Eggs are available at the Cortez Farmer’s Market again this year and elsewhere in the county. Homegrown eggs, sometimes charmingly referred to as cackleberries, are a welcome treat in any home kitchen and an absolute necessity in others.
There are many home flocks in Montezuma County because people understand the beauty of a fresh egg: the yolk’s ability to “stand up” in the pan instead of flattening out and sprawling into the white; its florescent yellow-orange yolk versus the pale anemic yellow of a commercial egg; and its flavor – yes, flavor. The loft and lift fresh eggs provide in baking is notable and valued by cooks everywhere.
The nutritional superiority of eggs from pastured hens over eggs from commercially raised layers has been well-documented. Increased amounts of folic acid, vitamins E and A and beta-carotene are found in naturally raised eggs. And the omega 3 fatty acids – the “good” fat – is abundant in fresh eggs from foraging chickens and virtually nonexistent in commercial eggs from caged birds.
So why do people bristle at the price of local fresh eggs?
This year, a dozen farm-fresh eggs sells for $6 at the farmers market. I have watched people walk away with raised eyebrows when they hear the cost, and I’ve wondered to myself: What price would they think is fair or be willing to pay? And have they considered the real cost of those eggs before walking away, no doubt intending to buy their eggs at the supermarket for $2.79? Or less. We all choose what we can afford.
“Cheap” eggs are accepted as a given, almost an entitlement. Eggs are an affordable source of protein and a healthy alternative to eating meat. But there are hidden costs that the price of “cheap” eggs does not reflect. And those extra costs are paid by the consumer in ways that are hard to see.
Most people have heard of the poultry warehouses the size of football fields that can contain up to 100,000 birds. Facilities where hens are raised from hatch to butcher in confinement of less than a square foot per bird, unable to so much as stand up or spread their wings, beaks sawed off to prevent pecking, never a breath of fresh air or a glimpse of the sun, and fed a continual diet of antibiotic-laced feed from agribusiness corn to maximize egg production.
FAST FACT: Sellers at the Cortez Farmers Market include Bob and Carolyn Ower, Pitts Family Ranch, Lindsay Yarbrough and Clutter Family Farm.
In response to public outcry to these practices, the industry is wielding a new weapon in its fight to get your dollar. When shopping for eggs in a supermarket, the consumer now must wade through a litany of marketing slogans designed to reassure us that the eggs are healthy for us and that the hens have suffered no ill at the hands of the producer. We see phrases such as pasture-raised, vegetarian-fed, organic, free-range, cage-free, hormone-free, humanely raised, minimally-processed. These slogans are confusing and often misleading.
For instance, “cage-free” does not equate to “pasture-raised.” There are commercial chicken operations with thousands of “free-range” birds crammed into artificially lit warehouses with less than 2 square feet of space per bird, barely enough room to flap their wings. While these birds may technically be called “cage-free,” they live their short lives under less than humane conditions.
A label of “free-range” requires that birds be given access to the outdoors. Such access often means an opening into a small wire enclosure that is ankle-deep in chicken manure.
The coveted claim of “organic” might not be what we are led to believe. It would be a mistake to assume that eggs labeled “organic” are more nutritious, safer, or more sustainably produced. Certifying agencies vary in their requirements. “Corporate organic” requires that feeds are organic, many of which are produced outside the United States where the USDA has minimal control over the certification process. Then they are unsustainably shipped to the commercial layer warehouses. And remember, the “organic” label has nothing whatsoever to do with the treatment or confinement of the birds.
“Vegetarian-fed” eggs, while perhaps possible, defies the natural fact that any chicken put in any pasture will always seek out bugs and invertebrates before resorting to eating plant material. Chickens are prehistoric creatures and they like their bugflesh. I’ve witnessed a chicken slurp up a small garden snake much like a kid would a spaghetti noodle. Vegetarian by choice? No.
If all this concerns you, there is a better way: Get to know your farmers and ask them the questions you want answers to.
A supermarket purchase of a dozen eggs, while economical, makes the consumer complicit in the industrialization of egg production and all its attendant complications. Antibiotics, feed grown with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, excess energy and fossil fuel usage, runoff pollution into natural water systems, not to mention the tormenting of live creatures, are all hidden costs of the egg industry. And those costs are hiding behind cheap pastoral slogans created by a corporate, taxpayer-subsidized behemoth that is hoping you won’t notice.
Every time we buy a dozen eggs from the dairy case, it is a vote for agriculture as big business. We in Montezuma County have the privilege and good fortune to be able to buy our food face-to-face from farmers we know and trust and whose practices are earth-friendly and humane. And those farmers absorb all the costs and assume all the risk of raising a chick into a laying hen and delivering its eggs to your door.
Chickens raised in a healthy sustainable environment, treated ethically and permitted to be chickens rather than disposable laying machines, will give their gifts freely. What’s that worth to you? So the next time you don’t want to fork over $6 for a dozen of local pastured eggs, try growing your own home flock. You’ll quickly discover the real value of an egg.
*Disclosure: The author has raised chickens for almost 20 years and sells her eggs in Montezuma County.
Clafouti of Cherries(or any other seasonal fruit)
Here’s a delightful easy and fast summer breakfast dish. It also works as a dessert after a light meal. It’s from the 1970’s classic cookbook by Anna Thomas, The Vegetarian Epicure. Make it with locally grown eggs and you will marvel at its simple beauty and taste.A clafouti is a simple pudding, similar to a pancake batter, poured over fruit and baked.Ingredients4 eggs1 C flour2 C warm milk¾ C sugar2 Tbsp melted butter plus 1-2 Tbsp for panpinch salt1 pound sweet dark cherries, washed, stemmed, pitted, and cut in half2 Tbsp kirsch, a cherry liqueur (optional) You may also use almond extract.DirectionsPreheat the oven to 425.
Beat the eggs lightly while gradually stirring in the flour.
When the mixture is smooth, beat in the milk, sugar, melted butter, kirsch, and salt.
Generously butter a shallow baking dish or pie plate.
Pour a very thin layer of the batter across the bottom of it.
Put it in the hot over for 2-3 minutes, or just long enough for the batter to begin to set.
Arrange the pitted cherries evenly over the layer of batter and pour the remaining batter over them.
Reduce the heat to 400 and bake for about 30-35 minutes until golden brown and slightly puffed. The center should look slightly wet but not jiggly. (It will continue to cook out of the oven.)
Check it once or twice during the cooking. If large bubbles form causing it to puff unevenly, pierce the bubble with a skewer or fork.
Sprinkle with sieved confectioner’s sugar and serve hot or warm.
An optional treat: pour cold heavy cream over the individual slices.