they need. Hens instinctively hunt for bugs and eat as many as they choose.

Organic means the hens eat organic feed (free of harmful pesticides or synthetic fertilizers). Organic does not mean pasture raised but, the hens are cage free and given some area to access along with direct sunlight.

Cage Free eggs require the hens have enough space with a little extra wiggle room.

These eggs have increased in supply over the last decade to 28% from 4% of the supply in the U.S. due in large part to consumer demand at fast foods chains(3).

Grade AA, A and B - USDA shell grading has nothing to do with how the chickens are raised. Voluntary for the egg producer, the grades only applies to the transparency of the whites and possibility of blood spots in the eggs.

Liquid, pasteurized and homogenized eggs tend to remove flavor and possibly nutrition depending on the ratio used to blend them. These tend to be found on hotel breakfast buffets that use them for the omelets and scrambled eggs.

Pasteurized eggs are gently heated to “kill” possible bacteria; it also can kill the rich flavor and mess with the texture.

Vegetarian Fed means the chickens have no access to outside as a hen’s natural instinct is to scratch the ground and eat bugs.

(1), Good Eggs:For Nutrition, They’re Hard to Beat.

(3), McFetridge, Scott, Egg producers shift as public demand for cage-free hens grows

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