You may have heard me, or other farmers, use the term "farm fresh eggs," but what exactly is the difference between farm-fresh and store-bought eggs?
It all starts and ends with the chickens. On a farm, pasture-raised hens are fed a balanced diet of chicken feed ("layer feed" for laying hens) with the option to also forage for their own food. Chickens are actually not vegetarians, but rather omnivores. They enjoy eating bugs and insects, and when they have access to natural protein, sun, and exercise they are healthier, happier and, in turn, lay a healthier egg.
Eggs found in the grocery store are usually laid by caged hens, which are fed an unnatural diet of corn, soy and cottonseed. They do not have access to sunlight or exercise. The use of hormones and antibiotics in these conditions is heavy. The eggs tend to look anemic next to a pasture-raised hen's egg found on a local farm.
And labels can be misleading. For example "American Humane Certified and Certified Humane" means that while the hens are not raised in cages, they can still be raised in confined conditions, and outdoor access isn't required. "Cage-free" may mean the hens were not raised in a cage, but they may still be packed into a building with tens of thousands of other birds. And while you may think seeing "USDA Organic" on the egg carton means the hens who laid your eggs were raised in a healthy environment, that may not always be the case. While the "organic" standard does require access to the outdoors for all farm animals on an organic farm, some certifying agencies allow a "small concrete porch" to be a sufficient "outdoor space."
Many farmers express frustration with packaging labels, and question whether these labels are to benefit the consumer, or the farmer. Either way, at the end of the day, do you know where you food comes from?
Finding a local farm, creating the connection with the farming family, and learning how they raise their produce, livestock, and operate their farm is the best way to know where your food comes from. Support your local farms, and take the time to shop small, and make a difference in the American food supply chain. You will taste the difference!
Food prepared by: Haley Lemieux