Ben Young with customer Charlie Ayers

Golden Eggs from Ben Young’s Farm a Breakfast Star

Every Sunday, Charlie Ayers goes through as many as 1,500 eggs during brunch services at his Calafia Cafe in Palo Alto, Calif.

But there are certain, especially dear eggs that never get cracked for mere omelets or mundane pancake batter. Instead, with their pert yolks as brilliant orange as a tropical sunset, these particular eggs are reserved for a fitting showcase presentation — sunny side up in all their glory.

What makes these eggs so special?

They’re certified organic. They’re from free-range chickens. And they’re produced locally at Coastside Ranch in La Honda, an egg farm run by Ben Young, the son of rocker Neil Young and his wife Pegi. The famed singer-songwriter’s middle child, Ben Young, 33, was born with cerebral palsy. It was he who in 1986 inspired his parents to help found the Bridge School in Hillsborough, a nonprofit educational organization that teaches communications skills to children with severe disabilities. Every October, Neil and Pegi Young host the annual Bridge School Benefit Concerts at Mountain View’s Shoreline Amphitheatre, where they are joined by some of the music industry’s biggest names.

Ayers, Google’s first executive chef, is no stranger to the music scene. A regular attendee of the Bridge School concerts, he also was once the private chef for the Grateful Dead.

Just after Calafia opened three years ago, Ayers was chatting with his longtime friend James Olness, who did the artwork for the restaurant. Olness, archivist for the late-rock concert promoter Bill Graham, mentioned Ben Young’s egg farm. Since Ayers gets most of his ingredients from small, local farms, it piqued his interest.

“They had the most beautiful orange yolks. You could taste that they were the real deal,” Ayers says. “I’m lucky enough to be able to buy them from Ben, but only during the offseason for the farmers’ market, when it’s still the rainy season. That’s why I’m always hoping it rains more.”

From about October through April, Ayers buys more than 2,800 eggs weekly from Ben Young, who delivers them to Calafia each Friday, with the help of his assistant, Dustin Cline.

Meeting the customers

Young uses a wheelchair and speaks with the aid of a computerized communications device. Often, he’ll be dressed in a Calafia T-shirt or beanie for these occasions, which he relishes because his favorite part of the job is meeting the folks who adore his eggs.

“I have a hand in every part of the business,” he says. “The most challenging part — besides the tedious paperwork — is having cerebral palsy. It takes more time to do things, and some people think I don’t understand them, which can be a challenge. The help of good friends, though, gets me through any obstacles.”

After graduating from Half Moon Bay High School, Young took some agricultural courses, which led him to raise alpacas for the 4-H Club. He got the notion to raise chickens next because they are fairly low maintenance.

In 1999, he started the farm on three acres of his family’s ranch. In 2002, it was certified organic. There are still alpacas aplenty on the farm, too, which guard the chickens against predators.

Young says he’s pleased to be following in the footsteps of his father, an environmental and small-farm advocate who co-founded the benefit concert Farm Aid. He’s proud of his eggs, which he used to enjoy poached before having to rely on a feeding tube for his nourishment.

Dozens of eggs a day

These days, Young raises about 250 Red Sex-Links, similar to Rhode Island Reds, which together lay more than 100 eggs per day. The hens are all named Georgette and the roosters George.

“It started as a joke — and stuck,” Young says. Although organic grain is expensive, Young has managed to reap a modest profit from his business. He sells the eggs for $5 per dozen to Calafia and to Cafe Gibraltar in El Granada. The eggs also are available at Alena Jean nursery in Half Moon Bay for $8 a dozen. From May through November, the eggs are $7 a dozen at the Saturday morning farmers’ market at Shoreline Station in Half Moon Bay. They’re generally sold out in less than two hours.

“The chickens are happy. They are outside in the sun, eating healthy food. I hope people see and taste the difference,” Young says.

As Easter approached, eggs were sure to star on more plates than ever.

“It’s no different at the farm at Easter,” he says. “People just want more eggs. But our eggs are brown, so they’re not ideal for dyeing.”

That may be so. But with their showy color on the inside, they don’t need anything more to dazzle. Just ask Ayers.

By Carolyn Jung, San Francisco Chronicle
Reprinted with permission of The San Francisco Chronicle.

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