By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Aug 25, 2015 at 11:02 AM

This past spring, the Avian Influenza (AI) outbreak left farmers and consumers confronting staggering numbers: 35 million chickens died during the outbreak, while an estimated $3.3 billion spent to mitigate. Meanwhile, the nation on the whole witnessed egg prices increasing by 17 percent per carton due to supply and demand.

Meanwhile, consumers interest in more ethically raised eggs was picqued.

"Our solution for farmers and consumers is simple," says John Brunnquell, Port Washington native and egg industry leader. "Turn back to small farming practices where flocks are safe and protected."

This summer, Brunnquell launched Blue Sky Family Farms, a new brand of free-range, pasture-raised eggs which will hit the Milwaukee market starting in September. And he hopes they’ll be eggs in which consumers can truly put their confidence.

Brunquell is a third generation farmer and entrepreneur whose grandfather Herbert Brunnquell began a family legacy by farming a 120-acre homestead in Port Washington -- a farm still owned and operated by Brunquell’s family.

As a boy, Brunnquell delivered his family’s eggs by bicycle to customers in Milwaukee. As his brothers developed their interest in the agricultural side of the family business, he veered toward livestock. Ultimately, he went on to graduate from the University of Wisconsin at Madison with a B.S. in Agronomy and M.S. in Poultry Science. And he has since dedicated his life to making a difference in the egg industry.

The tagline for Blue Sky Family Farms is "Ethical eggs for the humane race," a catchy phrase that also hopes to capture the imagination of consumers who want a different kind of egg.

The difference begins with the farmers chosen to raise the chickens.

"We own the birds," says Brunnquell, "And we entrust them to small farms run by farmers who share our philosophies on animal welfare."

Farmers who apply to work with Blue Sky participate in a rigorous selection process to ensure they are in sync with the philosophies of the company -- which include accommodations for the chickens which allow them to participate in natural behaviors like grazing, scratching, dust bathing and perching.

"We pay the highest contract rates in the industry, and we write the longest contracts -- up to 12 years," says Brunnquell, "So we target toward smaller farms, where our contract is impactful on their quality of life. We want farmers who are passionate about animal welfare and are consistent with our goals."

And all Blue Sky Family Farms eggs are third party certified by the American Humane Association and the Human Farmed Animal Care.

"There are a lot of brands who throw names and claims around," says Brunnquell. "But, consumers should be skeptical if they don’t see certification on the cartons."

Consumers should also see a difference in the quality of the eggs.

"You’ll definitely see a difference with our eggs," says Brunnquell. "And the first thing you’ll see is a deep yellow yolk. Commodity eggs tend to be lighter in color. But, ours have a thicker shell and an egg white that stands up in the pan, rather than spreading out like water. That’s a good indicator of the birds health and vibrancy."

Blue Sky Family Farms eggs will be available at over 40 stores in Wisconsin, including Woodman’s and Sendik’s, beginning Sept. 1.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.