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Archive for the ‘Pastured eggs’ Category

It started with a quest for an egg. Not just any egg, a Knoll Crest Farms egg.

Knoll Crest Farms has been my go-to egg farmer since I went local. In a world where everything is confusing and difficult –it’s local, it’s organic, will it make garbage, when can I get it — the Knoll Crest Farm eggs are my simple solution. They are pastured and local and I can get them every week in Inwood.

Probably my first case of sustainable sticker shock was around the cost of pastured eggs. When you think about how often places like Target give eggs away for free, $4.50 a dozen seems pretty exorbitant. My friend Cathy, also a Knoll Crest Farms enthusiast always said that she got her eggs upstate for less  – I thought she had meant at the farm. So when she invited us upstate for a Memorial Day barbecue I knew I had to make a visit to the actual Knoll Crest Farm .

On Saturday, when we went to the farmers market I stopped by the Knoll Crest stand.

“We’re going upstate tomorrow,” I told the man who gives me eggs every week.

“Oh good,” he said

They were out of eggs but I didn’t care, I knew I would get them tomorrow. He told me that the farm upstate had a store. And we smiled a lot, feeling all warm and fuzzy about my visit to his farm.

Sunday morning, we were packing to go upstate. I forgot to check the egg carton for the address. No worries, I thought, we’ll google the address from the car. It sounded like a pretty good plan but it turns out when we googled them two locations showed up.

One of the farms was very close to Cathy’s house. We called, but no one answered. Since it was on the way, we figured we’d stop by. We turned off a country road and drove up a sloping road winding around the bend til we saw a sign that said “Chicken Crossing.” It was kitsch and cute but clearly faded hanging on by a proud thread  on to a  weathered and locked down farm red building. Across the overgrown road, a line of broken down chicken coups but no chickens. We drove to the end of the road, and turned the car around in a dead-end between a graceful sweeping country house and a swamp.

“Maybe that’s where the egg farmer’s live?” one of the kids said.

Maybe. But I figured we must have gone to the wrong address. But as we drove back toward the main road, we stopped to ask a man washing his car about Knoll Crest Farm.

“Oh yes,”  he said, “that’s a working farm up there. Just up the road.”

“It looked closed,” I said.

“No,” he said, “it’s a real working farm.”

We turned the car around and drove back to the chicken crossing sign. This time we got out of the car.

The kids were anxious as John and I started down the overgrown road.

“I don’t think we should do  this,” B said, “his is like that movie Spirited Away.”

“Don’t eat anything,” Z cried, “I don’t want you to turn into pigs.”

As we rounded the bend we approached a large structure with a big garden in the back. Chicken were moving freely between the building and the fenced in yard with a garden. It was not super pretty but it was clearly working.

The not-prettiness of it sort of got to me.

“What did you think mom, the chickens were going to live in some fairytale.”

“Like Mother Goose?” John added.

I didn’t say anything, but I thought, shit yes. But happy chickens don’t necessarily have to look like storybook chickens.

We walked back up the hill and the dirt road led us back to the main road. We got in the car next to the “Chicken Crossing” sign and drove off the Memorial Day Barbecue.

Monday morning, we ate breakfast at the Schultzville General Store. Turns out that’s where Cathy gets her eggs. At $2.85 a dozen, they were a bargain. As I put my score of three dozen eggs into my cooler to drive them back to the city, I thought about those scruffy chickens. They were clearly happy. And that morning, so was I.

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A good egg.

Our friends at the Cornucopia Institute have made our lives easier – again. This time, its by providing eggcellent info to help us consumers cut through the greenwashing and figure out whether we are buying humanely raised, organically-fed chicken eggs.

It’s all in their recent report, Scrambled Eggs: Separating Factory Farm Egg Production from Authentic Organic Agriculture. This report outlines which eggs are really humanely raised and sustainable and which are from factory farms make false claims about being pastured  or organic.

They’ve also developed another one of their super-useful scorecards. It rates almost 70 different name-brand  and private-label eggs based on a score of 1 to 5  with 5 being the best.

The criteria includes stuff like: adequate outdoor indoor and space, whether the farm is family owned or corporate managed, whether the hens have access to poophole/exits and overall commitment to organic. I’ve attached a PDF of their appendix of their complete ratings here. (Via Cornucopia Institute)

It’s interesting, for starters, to look at what they were researching. Like, what do the farms do with their manure? Or do the hen’s have a place to perch? Do they rotate the chicken coops so the hens can graze on fresh vegetation? And does the farm raises its birds from chicks?.

Here’s what a “5-egg” or “Exemplary” rating means. The eggs come from small to medium-scale family farms that, “raise their hens in mobile housing on well-managed and ample pasture or in fixed housing with intensively managed rotated pasture. They sell eggs locally or regionally under their farm’s brand name, mostly through farmer’s markets, food cooperatives and/or independently owned natural and grocery stores and sometimes through larger chains like Whole Foods.”

A 1 egg rating means that the farm is, “ethically deficient – industrial organics/no meaningful outdoor access and/or none were open enough to participate.” Our friends at Trader Joe’s got a 1 egg rating, and disturbingly enough, so did 365 Organic.

The very expensive The Country Hen eggs, which are available at my Bodega didn’t do much better. They got a paltry “2-egg” rating “which means that there is, “Some Questions Remain Concerning Compliance with Federal Standards.”

I didn’t recognize any of the brands from the 4 egg “Exemplary” category. And I’m a bit concerned that my personal brand of choice, Knoll Krest Farm, (which I buy from the Inwood Farmer’s Market) was not on the list.

However, now, armed with the right questions, I plan on calling up Knoll. I’ll keep you posted.

Commuter biking follow-up:

I rode my bike to the Inwood Greenmarket on Saturday to make up for the fact that I didn’t ride my bike to work last week. I was a bit freaked out by my last ride to work the week before. I now understand what people mean when they say driving in NY is hard. In a car, I’m fine. But on the bike — well it’s a whole different, slightly scary story. The bike path took me always the way down to 40th street, but then I had to cross the city during rush hour, past the Holland tunnel and the Port Authority.

Instead, I decide to ride to the Farmer’s Market in Inwood. It’s only about 20 blocks away, or three subway stops away, depending on how you measure the city.

In actuality, this ride made more of a difference in terms of my global footprint. I always take the subway to work. But I normally drive to the market, which is probably less than 2 miles away. I figured this ride would be a piece of cake next to trekking 140 blocks to work. But I hadn’t factored in the hills. And it was hot on Saturday .

As I huffed and puffed back to my stoop, I ran into one of my neighbors.

“Out for a ride?” she asked.

“No,” I said, “I just biked up to the Inwood Greenmarket.”

“Oh,” she said as she shifted to redistribute the weight in her plastic bags of groceries. “That place is great. I wish they had something like that near here.”

I didn’t state the obvious that Inwood was, “near here.” Instead,  told her about the farmer’s market on 168 the street on Tuesday morning. (There’s also one on 175 street on Thursday.)  In truth, we are lucky, there is Greenmarket on most days of the week in NYC — here’s the list.

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Not having eggs in the house was really freaking me out. So, Friday I was determined to get to Union Square. Of course I didn’t.

The Union  Square Farmer’s Market is becoming like Shangri-La to me. I just can’t get there, no matter how much I try. Yet I can practically see it through the clouds, just 30 odd blocks down Madison.

Why didn’t I make it to the Farmer’s Market on Friday? I’d like to say meetings. But the real answer would be lack of boundaries. And an inability to prioritize myself. I said to K. something about how hard it was to get things done. She thought I was talking about work. I said that no, I was talking about buying eggs. She said yes, the way I was doing things was hard. “I don’t know how someone with a job like you is going to keep this up.”

But my question is, why do people feel like making less garbage and trying to have less impact on the planet is optional?

Today at the Inwood Market I asked the recycling guy what I could do with all my other plastics — not the ones the city recycles and not the #5s that I can take back to Whole Foods. He shrugged, “I dunno.”

“Why doesn’t the city recycle the rest?”

“A majority of people don’t even recycle what they city is set up to take.”

(I’m not surprised. Until recently I was one of them.)

“But what about the rest of us? We would recycle.”

He just shrugged again. “It doesn’t make economic sense. Why would the city invest in programs people aren’t going to use?”

Ok, I just don’t know what to do with a statement like that. If people ran traffic lights, would they just take them down. I thought the way it worked was that we make rules based on societal beliefs of right and wrong. Isn’t  poisoning the planet a wrong. It seems that it’s optional.

There are so many people in New York. Now that I have begun to try to stop making garbage, I have had to face just how much I make. I have bags and bags of plastic that I don’t know what to do with. I’m staring at a Hudson Valley Farmhouse pasta container; I bought the pasta at the a Farmer’s Market. Is that pasta I bought greener than the pack I used to buy at Whole Foods? The eggs are pastured. That’s better. It’s locally produced. That’s better. But I still have  piece of plastic that I don’t know what to do with.

“Can you reuse?” the recycle guy asked me.

“Sure,” I said. “But I have too much.”

On a happy note, the pasta was delicious. I believe that since it was made with pastured eggs, it was more nutritious too.  And, we bought an box of strawberries that were unbelievably yummy. I brought them to brunch today and everyone agreed that the quality was well beyond what we normally get in our supermarket flats. As M’s husband accurately described: “They taste like candy.”

And they did.

When I asked the farmer before I bought them, “Are these organic?”

“Nah,” he said.

“Do you spray them?”

“If I need to,” he said.

“Did you spray these?”

“Nah. But I used a nitrogen based fertilizer.”

That means the strawberries were fertilized with an industrially-produced compound. Industrial produced fertilizers have an impact on the environment in both the fossil fuel used to create them and the way their toxic run off messes with surrounding lakes and streams and the creatures that inhabit them. Philosophically I’m not supposed to buy that kind of produce, but the Farmer’s Market surrounding messes with my head — sort of lulls me into a pastoral denial.

The sun was shining. The park greenery was all around. I swear to god, the birds were chirping in the background. There was even a couple in the line in front of me — the classic young beautiful Manhattanites — finishing off the picture. Their toddler rode in the shopping cart, standing next to 21$ worth of grass fed milk (3 bottles) and the mom, blond, thin and delicate as spring Ramp carried the baby in a front pack. They were chit chatting with their neighbor about the dad’s tv show which had been moved from NBC to some cable channel – Lifetime maybe? Apparently it was doing wonders for their viewership. . They were buying strawberries — so they had to be safe, healthy and green, right?

I want a simple equation. Farmers Market equals safe, supermarket equals evil. Unfortunately it’s not that easy.

Why does it have to be so complicated?

The bottom line  —  I’m not always sure that what I buy at the Farmer’s Market is perfectly organic or free of pesticides, but it certainly tastes a whole lot better.

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Yesterday, I opened the refrigerator, and next to my cardboard box of farmer’s market eggs, there was a familiar pink Styrofoam container that read: Rose Acre Farms Extra large. I’m not sure why we have grocery store eggs — there’s still  almost a whole dozen from the farmer’s market

“Where’d those eggs come from?” I asked John.

“I bought them,” John said. “I wanted scrambled eggs but I didn’t want to use your fancy eggs.”

“Fancy eggs?” I said.

“You know, expensive. I’m not going to pay a lot of money for expensive eggs. I didn’t want to use yours.”

“You know,” I said, “Those eggs were $2.50 a dozen. The eggs we bought to color Easter eggs at  Stewarts were $1.99.”

We dropped it at that.  The conversation was just too bizarre.

John has been a vegetarian for over 20 years.  He stopped eating meat to a large part for humane reasons. He promises himself one day, he will become a vegan. Yet, his natural inclination is to choose the supposedly less humane industrial food chain. I thought he’d be all over the kindler, gentler egg.

The idea of free range, or cage free is nothing new. But part of what I have been trying to do is figure out what it all means. Since not long after these descriptors became common supermarket parlance,there was a lot of talk about how these labels were just lip-service. A agricultural loop hole to make people feel better and charge more money. Fancy eggs.

But honestly, I’m not really sure what’s what.  In fact, I’ve barely done the research. One of the facts I’ve read so far is that ratios of Omega fatty acids in pastured eggs is comparable to salmon — for a mom of two kids who won’t eat fish that sounds pretty good. And I have decided, for this year, I’m going to err on the side of pastured eggst – since for the last several decades I’ve voted with my dollars for industrial farming.

Easter weekend, at the Saratoga Springs Farmers’ Market we bought two-dozen pastured eggs from Elihu Egg Farm.  I do have to say, that what I’ve read about pastured eggs has proven true. At least in terms of taste and color.  They are definitely more yellow. And fried up, the white becomes satisfyingly firm and flippable. My intention is to save my egg carton, and have it refilled at the Union Square farmer’s market. But I KNOW, there will be a day when I run out of eggs. Will I go back to the convenient dozen of Rose Acre eggs from my local bodega or do without?

Rose Acre Farms eggs, like the ones we bought upstate at Stewarts,  cost on average $1.99 a dozen.  I can pick them up after work, or in the morning before the kids go to school, or at 2 am  — cause my corner Bodega is ALWAYS open.  I know that the carton says vegetarian feed – which has always been my small consolation. I remember, about two years ago, I checked them on line, and found an image of unhappy crowded chickens. But I wasn’t sure, so I surfed over to Roseacre.com and checked out ” The good egg people.”

The Rose Acre website’s frequently asked questions listed a few of my questions. Like: “What goes into the chicken feed Rose Acres uses to feed chickens?”

Their answer talked about all the things they did to keep their chickens happy and healthy. The say their feed made from natural grains grown by local family farmers. They talked about  freshly ground corn and home crushed soybean meal. They say grains make up almost all of the chicken feed. They also add vitamins — “(just like a vitamin pill taken by people)”   It all sounded ok.  They don’t adds growth hormones to our chickens feed to over stimulate to lay more eggs. They end the paragraph by saying “Our chickens happiness and welfare is always our priority.”

You can’t argue with that.

Then I came across another question that made Rose Acre Farm sound sort of ok:

“How does Rose Acre Farms house their chickens?”

Their answer:

“We have farms where the chickens are kept in pens, and farms where the chickens are kept in open-style barns with nests. There is no nutritional difference between either type of eggs. Eggs from the “Free-Roaming” farms cost much more than regular eggs because the eggs must be gathered by hand from the individual hen’s nest. All of our chickens, including those kept in pens, are kept in a humane and friendly environment. Plenty of fresh water, fresh air, and fresh feed are available to each chicken at all times, with plenty of space for each chicken to move about and socialize with the other chickens. If the chickens are not happy, they will not lay eggs, so it is in our economic best interest to always make sure that all of our chickens are happy and well cared for at all times.”

Ok, so if they are pumping out carton after carton to my Bodega, those chickens must be happy.

They also argue that captivity is good for the chickens.  They’re protected against predators. Their light and food content is monitored – it makes it sound almost spa like. They even have a live web cam to show their chickens.

Which is where they start to lose me. Despite their supposed good intentions, and the happy words, their chicken coops looks a lot like a prison . I’m starting to doubt, when I notice this link: Battery hens ‘as happy as birds that can roam outside‘ (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-468565/Battery-hens-happy-birds-roam-outside.html)

I’m actually eager for them to seal the deal, and prove from an outside source that shier farm style is fine and dandy. But Rose Acre should have quit when they were ahead. The article  links to the Daily Mail, a UK-based newspaper article on the happiness of caged hens. According to a 1997 hormone level study caged hens are less stressed than their free roaming counterparts.   But then, the article quickly changes sides. It reports that findings of this study are not in line with a number of other studies comparing the well-being of caged hens to free-range or barn systems. It’s not very convincing and it’s based on research that’s almost 10 years old. Uy.

So, then what about their free-roaming chickens? Can I go for those eggs  if I run out?

Well for one thing, the website says they are not fed animal by products.  Their exact words are: “These eggs are unique also in that the feed is completely all-natural, with no added hormones, animal fats or animal by-products.” Yuck. That means the other chickens (the ones who are fed mostly local farm grain) are eating something else too, too.

Then, on a closer read, I realize that free roaming actually means “open, cage-free hen house.” Again they have a picture, that really kills the sale for me – two lines of chickens in a steel grey barracks with bright light bulbs hanging over head – the chickens look like they’re refugees on board Battlestar Gallatica.  It’s a completely artificial environment. Only the farmer looks happy.

Of course, I’m worried. Because I know I will run out. I’m barely a week in and I’m already freaked out about how much time and energy it’s taking me to find the kind of food I think I want to feed my family. And I’m exhausted from questioning everything.

I wanted Rose Acre to prove to be an ok place to buy eggs. I want the convenience of going to store at 2 am. I want what I’ve done for most of my life — what’s cheap and easy — to also be ok. Healthy. Humane. Sustainable.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

So if I run out of eggs, I guess Rose Acre shouldn’t really be option. Bummer.

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