Willow Grove free range egg farmer has closed his honesty box due to increased thefts linked to panic buying

Willow Grove free range egg farmers Julie and James Hill have been forced to close their honesty box after a spate of thefts linked to panic buying. photograph hayley mills
Willow Grove free range egg farmers Julie and James Hill have been forced to close their honesty box after a spate of thefts linked to panic buying. photograph hayley mills

A Willow Grove free-range egg producer has been forced to close his farm gate honesty box due to a spate of increased thefts which he has linked to panic buying which has stripped supermarket shelves of eggs.

Gippsland Free Range Eggs owners James and Julie Hill were "disappointed" when they went to re-stock their honesty box on Wednesday to find all 120 eggs had been poached.

"The whole fridge was cleared-out, they took the whole lot. I was pretty upset," Mr Hill said.

Mr Hill said they noticed thefts had increased to once a day in the past week, after usually noticing the odd carton taken in the past three years since they established the honesty box.

The pastured egg farmers supply customers from Warragul to Traralgon including supermarkets, cafes and farmers markets.

Mr Hill said customer orders had jumped five-fold in the past fortnight since COVID-19 had sparked panic purchasing.

"Some shops who normally order one box are now asking for three, four or five boxes. One customer even wanted 10 boxes," he said.

"But our chooks only lay one egg a day, they don't know there is an increase in demand, we can only do, what we can do."

The couple runs more than 2000 hens out at pasture pasture on their 73 hectare property where they produce "delicious free range pastured eggs" and also graze beef cattle.

Mr Hill said he was unable to speculate if the trend would continue, but would consider re-opening the honesty box in time, and asked the public to consider the impact of these thefts on small farmers.

"We are trying to make it fair for everyone and give them some eggs so no one runs out," he said.

"When they are stolen it makes it harder to keep up, and we are already struggling to keep up with demand."

"We work hard and it's good to have an honesty box in a small country town, most people are still honest and leave the right money."

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