Which came first, the chicken or the dumpling?
Yesterday, it was the chicken that came first. 2000 of them in fact, at Rabbit River Farms in northeast Richmond. Founded in 1994, the Easterbrooks were the first commercial producers of organic eggs in all of Canada, and are 4th and 5th generation farmers in Richmond.
They are literal pioneers when it comes to cage free and certified organic egg production, and yesterday I had the pleasure of touring their farm. This included a symphony of the collective high-pitched shriek of 2000 chickens, and meeting Blue, the friendliest collie there ever was.
Rabbit River Farms ships thousands of eggs daily to private shops, grocery store chains, and restaurants all across the lower mainland, and as far as Manitoba. They were the first Canadian producers to receive SPCA farm certification ensuring humane treatment of their animals, and Steve Easterbrook himself wrote the certification standards for organic egg production in Canada. See? Pioneers!
One half of their huge facility is occupied by the chickens themselves – thousands of red and white dames strutting around, clucking, taking sand baths, and grooming themselves constantly (this being a sure sign of a healthy flock, Steve told me).
On average, they each produce one egg per day, all of which make their way into the packaging facility on a very gentle conveyer belt. Like tipsy little soldiers, they’re filed through a washing machine,
a dryer, a ‘candler,’ which allows for cracks and imperfections to be spotted, and then packaged.
Eggs with aesthetically displeasing (but uncracked) shells are sold wholesale to restaurants and bakeries – like Bell’s Bake Shop! – and the eggs with cracked, but intact, shells are donated to animal rescue shelters as feed.
Steve showed me an ‘egg yolk colour swatch’ used to analyze yolks, which delighted me to no end – I want one of these when I someday have a kitchen of my own to decorate. When I put a photo of it on Instagram, Dana commented and asked for “two #14’s poached with hollandaise, please.”
My favourite machine of the day was one that sorts eggs according to their weight, the smallest being “Peewee” – yes, that’s the official term – and the largest being “Super Jumbo.” The eggs are sent, single-file, onto a conveyer belt that weighs them, and as various sizes are detected, a plastic ‘flipper’ bumps them into that correct section.
It’s so smart. I could have watched it for an hour.
Once they’re sorted, into their boxes they go, then the eggs are stored in a cooler before getting shipped off to customers.
After I’d asked about 1001 questions about eggs, machines, and yolk colours, we went outside and Steve let the chickens out to pasture. What a sight! Sorry for the shaky camera – I was crouching in the rain.
They are a seriously noisy bunch. Unless the weather is horrendous, they’re usually let out each day around 11am, and stay in the pasture until sundown. These are some lucky chickens.
Steve told me that when they started in the early 90’s, less than a quarter of one percent of chickens in BC were cage-free, and that number is now up to 20%! Very impressive. If you’d like to support the Easterbrooks’ efforts to produce ethically-raised and delicious eggs, you can do so by buying some!
A huge thank you to Steve, his family, and his staff for welcoming me yesterday to their farm, and of course, thank you to the chickens, who have provided me with so many scrumptious breakfasts in my life. I salute you.
Next, I headed off in search of lunch, and decided to check out the dumpling stall in President Plaza which has been recommended to me by several people.
I was warned the older man who owns it doesn’t speak any English, but that’s ok – I quickly discovered he’s both very friendly AND has a system. As soon as I approached his modest little stall and said “hello,” he gave me a smile, beckoned to the woman who tidies the food court, and had her come over to translate.
This was a little funny considering she barely spoke English too, but she spoke enough that I was able to order some fried pork dumplings (you can also choose to have them steamed or boiled) for $6.50. He also sells them frozen to take away.
There were 18 in the order and I ate 16 of them, because they were so good (and I was so hungry).
The wrappers were thin and crispy, and the pork filling was wonderfully tender.
As I ate, I kept peeking over my shoulder and watching the man as he weighed out balls of fresh dough for his next dumpling batch. After I had finished eating, I went back and told him (with a thumbs up) that my meal was excellent, and asked if I could take his picture. He happily obliged. This man is so lovely – you must visit him!
Xiang Yuan Dumplings
Available in Richmond at City Fresh, Empire, Heringers, IGA Blundell, Osaks Richmond, Pharmasave, Price Smart Foods, Real Canadian Superstore, Richmond Country Farms, Save on Foods Terra Nova, Save on Foods Ironwood, Seafair Gourmet Meats, Supermarket 2000, T&T Richmond