Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Big Decision (Eggs Part 3)

Armed with the knowledge of how my egg laying hen should live and eat (see Eggs Parts 1 and 2), I now have to use this knowledge to make the healthiest and most ethical choice possible in purchasing eggs.

I had already decided that I would like to eat eggs from free range hens with a varied and natural diet, as opposed to commercial feed consisting of mostly corn, soy, animal by-products and vitamin and mineral supplements.

It seems I have two choices: the convenience of the super market paired with the compromise of an industrial product, or the inconvenience of finding something local paired with a more natural living standard.

First, the supermarket options. As you might guess, I generally opt for Whole Foods or something similar. There is a small local shop near me that carries a mix of organic and non-organic foods. Both carry a few different varieties of eggs, free-range, cage-free, etc.

After examining my options, of which there were may, I settled on the brand Cyd's Nest Fresh Organic Eggs. First, they're produced in Broomfield, Colorado, which is local. Second, they follow the Certified Humane standard, which I discussed in an earlier post. And third, their feed is 100% natural and organic. The free-roaming dozen is about $4.99.

I wanted to dig a little deeper and was able to find a wealth of information on their website, a good sign.

The hens' diet is 100% vegetarian, consisting primarily of corn, soybeans, limestone, alfalfa, vitamins and minerals. This diet is really not as diverse as I would like to see. As a fellow omnivore, I certainly couldn't survive on a diet of one grain, one grass, one legume and some supplements (actually, that's not really true - for many people, this is almost their exact diet, minus the alfalfa, as shown in Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma").

According to the certified humane standards, the animals have enough room to perform natural behaviors such as perching, stretching and dust-bathing. What I'm sure they don't have is enough access to the outdoors to forage for insects and grass. And as I mentioned in the earlier post, these standards allow for a small amount of beak trimming to "avoid heavy feather pecking and cannibalism." I'm really not sure what to think about this practice or the environment that would induce the hens to act in this manner.

Having discussed my reservations, I still think this company adheres to a higher standard than most others. I don't think I can expect to get anything closer to the way nature intended in a supermarket... after all, Cyd's has to make a profit.

What about the other option, local, pastured eggs?

It turns out that these aren't that easy to find.

Last summer at the Boulder Farmer's Market (opens in 45 days, yay!), I asked the only poultry/egg stand, Wisdom's Natural Poultry. Their feed and practices, as discussed with me then and also explained on their website, seem identical to Cyd's, although it is nice to get to talk to a person about it rather than just reading a website. Hmm, that's not quite what I was looking for and definitely less convenient than Whole Foods.

Then about a month ago, I was out with a friend talking about this topic, and she mentioned that there is a small farm near me that sells completely free range eggs, Jay Hill Farm. I looked on their website, and sure enough, this is a tiny farm that sells local produce and free-range eggs. They don't have a lot of info on the chickens, except that their blog mentions a few times that they let the chickens out at 6:30 am.

I was a little confused by the purchasing process - you order online the night before and go pick up the eggs in a fridge down a driveway? I thought I'd better call. Well, I was thrilled, I got to talk to the farmer, Rowan, in person, and found out that they even sell green-house grown veggies all winter long. I couldn't believe it. I was so excited, that I forgot to ask about what the chickens eat and how much space they have outside for foraging. I've sent her an email though - I'll give an update when I hear back.

I placed an order online, and the next day I picked up my eggs and veggies from the fridge, money left in a Tupperware in the fridge. There were a lot of positives to this - very local, small scale, free-range, no waste (just return the carton next time), winter veggies, and 50c cheaper than Cyd's at the supermarket. The only downsides are that I keep forgetting to place my second order, and it is a few miles out of the way on my drive home, which is less convenient for the supermarket.

Actually, as I scoured the Internet, I was surprised to find many small farms like this with similar arrangements (call the night before, pick up eggs in the fridge). It seems that if you search, you really can find pastured eggs.

This still doesn't answer the final question... are the eggs really any different? Do they taste or cook differently? Stay tuned next time when I'll feature my first guest chef - my husband. Ok, so he's not really a guest, but his eggs earn him the title of egg chef in any house.

3 Responses:

angela said...

thanks for another great post, stef. seriously, i like the fun recipes-- especially when they include a super cute pic of ewan. but these last few years i've grown a bit lazy in my search for organic food due to time and convenience and you've helped reinspire me!

i've often wondered what the difference was between the various "organic" eggs at the supermarket. you inspired me to check out pastured egg options in my own neck of the woods and it turns out there's a farm a few miles from my house! they even have a store you can walk in and buy them.

i'm posting the link here for your approval :)



Anonymous said...

Part of the issue with choosing eggs is that "organic" is the only label that has a legally-regulated definition (http://usda-fda.com/Articles/Organic.htm). The definitions of free range, cage free, etc. aren't legally regulated, so their meanings can vary from company to company. Free range is specified in the USDA's labeling definitions, but includes the text: "Specific production requirements may need to be defined by buyer and seller;" which essentially means you can label your eggs free range, but what free range means is up to you. Cage free isn't even mentioned.

From an article in Vegetarian Times:

"There is no commercial or legal definition for free-range
eggs in the United States, according to Karen Davis, president of
United Poultry Concerns, a Potomac, Maryland-based animal advocacy
organization. Neither is there an association of free-range egg
producers to set and maintain standards."

The lack of regulation is why it is so hard to find a consensus on what free range and cage free means, so you have to view any claim like that on a commercial product with a bit of skepticism, and it really kind of proves the entire point of your blog...the best way to ensure your food is what you want is to develop a relationship with local suppliers.

boulderhomecook said...

Thanks for the feedback Angela. It's great to know that someone is interested in the same topic. The Cherry Grove Farm looks great from the pictures! You're lucky to have such a resource close by.