Farmer Hot Takes: The Skinny on the Co-op’s Eggs from Red Gate Grocer and Scenic Vista Farm
Farmer Hot Takes is a new column that highlights Greene Hill’s diverse partnerships with local farms and producers around the region. In each segment, learn more about where the Co-op’s food comes from, and how the collective support of equitable food systems addresses issues of sustainability and climate justice for our community. – Christopher Kennedy
The Skinny on the Co-op’s Eggs: Red Gate Grocer and Scenic Vista Farm
I don’t know about y’all, but I love a good egg. Hard boiled, scrambled, over easy, frittata, a benedict situation. If it has an egg on top, sign me up.
An estimated 274 eggs were consumed in 2017 by every person in the U.S. The egg industry has an estimated value of over 10 billion dollars in the United States alone (USDA Economic Research Service). That’s a lot of eggs. And egg production, like many agricultural operations, creates a number of negative environmental impacts from water and soil contamination, overuse of hormones and antibiotics, to greenhouse gas emissions (2.7 kg of CO2 per dozen eggs, the equivalent of driving nearly seven miles!). In the U.S., damage to water and soil systems continue to be major issues, and scientists and ecologists point to the massive amount of animal waste and methane generated through the cultivation of caged chickens as one of its main causes. (1)
This is especially relevant as climate change and extreme storm events are making visible the vulnerability of large-scale agricultural operations, which often store animal waste in large open air lagoons. North Carolina, for instance, is still reeling from the environmental effects of Hurricane Florence in 2018. The storm itself killed 3.4 million caged chickens, and inundated or breached dozens of lagoons around the state, releasing a toxic slurry of animal waste that continues to threaten drinking water and has resulted in fish kills around the state. (2)
Free-range chickens, on the other hand, forage for insects and eat leftover crops such as lettuce and other greens, while at the same time, fertilizing the soil. This creates a symbiotic relationship between the animals and the land, in which chickens help reduce pests and provide a source of fertilizer. (3)
But where do the Co-op’s free range eggs come from and what’s the deal with “cage free” or “free range” eggs anyway?
Not only do free range eggs taste better than cage free eggs, but they are also often visibly different. The yolks may be more orange than the pale yellow of mass produced eggs. They’re also, better for you;, free range eggs have been found to have more vitamins and less cholesterol than cage free eggs. And maybe most importantly, free range eggs provides a better life and environment for the birds.
Our free range eggs are laid at Scenic Vista Farm, in Moravia, New York (and distributed by Red Gate Grocer) approximately 240 miles north of New York City, just outside of Ithaca, NY. The farm was founded in 2006 by Dwight Martin and his family. In addition to chickens, they also raise free range turkeys and cows.
Scenic Vista’s approach is grounded in the idea of “free range’”, which means the chickens on the farm have ample space to graze in open pastures, indulge in a nice dust bath, and eat a diet of vegetarian feed and field insects. On Red Gate’s website, Scenic Vista notes that there’s a big difference between “cage free” and “free range.”” While Scenic Vista’s free range hens spend most of their lives in open pastures, the label of “cage free” does nothing to ensure the ethical treatment of chickens or other animals. In many cases, cage free hens never see the light of day, and spend most of their lives in a poorly ventilated warehouse with cement floors. A recent article in The Washington Post points to a 2015 study conducted by the The Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply, in which researchers “found that mortality was highest among birds in cage-free aviaries and that they also had more chest bone problems.” So while “cage free” might sound good, in practice it does nothing to help the planet, the chickens, or even your palate.
But Scenic Vista goes beyond just normal free range practice. They even grow their own grain for the animals on their farm, to avoid “an additional ‘pastured’ certification that sets a specific amount of square feet per bird.” They point out this is often an arbitrary amount of space, and leaves a significant portion of farmland underutilized. By making use of this available land, Scenic Vista can ensure the grains they feed their chickens are organic, free of pesticides, and from a hyperlocal source.
In buying locally, and from a farm that embraces sustainable farming practices, the negative impacts of conventional farming and egg production are reduced greatly. One of the key factors in achieving a reduced ecological footprint is the use of organic hen feed. A conventional feed source is commonly a mixture of corn and soybeans. These crops in particular require a vast quantity of herbicide, fertilizer and other chemical inputs that impact water systems, contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and land use practices that exacerbates the effects of climate change. Avoiding the overuse of antibiotics in egg-laying hens is similarly vital. 70 and 80 percent of all the antibiotics used in the U.S. are given to animals rather than humans. This is a common practice in the production of eggs, and has resulted in a range of human health impacts worldwide.
Luckily, Scenic Vista is on the forefront of addressing these issues. So you can be rest assured those eggs in your omelette are not only tasty, but good for our planet, too.
If you’re interested in taking this even further, New York City can actually be a great place to raise chickens. It’s legal to raise hens -- but not roosters, unfortunately --across the five boroughs. So as long as you follow city guidelines, which are mostly about avoiding “nuisance conditions” like foul smells, flies, vermin, and excessive noise, you’re good to go. Check out Just Food’s City Chicken Project webpage (currently under construction) for more info or this helpful article from the Brownstoner to get started.
And if you make any tasty dishes with Greene Hill’s eggs, please share the recipe with the rest of the Co-op by emailing Content@Greenehillfood.coop!