By Mary Pratt
When shopping for produce or meat in supermarkets, there’s often no information about the origin of those products or how they were raised. At Saratoga Farmers’ Market, customers can easily get the “where and how” from our farmers.
One exception in grocery stores is the overwhelming amount of information on egg cartons. Some information is based on USDA definitions; some is advertising. Farm locations are often on the back of the cartons.
According to USDA, farms can raise egg-laying hens in various ways. If a carton states nothing, this probably means the hens are in “battery cages,” 67-76 square inches per hen, smaller than a standard sheet of paper.
Other housing methods are cage-free, free-range, and pastured. “Cage-free” hens live indoors, with no requirement for the amount of space for each hen. “Free-range” hens have access to the outdoors, but that area may be very small and covered with concrete.
Although USDA hasn’t defined “pasture-raised,” pasture for hens should contain young grass and plants in addition to standard feed. Hens will also catch earthworms and insects. Research done by Mother Earth News and Penn State University concludes that these eggs are higher in Vitamins A, E, and D, and Omega-3 fatty acids, and lower in saturated fat and cholesterol.
Cartons labeled pastured eggs in winter should come from states where grass grows year round such as Texas, California, Georgia, Arkansas. In the Northeast, there is no pasture once the snow falls, until spring comes.
“No Hormones” on cartons means nothing because the Federal government
doesn’t allow hens to receive hormones. “No Antibiotics” means farms add none to the hens’ feed or water.
For eggs to be labeled ‘local’, the 2008 Farm Bill requires flocks to be less than 400 miles from processing, or within the state where eggs are laid and processed. Those eggs may be shipped anywhere in the U.S. By contrast, eggs at our Market come from farms less than 30 miles away.
These are the farms that provide you with delicious, fresh, and truly local eggs: Elihu (Sat.), Gifford (Wed.), Kokinda (Sat.), Longlesson (Sat.), Moxie Ridge (Sat), Old World Farm (Wed./Sat.), Otrembiak (Wed./Sat.), Slate River (Wed.), Squashville (Wed.)