During one of my strolls through the Seacoast Eat Local Winter Farmers Market, I overheard a woman say to her husband “Can you believe they want five dollars for a dozen eggs? I can get the same eggs at Wal*Mart for ninety-nine cents. There’s nothing here for us.”
I’ve thought about this comment a lot since I overheard it. At first, I was incensed. I got up on my green moral high horse and thought to myself “those eggs at Wal*Mart are not the same eggs! They’re old eggs! They are practically rotten. The chickens involved were bio-engineered to live in cages; they had their beaks cut off and they crapped all over the chickens around them for lack of space.”
Some people don’t care about eating old, crapped-on eggs. They care about ninety-nine cent eggs. I’m not going to change their minds with anecdotal evidence about happy chickens frolicking peacefully in verdant pastures.
I started to feel guilty about buying expensive eggs. I decided that each time I bought eggs or got them from my CSA, I’d get some extra eggs and give them to my neighbor who makes soup for me. It was the old “eggs as penance” routine. I have not earned my way into egg-heaven yet, but I continue with this practice.
More recently, I’ve tried to find articles which document the true cost of food at local farmers markets. Many of these articles used the green moral high horse argument when there was no objective data to support the cost argument. This reasoned article by Barry Estabrook provides links to a study done in 2011 which included actual data instead of feelings and anecdotal evidence. The comments are interesting, too. It was the best of the lot of articles I could find.
I did my own on-line research and concluded that the one food item I compared, organic carrots, was the same price at both the local Hannaford grocery store and the Winter Market if I bought them from Brookford Farm in a twenty pound bag.
They key word is “organic.” Commercially grown non-organic carrots can be purchased at fifty cents per pound versus the “organic” carrot which is almost two dollars per pound.
I like carrots. When I don’t have carrots in my refrigerator, I worry. From having tried to grow them myself, I know how much work is involved in planting, thinning, and weeding. Producing organic carrots on a commercial scale is difficult as well as costly. Weeds are a fierce competitor and when the carrot top starts growing above the ground, hand weeding is still sometimes required. Weeds and carrot tops look alike and the first ten weeks after the carrot germinates is critical to growth.
Growing organic carrots is more complicated than growing non-organic carrots because the organic farmer has to use untreated seed. Commercial non-organic carrot growers can use chemically treated seed, which reduces weeds, pests and diseases. The likelihood of pests and diseases in organically grown carrots rises exponentially.
I want to grow my own organic carrots, but I have to be realistic. I work a day job, I write a blog, I volunteer in my current community, and I volunteer in my hometown. I am not a farmer. Uncle Bob is not emotional about carrots and while he might tolerate one season of experimentation with a row of carrots, I’ve already decided our experimental row will be peas this year. I get one experiment per year with Uncle Bob and this will not be the year he babysits a row of carrots for me.
As much as I’d like everyone to support local farmers, I don’t think it’s going to happen if I base my argument solely on price. A price shopper is never going to buy five dollar eggs when they can get ninety-nine cent eggs. A price shopper may not care about carrots at all.
It’s possible that the only orange foods some people ever willingly eat are Pepperidge Farm Goldfish and I have no argument that will compel them to buy five dollar eggs and forty dollar carrots.
This is a puzzling problem while ninety-nine cent eggs are still available at Wal*Mart. Just like modern commercial agriculture, I’m going to rely on science fiction to gracefully extricate myself from today’s post.
Waaaaay over thinking this. Organic or not, they’re just carrots. They’re only as difficult as you choose to make them.
How to grow non-organic carrots: Prepare the soil. Plant the seeds. Keep the seeds moist. Weed. Thin. Harvest.
How to grow organic carrots: Prepare the soil. Plant the seeds. Keep the seeds moist. Weed. Thin. Harvest.
I’ve never heard of treated seeds having an effect on weeds. I’ve never used treated seeds. You don’t need treated seeds to grow carrots or anything else. A spent carrot flower can drop a seed on the soil in the fall. It will grow in the spring. It didn’t need to be fussed over, pampered or made difficult. It just grows. Mother Nature doesn’t make it more difficult than necessary. We shouldn’t need to either. You can do this! I’ll stand on the sidelines and be your Carrot Cheerleader!
At $5 a dozen an egg costs 42 cents. We pay for entertainment, chewing gum, gas to drive when we can walk, a snack, eating out, and heaven’s knows we pay more for a cup of coffee. I don’t think cost is a valid argument. That falls under choice; how we choose to spend our money.
Chickens aren’t bio-engineered to live in cages. They’re the same chickens you and I can buy to raise in our backyards. They’re normal birds forced by some people to live a horrible life for the sake of cheap food that lacks the nutrition fresh, well-grown food offers.
Over thinking is what I do, Robin. I’m a corporate chicken in a cage. I’m going to cross that road one of these days and I’m glad there will be a “Carrot Cheerleader” like you on the sidelines. Thanks for the wisdom you provide here on the blog and the personal encouragement. Yay!
I’m sorry, but I’m with the complainer–$5 / dozen is robbery, and damned brazen to ask for. In England, “free range” eggs (meaning the chicken wanders around all over the place feeding itself, and feeding foxes as well) are on every third doorstoop for 1.20/1.30 pounds, less than $2. Feed the chickens table scraps and bugs, but even grain-fed in winter $5 / dozen is the price a sharpster gets from gullibles who think “organic” means something magic.
Interestingly, in Kunstler’s A World Made By Hand, eggs are ubiquitous. No matter what someone doesn’t have, chickens are everywhere and everyone has eggs. Just as they almost still are in England. It’s a sign of how bunged up Americans are that it’s not the same situation here.
In the US, free range and organic are not the same. Organic certification has strict guidelines. Organic feed is expensive, especially when you can’t let them outside to find their own food in the snow. If you were to sell organic eggs here for $2 a dozen you’d be losing money, a foolish thing to do. Speaking from 15 years of experience here in the US, when you consider the cost of a coop, feeder, water set up, and all other costs including the farmer being paid for her labor, the people who are feeding non-organic eggs are not really breaking even at $2.
Not everyone has eggs and chickens aren’t everywhere. This is America. Some cities and towns have ridiculous laws forbidding a few hens in the back yard. I have chickens, ducks and turkeys, and currently none of them are laying eggs because it’s winter, it’s cold, and the days are short. If I were willing to eat the $1.98 eggs (they’re not .99 in this part of the state) I could have them, but I don’t consider them edible.
Robin, I think you end up proving the point–that organic has very little to do with the actual quality of the egg. I can stuff my barn chicken with “organic” grain, and call its eggs “organic,” but are its eggs better than store eggs because of that title? Organic is in the end a marketing label that really doesn’t tell you much about the way the food was produced or the quality of the food. And that is why I find paying $5 for the privilege of having the “organic” marketing label on the box to be outrageous.
And yes, free range doesn’t mean that the chickens live only on table scraps and what they find hiding under the leaves. In the UK, for example, the chickens may wander free, but their diet is supplemented by grains of one sort or another. In the major chains there are “Omega 3” eggs from chickens stuffed with grains that have been augmented with oils (mostly rapeseed, medium-chain, not ideal, but then, this is all about marketing). I could get standard white industrial eggs as well.
What ultimately mattered to me about the local eggs in the UK, though, was just that–they were local. They were everywhere. Take your choice. Ask questions of the sellers. Here in the USA, I get the option of cut-rate feedlot eggs in the store, or overpriced mystery egg at the organic market. Let’s get rid of those ridiculous laws and build a little healthy (in more ways than one) competition in the market again.
This dialogue is interesting on several levels. On a practical level, Robin provided insight into chickens because she actually has some. On a linguistic level, we discussed the meaning of words like “local,” “organic,” and “free range.” There is a lot to know about all these things and there is leap from farming and raising chickens “in theory” versus “in practice.” Metaphorical farming, if you will. Thank you both.