I often speak to customers wishing our eggs were from a farm that is closer to their home. The local food movement is fast growing and widespread. Organizations like Slow Food promote locally produced foods over of the purchase of products made or grown further away. So, what do we think about this?
All things being equal, it’s a great idea to buy your eggs locally. However, from what I’ve seen after visiting dozens of egg farms in the past 2 years, all things are not equal, nor are they what they seem.
Vital Farms Pasture Raised Eggs are from hens that are raised outdoors, on fresh native grasses that are Certified Organic. Our hens (also certified organic) are rotated routinely onto fresh pasture. They don’t touch a previously utilized area for at least 60 days (often a year or more), allowing the pathogens from their manure to run their life cycles, die off and turn into great natural fertilizer. Our birds’ diets are also supplemented with a USDA Certified Organic lay ration (hens need a certain amount of seeds and grain to lay about an egg a day). Our farms are all Certified Humane by Humane Farm Animal Care. We choose our family farms based upon many things, including their willingness to love and care for the ladies who will lay our eggs. In addition, we meet regularly with our family farms to review our standards and work on ideas to improve the lifestyle of our hens and the quality and flavor of our eggs.
While there are many small local farms that produce eggs that I’d eat, many more do not. Here’s what I need to see before I purchase and eat eggs from the farm down the road:
1. Certified Organic. Fact: It only costs $400 to get certified organic. Many local farmers tell us that they are “organic” but can’t afford the certification. Since being certified organic improves the sale price of their product and the value of the food they produce, I have to wonder if there is some other reason why they don’t make the effort and spend the minimal cost to get certified. If they are free ranging their birds, but feeding them non-organic feed, you could be eating eggs from hens fed blood, feather and bone meal, pesticide and herbicide laced- GMO corn and soy and other nasty stuff, all of which makes its way into your body after it passes through the hen’s. Today’s egg is made up mostly of what the hen ate yesterday.
2. Humanely Raised: I want to know that the birds are living outdoors (not indoors with “outdoor access”). I also want to know that the farmer rotates his flocks onto fresh pasture on a regular basis. Does he/she follow humane standards for their birds? Are they protected from predators, allowed to dust bathe, given proper roosting space, enough nesting boxes, summer shade and water access? Are they over or under fed? Too much grain can lead to overlarge eggs which can lead to physical problems for the layer. I have seen this on many small farms, where a farmer thinks he is being good to the birds by giving them all the feed they want. Too little feed and the girls stop laying.
3. Be Honest: It’s simply not possible to produce pasture raised eggs during the winter in many parts of the country. In states like Wisconsin and Minnesota, there is only green pasture a few months per year. If you want pasture raised eggs during the winter, you will need to get them from a farm in the South where there is green pasture year ‘round. A farm that claims that their eggs are pasture raised when the birds are indoors in barns or warehouses is not being truthful to his/her customer.
Finally, it’s difficult to compare the cost and carbon footprint of shipping a carton of eggs 1,000 miles in a truck with 25,000 other dozens vs. the cost of driving to a local farm to pick up 1-2 items. In this example, we don’t know how far the local farm is, how good your gas mileage is and how many items among which to divide the fuel cost. We do know the amount of fuel required to ship a carton of eggs on a full, refrigerated semi-truck: It’s 6/10 of one ounce of diesel, or 1/213 of a gallon – basically several large drops. My bet is that I’d use more just starting my car to drive to the farm down the road.
That being said, Vital Farms has grown to 12 family farms in states throughout the South including Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and now Georgia. Soon we will also begin production on a farm in California. We are striving to bring our eggs closer to you so that you don’t have to drive all the way to Austin for a great breakfast.