Cafe Fiorentina takes on the city over eggs

When Tina Leckie and Alex Chong first opened Cafe Fiorentina in August of 2011, they made it their mission to support local producers whenever possible.

Surprisingly, that has turned into a stressful ordeal for the couple.

Part of their local commitment was to buy heritage eggs rather than commercially produced eggs.

That earned them a conditional pass and a $250 fine from Toronto health inspectors. Heritage eggs, coming straight from the farm, are not graded by an egg inspector, as is usually the case with widely used commercial eggs.

Ever since, Cafe Fiorentina has been fighting against the idea that eggs must come from commercial farms.

The battle has been nothing short of epic.

“I realize that our initial mistake was not looking into grading heritage eggs. We took ownership I immediately called the farmer, made sure I had the proper documentation in order to ensure that I could keep receiving heritage eggs. Within a week I had everything settled,” says Leckie.

Despite their efforts, the cafe was visited by the same inspector and had their heritage eggs seized days before a busy weekend, where heritage eggs takes centre stage on their brunch menu.

“I had all my paper work, an invoice left from the farmer and official documentation from an egg grader. Basically every stitch of proof that I could possibly provide was rejected,” she says.

“They repeatedly asked me, ‘why can’t you just use normal eggs?’ I don’t want to. I don’t want fake eggs. I’ll stick to fresh ones, thanks,” says Leckie.

Leckie then went to the Ontario Egg Board, where she was informed that she is in the clear.

“There is definitely a miscommunication here. If I’m getting the green light from the province, but being stopped by health inspectors from the city, then it’s time that these health inspectors re-read the rule book,” says Leckie.

Leckie’s concerns are echoed by Murry Thunberg, the Cambridge farmer who supplies Cafe Fiorentina with their heritage eggs.

“Ontario regulations make it nearly impossible for independent farmers to sell their produce. Do most people know that farms are run by corporations these days?” he asks.

“It isn’t the individual farmer that’s running the show anymore. It’s Bay Street.”

Thunberg says that supply management initiatives outlined by the Egg Farmers of Ontario, force farmer to abide by costly quotas laying hens are permitted at $200-$225 per bird. For a farmer looking to compete with large scale corporate owned farms with an average of 1000 laying hens, it would cost more than a quarter of a million dollars.

“Supply management has completely monopolized the farming industry. Corporations are buying land, and are essentially the only ones who can afford to pay the ridiculous quotas that farmers are expected to pay,” he says.

For farmers like

Thunberg who wish to reach out to local businesses such as Cafe Florentina, it takes a little digging into their own pocketbooks in order to remain in business.

“Come hell or high water, I’m going to find a way to sell my eggs,” the farmer insists.

As for Cafe Fiorentina, Leckie says a third visit was paid to the cafe mid-July, where two inspectors threatened to have her restaurant shut down.

“It was humiliating. We were threatened and had more of our eggs confiscated because the health inspector said the eggs were not delivered in a refrigerated van,” she says.

“It’s because they are laid and brought to us within 20 minutes! There is so much ignorance in the system.”

Days after their most recent health inspection, a sign outside the cafe reads, Our Heritage eggs are back!

“I’m not giving up my fight, but I feel like there is a target on my back because of the issues I’ve had so far. Regardless, I truly believe in what we’re doing here,” she says.

“We want to run a socially conscious business.”

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