Ah, yes, we are so close to sweet summertime! Tomatoes, peppers, and corn – oh my! But, one thing that is incredibly abundant in the springtime is eggs. For me, eggs were the gateway food that led me to local foods. I no longer have my own flock of backyard chickens, so I rely on our local farmers for those little nuggets of goodness. Yes, I’ve shared this piece before (more than once!), but I always find it bears repeating. Be sure to stop by on Sunday to visit your favorite egg farmer and pick up a dozen – or two!
If you’ve bought eggs at the grocery store recently, I’m sure your head was spinning on all the different claims on the labels: vegetarian fed, cage free, pastured, free range, organic. What do these labels mean, if anything really?
Since getting our own backyard flock, I find amusement in the vegetarian fed label. Chickens are not vegetarians! A chicken, when allowed proper access to the outdoors, will feast on bugs and worms. I even caught one of my hens going after a small snake in the yard and one of our ten week old chicks would give anything for a cicada! Cage free is pretty self explanatory, but! But just because the hens are cage free, does not mean they have access to the outdoors. If you’d like to see the way that battery hens are kept, I’ll let you do your own research. But, I’m warning you. It isn’t pretty. Pastured eggs mean that the hens are moved around outside to different pastures and presumably allowed to forage for bugs and grasses. Free range, in terms of supermarket eggs, simply means the hens have some access to outdoors. And organic, well, means they were fed an organic feed. While I’m not sure of the cost of a generic carton of eggs at the grocery store, I did look into a fancy box in the natural foods section. The cost of those eggs – $5.59 a dozen!
There was a buzz recently about the shelf life of store bought eggs. Sometimes eggs you buy at the grocery store are more than a month old! That makes them good for hard boiling and dyeing at Easter time, but not necessarily for everyday consumption. And do you remember the recent outbreak of avian flu that caused many farmers to have to euthanize their entire flock of chickens?
So, what options are there you might ask? Well, the Farmers Market of course! On Sunday, while I was wrangling a screaming child (I apologize to you if you were at the market between 12 and 12:30 on Sunday), I was able to count at least 8 farmers at the market with eggs. The prices ranged from $2.50 a dozen to $5.00 a dozen. And there were options for free range, pastured, and organic.
What are the benefits of farm fresh eggs? They are numerous, but I’ll try to hit the high points. First and foremost is freshness! Remember when I said that grocery store eggs were possibly already a month old when you buy them? When you buy them from a local farmer, they may only be a few days old. If that sometimes! Hens are most productive in the summer, so farmers are usually gathering dozens of eggs at a time. I was recently watching an older episode of Cooks Country on PBS and it was on eggs. They said hands down that farm fresh eggs outperformed every grocery store egg in their recipes.
Now onto the health benefits of farm fresh eggs, notably free range eggs. According to a study done by Mother Earth News Magazine, free range eggs contain:
⅓ less cholestorol
¼ less saturated fat
⅔ more vitamin A
2 times more Omega-3 fatty acids
3 times more Vitamin E
7 times more beta carotene
Now, if that isn’t reason enough to buy farm fresh eggs, I’m not sure what is. As with anything at the market, you are also keeping your money local. You are helping a farmer keep the lights on or maybe helping pay for dance lessons.
Also, you’ll probably notice that most of the eggs at the market are brown eggs. There is absolutely no difference in the flavor of the egg based on shell color. The shell color is determined by the breed of chicken and has nothing to do with what it’s fed or how it’s kept. I know at least one farmer has blue and green eggs, also. If you snag a dozen of those eggs around Easter time, the natural dyeing is already done for you! My family is anxiously awaiting our colored egg laying chicks to start producing blue and green eggs. I think a colorful egg basket is quite lovely.
I’ll end with this:
When you crack open a farm fresh egg, you are met with a nice firm yolk. And in most cases, the yolk is almost orange! So, whether you like your eggs hard boiled, fried, or scrambled, be sure to pick up a dozen (or two) at the market on Sunday! Oh, and you’d better get some bacon for a killer breakfast combo. Or maybe some zucchini for a quiche. It’s called the incredible edible egg for good reason!