The backyard chicken trend is growing, and a quick scan through any homesteading hashtag on social media is evidence enough that people are pretty excited about providing their own eggs. But if you don’t raise your own chickens, you may wonder if there is a difference between the carton you can pick up at the grocery store and the ones being raised locally.
In the modern day era of convenience you can choose to buy eggs at a huge grocery store, box store, or even the corner gas station. Or, you can choose to buy them at a farmer’s market, health food store, or from your neighbor down the road. The second set of options opens the door to eggs that have had a shorter path from the farm to your plate, and to eggs that have been produced by free-range pastured birds. This set of options is also going to be more expensive.
So, is it worth it?
We think so. Here are our Five Reasons to Buy Farm Fresh Eggs
They’re beautiful. We recently published a photo of a farm-fresh egg yolk next to a grocery store egg yolk, and the difference in color was so vivid it became one of our highest engagement posts! The reason behind this may be that farm-fresh eggs are higher in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that has a reddish-orange pigment and is later converted to vitamin A (see nutritional value, #2). But the inside of the egg is just one aspect of their beauty. Farm-fresh eggs can also come in a variety of colors on the outside – from brown to bluish-green. Who needs to dye Easter eggs when you can get this kind of variation straight from the chicken?
They may be healthier. While many claims are made about the superior nutritional quality of free-range eggs, I prefer to go to the scholarly research to see if any of it is backed up. A 2008 study by Mother Earth News found that free-range eggs had 50% less cholesterol than store-bought eggs and were richer in beta-carotene and Vitamin E, but that study is sometimes criticized because it did not control for a number of other variables. A 2011 article published in Poultry Science attempted to control for other factors by producing all of the eggs in a controlled experiment. They found that cholesterol levels were similar. However, this same study did find that hens who had free-range access produced eggs with higher levels of Omega 3 Fatty Acids. A 2013 study by the Institute of Agricultural and Natural Sciences found that free-range hens produced eggs that were three to four times higher in Vitamin D than hens who were kept inside. The higher beta-carotene levels in farm-fresh eggs may also contribute to the nutritional value and benefit the immune system. Nutrition can also be impacted by age, and the eggs you buy in the store may have been sitting there for a while or have spent a long time in transport.
Your money stays local. One need only look to the huge local food movement to understand the value of purchasing from a local farmer or neighbor. I won’t get too deep into economics here (you can read more at LocalHarvest.org), but let me ask this question: If you could give $5 to a local farmer who would then spend their money in your local community and benefit another local business or $3.99 to a big box store knowing that whoever raised those eggs only gets a portion of it, what would you choose?
They may taste better (to you). OK, this one’s a little harder to prove because it’s always possible that the flavor factor is also impacted by how good we feel about buying eggs from our local farm, or how pleasingly orange they look to our eye (read about a fun experiment on SeriousEats.com) but there is some evidence that the taste and texture of a local egg is more pleasing – perhaps because the yolks may be thicker or creamier. And gosh darn it, if they taste better to you then I say enjoy it! There’s nothing wrong with letting the visual and textural value of a meal influence how you feel about it.
You’re creating community. If the crazy chicken ladies hashtag on Instagram is any indication of the community being built around chickens and eggs, then it is one large community. But you don’t have to raise your own chickens to participate in the fun. Any time you buy from a farmer you get to see where your food comes from, how the animals are raised, and what goes into producing that food. When our neighbor’s ladies started producing again this spring there was a flurry of beautiful photos and more reasons to knock on each other’s door. Just like breaking bread is one of the best ways to get to know your neighbors, trading spinach for eggs can create a bond you might not otherwise find.
Photos courtesy of Paula Rupp, Greener Pastures Farm (our neighborhood egg producer!)