At JoyFoodly, we think that understanding where your food comes from is an important part of making eating decisions! We sometimes feature California farms and pass on farmer tips about the food you eat, and even some culinary advice from the people who grow your food. Read part 1 of the tour here.
What came first, the chicken or the egg? Even though you can run circles around that question, I always try to remember that in many ways, the chicken came first. That carton of eggs didn’t just magically appear in the grocery store; a farmer had to take care of a chicken first!
This past weekend, I got to visit two popular California farms on a farm tour run by CUESA, the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture. I learned all about asparagus and eggs, which seemed appropriate with Easter right around the corner. Here are some tidbits I picked up along the way that might help you the next time you’re in the grocery store or at a farmer’s market.
Rolling Oaks Ranch
Farmers Charlie and Liz Sowell
Our second stop of the day was Rolling Oaks Ranch, where farmers Charlie and Liz Sowell raise laying hens. You can’t help but feel a little envious of how beautiful their ranch is, with lush rolling hills and beautiful oak trees, but they assure us they work for it, often waking up at 2 am to make farmers market rounds and deliveries. I bet you feel better about your alarm clock now!
Their chickens, on the other hand, seem to have a pretty relaxed life. They roam the fields, often staying close to their large, moveable coops. The coops have wheels so the Sowells can move them around the pasture, which means the chickens fertilize more of the land. The grass that grows on that land is used to feed cattle, and the cattle move around with the chickens. Who knew cows and chickens could be friends?
The best chicken fact of the day? The farm’s ameraucana hens lay blue and green eggs, which leads some people to call them “Easter Egg hens”. Apparently, you don’t even need our fancy egg dying DIY to get multi-colored eggs this Sunday!
Really fresh eggs, coming from happy chickens, don’t actually have to be refrigerated. In fact, Charlie and Liz make a point of only bringing the freshest eggs to their consumers, and let people know they just need to keep them in a cool, dry place – for up to four weeks! Of course, they reminded us that after you refrigerate an egg once, you should continue to keep that egg refrigerated for food safety.
The Sowells take the health of their chickens very seriously, and made sure to explain the differences between their eggs and commercial “free range” eggs. This confuses a lot of consumers (because it’s incredibly confusing!), so I’ll break it down for you:
We know cage free sounds great, but it mostly means that hens are not contained in individual cages. They tend to live in indoor facilities, often with bad ventilation, may not have access to the outdoors, and might not have a lot of room to move around.
Free range eggs used to mean the chickens got to, you know, have free range of the farm. The legal definition for free range just means the hens “have been allowed access to the outside”, but not for any specific period of time. And if the hens don’t find that tiny little door that leads to the outside (and many don’t), they may never actually go outside.
The term “pastured eggs” most closely describes the Rolling Oaks operation, namely that the hens actually spend most daylight hours outdoors with access to a coop for shelter and laying eggs. Being outside allows the hens to eat natural foods like insects and seeds, as well as give them room to move around, which Charlie believes produces a higher quality and more nutritious egg with increased omega-3 fatty acids, beta-carotene, and vitamins. Unfortunately for consumers, this term is not actually regulated, so the best way to find these eggs is still to go to a farmers market and get to know a farmer who raises chickens.
Make sure you check out part one of this tour to learn all about asparagus farming!