Family farmstead specializes in birds of a different feather
Tomatoes, peppers, carrots, greens, maybe pork or lamb, and nearly always eggs — these are the mainstays of most seasonal markets. And Gray Family Farmstead carries eggs, too. But these look different. The Hendersonville farmers sell everything from massive duck eggs to tiny speckled quail eggs.
Luke and Abigail Gray raise chickens, ducks, quail, and geese, selling both the eggs and the meat Saturdays at the Hendersonville Farmers Market. (They also sell cut flowers.)
After moving to Henderson County eight years ago, the Grays began growing rabbits and chickens for their own family consumption, but they quickly shifted to a focus on fowl. With upwards of 200 birds on the farm at a time, the small family hobby has grown into a full-fledged business.
What drew you to duck? Duck seems like something you don’t commonly see outside of specialty markets.
Luke: My parents were missionaries in the Philippines and we would come back to the U.S. every so often to raise funds. … I can’t remember the first time I actually went to a supermarket, but I know it was in the U.S. on a furlough. And I hadn’t even really thought about it, but it kind of makes sense that we are tied to a market now, because you’re a little bit closer to the land over there, you’re in the rice paddies, everybody has chickens, so you see a lot more of that type of stuff — it’s just something that everybody does.
When we started raising chickens and rabbits, part of the desire was to come to terms with the weight of eating meat, and this idea that if I’m going to eat meat, I should really bear the responsibility of knowing that the animal lived, if not perfectly, better than it would have lived in a factory. Our birds are in fresh air, they are in sunshine, they are in the grass; it’s a better-quality experience.
Abigail: Another aspect of it is, we wanted to feed our kids nutrient-dense and high-quality food, but we also don’t want to be flippant with our money and just go to Whole Foods and spend hundreds of dollars every week. How can we do this in a way that makes sense for us financially and teaches them something beyond checking off the food groups? So our kids are growing up collecting eggs and watching birds hatch, and they’ve even seen birds die. They have a very full understanding of where eggs come from, where meat comes from, where the produce that we grow during the season comes from, and they understand that process.
For those who haven’t cooked with these different eggs, how do you handle a duck egg differently than a chicken egg?
Abigail: Most commonly, people will try duck eggs instead of chicken eggs because it’s the easiest conversion. Duck eggs are larger than chicken eggs — for instance, in baking you would use two duck eggs in place of three chicken eggs. They have a higher calorie count and more protein, which is why they are fairly popular in baking. The protein bond in a duck egg, and particularly in the whites, are a stronger bond than they are in a chicken egg, so if you put it in a baked good they will hold the rise better than a chicken egg. You can actually see the difference if you put them side by side in a frying pan: The whites on a duck egg won’t spread as far — they stand up a little bit higher. In some ways it’s an easy exchange; in other ways it’s a different experience.
Luke: Duck eggs are a little more earthy, a little more gamey — it really depends from person to person. … But beyond taste, a lot of people get into duck eggs because they have an allergy to chicken eggs. And those are all different from quail eggs, which we just can’t keep in stock.
Abigail: Quail eggs are cute, they’re very pretty, and a lot of people make pickled eggs with them. I’ve heard people say they’ve boiled them and put them on top of a Cobb salad for a luncheon, or made mini deviled eggs for a party. We also sell a lot of them to [Lee’s Asian Market in] Asheville.
Find Gray Family Farmstead on Saturdays at the Hendersonville Farmers Market (650 Maple St.), 8am-1pm, or contact them to order at firstname.lastname@example.org (pickup is available from the farm or the farmer’s market). See Gray Family Farmstead on Facebook for more information.