Fresh Eggs - Practical Considerations
So you read all about why I think it’s worth buying pastured eggs. You understand the phenomenal taste difference. You want to give it a try. Where do you find these magic eggs?
Buy Local. Buying eggs from a local farmer (or hobby farmer!) is by far the best way to go if you’re trying to get pastured eggs. This will save you money, and allow you to investigate the conditions of the hen houses yourself. My parents retired in the country, and I actually buy most of my eggs from a woman who lives down the street from them. Her eggs are only $2/dozen, and I buy 2-3 dozen at a time (eggs keep for a very long time in the fridge). Signs for pastured eggs are all over in rural areas, and the prices where my parents live range from about $2-$3/dozen.
Of course, I don’t want to drive an hour every time I need eggs. I am able to supplement my eggs with partially pasture raised eggs that are only $2.50/dozen from a house that is literally down the street from me. For some odd reason, a few of the lots in my city are still zoned for agriculture (though most are not), and one of my neighbors raises chickens as a hobby. These chickens are fed corn and kept inside, but he lets them out in his yard every day to graze and treats them well - I figure these eggs might not have as many nutritional benefits as true pastured eggs, but they still taste better (and are probably a little better) than conventional eggs.
Some Tips for YOU:
- Keep an eye out for ‘fresh eggs’ signs - people who raise chickens for their family or for fun may sell extra eggs at a lower price than large-scale pastured chicken farms.
- Check eatwild.com and Local Harvest to find those larger-scale farms
- If you live near a rural area: go there and look for signs! If it’s anything like the area near my parents, there will be signs EVERYWHERE! If you do this, ask to see the hen houses and verify that they are, in fact, eating mostly grass and bugs. Also, don’t be afraid to shop around for better prices/chickens.
Buy at Farmers Markets
I live in the city, where most people can’t have chickens, so the prices at local farmers markets in my area can be anywhere from $4-7/dozen, depending on if the farm is certified organic. I won’t buy eggs that are this expensive, though if you can afford it and want to do so, good for you! I like the idea of supporting local farmers, I just can’t do it at that rate.
You can also check eatwild.com and Local Harvest to find larger-scale farms that attend local farmers markets. Some of them will sell directly to the public in addition to selling at farmers markets, making them more convenient to buy from.
Buy Pastured Eggs in the Grocery Store
It is possible to find pasture-raised eggs at a generic grocery store, depending on where you live. My local Kroger has some very good quality, genuinely pasture-raised eggs that are priced $5-6/dozen. Again, this is out of my price range, but it’s definitely the most convenient option.
Make sure you look for a label that says “Pasture-raised” or “grass-fed”. Also, keep in mind that this term isn’t regulated by the USDA, so you DEFINITELY need to investigate the farms before buying. The good news is that you can determine if the eggs are pastured by the color and taste so you can be pretty certain of the label’s accuracy once you buy for the first time.
Note that many, many, many ‘healthy’, ‘natural’, and ‘organic’ grocery items are NOT really any better than conventional stuff. These items also tend to be very expensive. Here are common labels that don’t mean ‘pastured eggs’ - and frequently don’t mean anything at all!
- Cage-Free & Free-range - again, these labels means very little. Cage-free chickens can’t be kept in cages, but they can be crammed in an enclosed chicken coop without access to grass and bugs. Similarly, free-range chickens simply are required to have an exit door on the chicken coop to some sort of yard or patio - it doesn’t mean they get to eat their natural food sources, and many free-range chicken coops are built so that most of the chickens will never actually access the door to the outside. Note that free-range chickens might have sufficient access to the outdoors - you would need to investigate the company to find out!
- Organic - this just means that the chickens were fed organic feed and were free-range. It does NOT mean that their feed or living conditions were better than that of conventionally raised chickens. In my opinion? There is no reason to spend the extra money on these, unless you can investigate the company to see if the chickens are actually given access to a pasture.
- Farm-fresh & Natural: These terms have literally no meaning except that a) the eggs came from a farm and b) the eggs weren’t made in a lab, by scientists with chemicals. I would hope that all eggs are ‘natural’.
- No Hormones: This means that the chickens aren’t given growth hormones. This is great! However, no chicken in the United States is (legally) given growth hormones. This label is redundant...and excuse to charge you more money than the eggs are worth.
- Brown - this is the stupidest label of all. Brown eggs are brown. That’s it, that’s the only difference. Please, please, please don’t pay more for a different color eggshell that comes from a different breed of chicken.
Raise Your Own Chickens
This is a little too ambitious for me, and even if it wasn’t, I am not legally allowed to raise livestock where I live! But if you are looking for a hobby or even some extra income…go for it! This is actually becoming more common, and there’s a lot of great resources online if you’re interested in getting into it.
What To Do in the Winter
If you live somewhere in the Great White North like I do, you are probably thinking “okay, getting eggs from chickens that eat grass is fine, but the grass is covered by snow for half the year!” This is true - you can’t get truly pastured, fresh eggs in the winter if you live somewhere with snow. However, some local farmers will still sell to you, and even though the eggs won’t taste as good or be as good for you in the winter (because they are being fed some kind of chicken feed, not bugs and grass), at least you know the hens are being treated humanely and you’re supporting your local farmer. For me, that’s worth the extra $1, but that’s a personal choice for you to make - you could always buy pastured eggs in the summer and conventional in the winter!