The most sustainable and local eggs you can eat are ones you grow yourself. If you don’t have space or the time to care for your own backyard chickens, the next best option is to buy local eggs.
Store eggs come in different varieties, like conventional, cage free, organic, and pastured. The pastured eggs are best for the chicken’s health (and yours) and for the environment. However, pastured is not a regulated term. To make sure you get the best, buy local, and know your farmer.
Here are six great reasons to buy local eggs!
Local Eggs are Easier to Buy
There are a lot of ways eggs are categorized in the grocery store, and they can be confusing. Some terms are regulated, while others are not. Those unregulated terms sound good, like “farm raised” but don’t have any real meaning.
The cheapest eggs are cheap for a reason, as they raise hens in a confined environment, with no outside access. Those cheap eggs involve stressed hens, requiring antibiotics to keep disease down, and no chance for chickens to eat a natural diet.
More than 70 percent of eggs come from caged environnments, where the hens live 6-8 to a cage with 67 square inches of space per hen (less than half a square foot). Every day more farms are switching to a cage free environment, which is better but not great.
A cage free hen may have more space, but they are still in a stressed environment, their feed is provided rather than foraged by the hens, and procedures like de-beaking are still an option.
The USDA says “outside access” but does not regulate what that means. These are not likely to be happy hens frolicking outside all day eating bugs and plants like chickens naturally do. They will be less stressed than the caged hens, but not raised outside.
Pasture raised eggs are the best option, as hens are rotated outside and have access to insects and plants. The USDA does not regulate this term. Hopefully, those pasture raised eggs really involved pasture.
There are a whole bunch of independent labeling groups out there that will help you ensure that you are getting what you think you are getting. Maybe. Having so many different labels out there can really confuse egg buyers.
If you want to buy eggs from pasture raised chickens, you can look at the independent labels out there are choose eggs that are certified by them.
Ultimately, the best way to ensure you are getting pastured eggs, from healthy hens, is to know your farmer. You can ask them about how their hens are raised, what kinds of feed they get, and how their manure is managed.
Local Eggs are Better for the Chickens
A healthier chicken gives healthier eggs. We want our hens to be out on pasture, foraging for their diet. Like grass fed beef, an animal that eats its natural diet is healthier.
A hen raised on pasture will be less stressed as well. This means less antibiotics, certainly means no mutilation of the chickens by the farmer or by other hens, and gives a healthier egg as well.
Hens will be able to eat insects and get exercise chasing them. They will follow natural sun rhythms and lay eggs seasonally rather than under lights all winter.
Local Eggs are Better for Your Health
Those healthy hens give us healthy eggs to eat. They have a varied diet, less stress, and need less antibiotics. Since the birds are not confined, there may be less salmonella risk.
A study done by Penn State in 2010 found that eggs from pastured hens over conventional ones had twice the vitamin E, omega 3 fats, and much more vitamin A.
Mother Earth News, in 2007, did a study as well on pastured eggs. They found the pastured eggs had less cholesterol and saturated fat compared to conventional eggs. They also had more vitamin A, omega 3 fats, vitamin E and beta carotene.
It’s clear that pastured, local eggs will have more nutrients than a conventional egg.
Local Eggs are Better for the Farmer
Small farms are dependent on the weather, feed prices, and demand for a perishable product. It’s not easy to be a farmer, and it can mean long hours of work with no days off, plus no guarantee of profit.
A farmer that diversifies their products can ensure that she will get a crop of something to sell rather than losing the whole crop to a weather event. Adding chickens to a farm means they can sell eggs and meat, as well as use the chickens to fertilize and work the ground for them.
Using pastured chickens in a healthy farm means happy animals, happy customers, and less work for the farmer to create superior foods and soil.
Local Eggs are Better for the Chesapeake Bay
While technically local, the many conventional eggs raised on the Eastern Shore are not from pastured hens. Those egg farms are creating a lot more pollution in the Chesapeake Bay than they had thought they did. There is a lot more nitrogen pollution in the Bay due to these farms.
Often dairy and eggs in the store really are local. It makes sense to sell local because milk and eggs don’t last long. But local conventional eggs are still polluting the Bay.
It isn’t enough to buy local eggs, you need to seek out sustainable local eggs.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation says that poultry farms are growing. Support local farms, but only if they are producing sustainable, healthy products.
Local Eggs are More Sustainable
Helping the Chesapeake Bay is only part of the benefit of buying local pastured eggs. Pastured chickens spread their manure naturally, in ways that keep nitrogen from running off. They scratch it into the soil, building healthier soil.
Hens scratch the ground, eat insects (reducing pests for the farmer) and crop residues, and then return the nutrients to the soil via their manure.
Since chickens can get much of their feed from foraging naturally (if not all), there may be less feed costs. Local pastured eggs may be organic without being certified simply because of the hens’ diets.
Local eggs don’t require transportation, nor large warehouses to hold them. If they haven’t been washed, they don’t need to be refrigerated either.
Once you get to know your farmer, you may be able to avoid packaging as well. Reusing a container for eggs means less plastic, cardboard, or styrofoam will be thrown away.
Yes, you will certainly pay more for local pastured eggs over conventional ones. Yet with all the benefits to your health, your environment, your community, and to the hens themselves, I think it’s more than worth it to get a superior egg.
Cheap food doesn’t reflect the true cost of food. Buy eggs from your local farmer if you can’t grow your own. Eggs are easy to cook with and can be used in lots of recipes. They are good for you, and delicious as well.