The Wallingtons–father Glen and sons Michael and Kevin–are very proud of the eggs they produce in Hay River, Northwest Territories.
Not only are they the only egg producers in the Northwest Territories, but their product is one of the only locally produced food items regularly found on store shelves.
“I hope we are laying the foundation for many more northern food products,” says Kevin Wallington, director of marketing and sales for Polar Egg, the brand under which the eggs are graded and distributed. “We are leading the way for people here to gain confidence that foods can be produced locally.”
Access to local foods is not easy in parts of the country where agriculture is difficult or impossible.
The climate in Hay River, on the south shore of Great Slave Lake about 1,200 kilometres north of Edmonton, does allow for some agriculture, and eggs have been produced here for several years.
The Wallingtons are not egg farmers by tradition. Glen, who had a reputation as a jack of all trades, more or less stumbled into the business when he was asked to manage an existing egg farm that was in difficulty. He succeeded in turning the operation around and got into the egg farming business himself. His sons joined him, and his daughter plans to join the farm as a veterinarian when she’s finished her schooling.
But until recently, the lack of a grading station meant that eggs produced here were used in processed foods only.
The launch of Polar Egg in 2012 changed that, and today the company grades up to 50,000 eggs a day for sale in the North.
The eggs are now available in some local grocery stores, as well as the farmers’ market that operates in season in Yellowknife. There are plans to expand distribution over the next few years.
There are challenges to producing eggs in the Northwest Territories, but they are challenges the Wallingtons are successfully meeting.
The most obvious is the temperature, which can vary from minus 40 in winter to plus 30 in summer. The Wallingtons work to keep the barn temperature within the optimal range for egg production.
“The birds will do what the birds do; we just have to make sure they are comfortable,” explains Kevin.
The distance from suppliers–and equipment–is also an issue.
“Because of the extreme conditions in the winter, we have to make sure we stay ahead of the game,” says Glen, explaining that because the only highway south is sometimes shut down for several days running, they have to plan to always have enough feed on hand.
Some costs are higher than down south, and it’s more difficult to find labour in the North.
But if the challenges are big, so are the rewards.
Kevin says customers he meets at the Yellowknife farmers’ market are excited to be able to buy a good quality local product. He says he even got kisses and hugs from ecologically minded customers when he was able to switch to fibre egg cartons from foam ones this year.
“It’s a nice feeling to be able to say that we provide something for the North than nobody else can–and that’s fresh eggs,” says Glen.
“It’s not just about producing eggs and distributing them,” adds Kevin. “It’s about the relationships we have with the people in the Northwest Territories.”