April 10, 2014

So, eggs are great, right? The Incredible Edible Egg? I do love eggs...

But sometimes - like last Sunday - I find myself at Hy-Vee by my house already hungry and needing to make a quiche or something ASAP and kicking myself for not planning well enough to have great eggs around.

"But there are local eggs in that 'natural' section right?"

The answer to that, is "Maybe". And it's not a simple one at that.

First off, Nebraska is kind-of the middle of farm country and right next to the #1 egg producing state in the country (Iowa). So 'local' isn't really enough of a qualifier for me.

Second, the whole grocery store feels like a trap sometimes. Make one wrong move, and you're being tricked into buying 'multigrain' instead of whole wheat! Let your guard down for a second, and you're eating xanthan gum and sorbitol! Grocery stores are filled with food-land-mines to navigate!

Yeah, yeah, back to eggs. Okay.

There are some brands at Whole Foods, Hy-Vee, TJ's, and whatever else that look a little more 'friendly' - depending on what your goals are. Here are the rough 'categories' of eggs you can get. This information isn't really easy to find in a concise manner, but the Humane Society's website does a decent job.
  1. Pasture-raised, Certified Organic. Hens are raised outdoors with room to perch, forage and act like birds. They are frequently moved on to fresh grass and their feed is USDA Certified Organic.  $4.50-5.50/ dozen.
  2. Pasture-raised, non-organic. Same as above, and feed is high-quality, vegetarian. But not organic. $3.50-4.50/dozen.
  3. Certified Organic. Hens are for the most part, raised indoors and should be given access to the outdoors (this does not always happen). Feed is USDA Certified Organic. While they have limited space, they are not caged and do eat a quality feed ration free from pesticides, herbicides and GMO-ingredients. $3.50-4.50/dozen.
  4. Cage Free / “free-range.” Hens are raised in a warehouse of up to 100,000 hens per house. They may never see natural light, breathe fresh air or see a blade of grass. Feed is non-organic and potentially 'yucky' stuff. $2.50/ dozen.
  5. Caged. Same as above, but hens are in cages. $1.50/ dozen.
Currently, there are approximately 180 egg-producing companies in the U.S. with flocks of 75,000 hens
or more. These companies represent about 95% of all the layers in the United States.

Hormones are never given to chicks or egg-laying hens. So when something is promoted as 'hormone free' - so are 100% of the eggs sold in the U.S. anyway. Similarly, terms like 'natural', ' antibiotic free' and 'cage free' don't mean anything.

When I'm thinking ahead, I prefer to get my eggs from the Nebraska Food Coop. Lots of good quality producers here. Read the descriptions. This is my preferred egg source and really one of the main reasons we have a coop membership (and meat). Here's what I'd consider a 5 on the scale above.

Common Good Farm - #2094 – Certified Organic Pasture-Based Eggs ($5.56/doz)
Our lovely brown eggs are certified organic, ranged on our certified Biodynamic pastures. We custom mix our own feed ration made from organic grains from other organic farmers in Nebraska. Our hens are on pasture in movable houses, working in a rotation with our small cattle herd, pigs and in the fallow vegetable fields post-season. They are an important part of our whole farm system. Eggs are packed nest run. Carton weight averages minimum of medium and usually closer towards large to extra large for total carton weight. We're sure you'll enjoy them...folks rave about them once they've tried them. A real farm favorite!
But if you're not into spending that much, there are plenty of other great options with prices ranging down to $2.60/doz (see below). Most if not all of the coop produces would qualify as a 4 on the chart above.

Prairie Pride Poultry - #5393 - Farm Fresh Pasture Raised Brown Eggs (Small)
Hello, and thank you for visiting! My name is Dan Hromas, and I am a military veteran living in York, NE. I started this small poultry farm - Prairie Pride Poultry - last year with a mission to provide high quality, locally sourced eggs. The farm raises Rhode Island Reds on pasture; its holistic core is the belief and practice of humane treatment of the flock...after all, HAPPY HENS LAY HEALTHY EGGS!
These free-range, cage-free eggs are GRADE A SMALL (1.5 - 1.75 ounces); they are perfect to hard boil and pickle, or use as a snack or in a salad. LAYER RATIONS DO NOT CONTAIN ANITBIOTICS, HORMONES, OR ANIMAL BY-PRODUCTS.
Nebraska egg/packing number is: N3815
Feel free to visit the farm on Facebook to see pictures and updates (transparency and connection to the consumer is important): www.facebook.com/prairiepridepoultry
I'm such a huge fan of the coop also because there are several delivery sites around town, so it's convenient for everyone. And there's always Tomato Tomato too if you're in the area of 156th & Center (I am not).

Besides some national brands that seem more reputable (Organic Valley, Vital Farms) the closest thing I could find at Hy-Vee that looked like my Coop eggs were these (which had a stamp on the side that said "Wes & Julie's Family Farm":

But what does this mean? Nothing really. Except they're apparently from Nebraska. Just not enough information...  

Here's another little anecdote. Did you know why other countries don't need to refrigerate their eggs? Yep, we clean and sanitize them so well the natural coating that protects the eggs is also cleaned right off, leaving opportunity for contamination if the eggs aren't refrigerated. Where in Europe, they do exactly the opposite. Their rates of salmonella are apparently on decline, and ours are on the rise. Hmm.

So finally... when buying eggs, if you can't find a local farm or backyard chicken coop you know and trust, look for some of these things on the label - Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, Pasture-Raised, Organic-Pasture-Raised, or Food Alliance Certified are all decent options.

Other label items, no matter how nice they might sound, may not mean anything. If you care about what you're buying - for health, humane treatment of the animals, local economy, whatever... it pays to also care enough to do a bit of research. (Or in my case, a lot.)

Where do your eggs come from? Do you care?

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