Better eggs come from Highspire Hills Farm
● By Stone Lieberman
By John Chambless
Deborah Ellis and her husband, Duane Rehmeyer, could not be happier to own and operate Highspire Hills Farm in Glenmoore, which provides more than 3,000 dozen eggs a month to nine local restaurants, as well as to Kimberton Whole Foods markets. But there is much more to the couple than the successful business they operate.
Last October, Ellis was recognized by the Chester County Board of Commissioners, along with the Agricultural Development Council, with the Distinguished Agricultural Service award. Ellis won for her ongoing work with the Mobile Ag Ed Science Lab program, an initiative of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau that brings agricultural education to students all over the state through a classroom on wheels.
A former Coatesville School District teacher, Ellis worked as the Ag Lab program assistant for the eastern portion of the state for ten years, guiding teachers during in-service workshops and teaching thousands of students a year about the importance of farming. During her last year as an Ag Lab employee, she estimates the Ag Lab program connected with more than 110,000 kids across the state. Despite retiring in 2016, Ellis volunteers as the Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau Ag Lab board member liaison, ensuring that the Ag Lab continues to visit Chester County schools.
In a recent interview, Ellis said, “My family is from Iowa, so I spent every summer from the time I was born, until about 16, in Iowa. My two brothers and I still own our great-grandparents' farm near Altoona, Iowa.”
As a teacher, Ellis taught special education for fourth and fifth grades in the Coatesville School District for 22 years. The Ag Lab, she said, is for ages kindergarten through eighth grade. “The seven labs are fully equipped with 30 science lessons, all related to agriculture,” she said. “The students participate in a 30- to 50-minute, hands-on lesson.”
Ellis said most children have no idea where their food comes from. “Children generally think that food comes from the store,” she said. “Our students are removed from the concept of farms, farmers and agriculture.”
Ellis and her husband didn't start out to build Highspire Hills Farm into a major producer of eggs. “We started out with a few chickens and big old, empty chicken house from the 1950s. Over time, somehow the chicken house filled up!” she said.
The operation, while a large one, is not yet at capacity, she said. “We have around 2,000 birds now and are expecting to grow to just under 3,000 when we reach full capacity,” she said. “We also pasture birds, starting in March, in portable chicken tractors. We supply pastured eggs to our customers from March until September.”
At Highspire, the “cage free” label that's applied by many egg producers is truly earned. Chickens are treated humanely and given a safe place to live through their laying years. Certified organic feed is provided by Organic Unlimited in Atglen. Birds are free to roam the poultry house. “The difference is our chicken house,” Ellis said. “It is constructed with curtains on the south side that open on warm days. This gives the birds direct exposure to the outdoors -- much different than a conventional layer house.”
The results are eggs that go far beyond the standard, pale eggs found in most grocery stores. The farm's website lists several comments from satisfied customers, including Ron Inverso, of Ron's Original Bar and Grille in Exton, who wrote, “We have been using Duane's eggs for years and love the way they perform. We concentrate our energies on serving the healthiest products available and Duane's eggs fit our requirements perfectly. They make the best desserts!”
Larry Welsch, executive director of the Chester County Food Bank, wrote, “We have been very pleased with our partnership with Highspire Hills Farm to bring better food to the clients of the Chester County Food Bank. Supplying our neighbors in need with a healthier diet is much easier when you have partners like Highspire Hills. The eggs we receive weekly have been very well received by those we serve. The freshness of the eggs is wonderful, and working with Duane and Deb has been a real pleasure.”
Regional chef Tim Courtney wrote that the quality of Highspire eggs is apparent at first glance. “The yolks are brightly colored and the whites are thick and clear. They produce the most phenomenal omelets, softest curds and custards, and are absolutely ideal for poached egg dishes. … Eggs from a small production farm like this don't sit around in inventory for a week or two before you see them. When I order my eggs for the week I know that they are less than three days old. That's incredibly fresh!”
In addition to her full days on the farm, which operates seven days a week, Ellis contributes to the community by bringing her therapy dog, Buttons, to visit patients around the county at places including Chester County Hospital and Neighborhood Hospice.
Speaking about Ellis and her husband's commitment to their organic farm and to the Chester County community, Hillary Krummrich, director of the Chester County Agricultural Development Council, said, “It might seem like just another day’s work to Don and Deb, but they both provide for us in so many ways from growing the food we eat to serving as agricultural ambassadors in the community. We are delighted to honor them for all that they do.”
For Ellis, the satisfaction of running Highspire comes down to providing a high-quality product and contributing to the community as well. “We enjoy the lifestyle that comes with farming, the work and challenges and people we have gotten to know along the way,” she said. “We have lots of great customers and a crew of part-time staff, including high-school and college students, that we work closely with.
“I volunteer on the Chester-Delaware County Farm Bureau Board of Directors, and our farm contacts have given us an opportunity to introduce others to Kudvumisa Foundation USA, Inc., a medical mission to Swaziland, Africa.” The farm raises money for the organization by selling red raspberry, blackberry, grape and peach jelly. Volunteers pick the fruit, and prepare and process the jelly at the Chester County Food Bank kitchen.
“Neither one of us,” Ellis said, “could imagine doing anything different.”
For more information, visit www.highspirehillsfarm.com. Highspire Hills Farm is at 709 Highspire Road, Glenmoore. Tours are available by appointment.