Missouri at the Market: Stanton Brothers get past setbacks, hatch egg empire

Dustin Stanton was in the first grade in 1999 when eggs first caught his eye.

The Missouri 4-H Center for Youth Development brought in six fertile eggs to the classroom so the students could watch them hatch, and at the end of the project, someone could take the chicks home. Stanton knew he wanted those chicks from the start, but another girl in his grade decided she wanted them, too. So, the teacher put their names in a hat, and Stanton was left empty-handed and devastated.

That was the start of Stanton Brothers Eggs.

A crying 6-year-old Dustin prompted his uncle to buy him and his brother, Austin, their first six chicks. Their parents said they could keep them only if they made an allowance from them, and from there, they started selling to neighbors, people at their church, friends, family and more.

The brothers now have 7,200 chickens on their parents’ family farm in Centralia, which they say is the nation’s largest free-range egg operation. They supply eggs to farmers markets, retail stores and 60 other outlets in mid-Missouri.

They started selling at the Columbia Farmers Market in 2007, but it was a slow start. The first Saturday, it snowed and they sold a half-dozen eggs. The next Saturday, it rained and they sold a dozen. The third Saturday wasn’t great either. By the fourth, they were ready to quit and get their money back. But that Saturday, they sold 40 dozen eggs.

“We keep coming back, we don’t have to now, but we come back because of the customers,” Stanton said. “The customers get to meet the farmer, but it’s vice versa. The farmers meet the customers as well.”

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