What All of the “Cage-Free” Stuff on Egg Cartons REALLY Means

by Adrienne Rose Johnson

Vegetarian-fed hens don’t make a lot of sense because chickens are bloodthirsty scavengers. Sure they eat grains and seeds, but chickens are omnivores and eat just about everything: earthworms, crickets, little specks of insects and fly larvae harvested in cow patties. All sorts of tiny buggy living things we can’t see and would probably rather not think about.

As long as they’re not cracked, almost all chicken eggs are kosher. Only broken eggs or eggs with blood spots aren’t kosher, and you’d probably notice that anyway.

Conventional egg-laying hens live in battery cages: cramped mesh cells that prevent hens from ever stretching their wings, nesting, or doing much at all beside produce eggs. “Battery” might sound like the cages are electrified or the chickens are battered. But the term actually comes from how hundreds (sometimes thousands) of the wire cells neighbor one another and share wire dividers—like the cells in a battery.

The FDA already outlaws hormones in poultry production. Check the asterisk on the carton. Any claim of hormone-free should be qualified by the statement: “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”

Pretty much the same goes for this one. Even though antibiotics are common in chicken feed, egg-laying hens rarely get medicated with antibiotics.

Humane is a subjective term. The Certified Humane seal (figure ZY) or Animal Welfare Approved (ZY) spell it all out. To be Certified Humane, egg producers must abide by a host of rules that ensure chickens live in decent conditions, following wonky stuff about monitoring for rodent activity, ventilation, and floor covering in nest boxes. Basically, there can’t be too many rats, and there needs to be some air flow, with a nice, cushy litter material to build nests.
Hens don’t need roosters to lay eggs just like women don’t need men to ovulate. But the “fertile” label means that roosters had access to the hens and if they mated, the eggs could possibly turn into chicks.

Everything is natural because everything— even diesel fuel and Velveeta—comes from nature. The USDA clarifies that egg products are natural when they contain no artificial ingredients, added color, and are only minimally processed. Anything other than an Easter egg would probably qualify as natural.

The USDA grades eggs AA, A, or B, with AA being the best, most uniform egg and B the most unsightly or somehow defective.
The USDA regulates “organic” and organic eggs must come from free-range chickens fed with 100% organic feed, meaning no administered antibiotics, no hormones, no arsenic, no poultry-slaughter byproducts. It’s a reliable standard, and usually a good indication that free-range requirements are enforced.

Brown, white, jumbo, organic, free-range, vegetarian-fed, humane, farm-fresh: My grocery store literally has 15 types of eggs. The cheapest dozen cost $3.56 and the most expensive are $9.99. Some cartons look like advertisements for down-on-the-farm hoedowns, a fantasy of cheery chickens and farm folk in a quilting bee or at a barn-raising. There’s Meadow Creek Farm, Happy Egg Co., Scenic Vista Farm: Would I rather my eggs come from a meadow or a scenic vista? Do happy chickens with a view lay better eggs?

And they all pretty much look the same. Even the giant flat shrink-wrapped pallets of eggs seem okay: they’re jumbo, “farm-fresh,” and “natural” just like cute little organic 6-packs. But are they the same?
We pinned down what those labels mean. Turns out, “vegetarian-fed” might be a bad idea. “Hormone-free” means nothing. And we can thank the USDA grading for keeping “black rot” and “meat spots” out of our scrambles. Here’s how to decode egg cartons and start shopping smarter.

Vegetarian-Fed Hens
One chicken farmer at Polyface Farms in Virginia reported a nasty case of cannibalism after feeding his chickens a vegetarian diet. Apparently so deprived of protein, the chicks began eating each other (actually, to use the farmer’s words, “the more aggressive chicks were tearing at the weaker ones from the outside in”). They only stopped cannibalizing when fed small pieces of a deer carcass, freshly skinned and harvested from the roadside.
“Problem solved,” the farmer reported.
Free-Range, Cage-Free, Pastured
On average, each hen has about 70 square inches of space, which is less than a regular sheet of paper. Seven or eight birds sometimes share a single cage. 

One reporter explained the system as “spending the rest of your entire life in a wire cage the size of your bathtub with four other people.”
Activists have successfully fought against battery cages. California outlawed the wire cells in 2008 and major companies like Safeway and McDonald’s have voiced their commitment to sourcing “cage-free” eggs. In Quebec, free-range eggs are translated to Oeufs en Liberte which sounds appropriately revolutionary.
But cage-free doesn’t always mean cruelty-free. Cage-free only means that chickens aren’t kept in cages. They might still live on top of one another in cramped facilities and never see daylight. Some studies suggest cage-free chickens have a higher mortality rate because, without cages, chickens peck each other to death, and disease spreads more easily.

Free-range is better because chickens must have access to the outdoors. “Access” doesn’t mean chickens go outside any more than a gym membership means you go to the gym. Some free-range chickens roam freely on picturesque fields, but other chickens can only access a screened-in porch. Depends on the farm.
Pastured is your safest bet. Usually pasture-raised hens actually live outdoors and eat a diet of seeds and insects that could improve the taste and nutrition of the eggs.
Individual companies sometimes clarify these claims. That $6.49 dozen I mentioned earlier? Happy Egg Co. explains “our girls have plenty of room to roam freely, about eight acres” and “have lush green pasture.” Other than the goofy “our girls” stuff, the explanation holds up.
No added hormones
So hormone-free is like saying you took Japanese for three years when you flunked the first two rounds. Or that you read War and Peace when you only read the three-word title.
The FDA only approves three types of antibiotics for egg-laying flocks and even if hens are treated with antibiotics, their eggs shouldn’t be affected. Actually, antibiotics can cure sick chickens from deadly respiratory infections or E. coli. People mainly worry that preemptive antibiotics (feeding animals before they get sick) can create antibiotic-resistant disease strands. E. coli has mutated over the years and some antibiotics no longer work—in chickens or in humans—to treat the disease.
Hens are also given boxes of dirt to roll around in. Chickens naturally do something called “dust-bathing” to prevent lice and other parasites. They look like feathery hippos in a sandbox, but chickens need dust-baths to keep healthy.
Animal Welfare Approved goes a few steps further with pasturing (hens are raised almost entirely outdoors) and slaughtering and is considered the most rigorous animal welfare certification.
Nutritionally, fertilized and non-fertilized eggs are basically the same. Taste-wise, barely noticeable. Fertilized eggs might mean sexually-satisfied roosters, but doubtful that’s a top concern.
Egg Grades: A, AA, or B
Critics argue that the grades are cosmetic because they don’t promise protection from salmonella, the most dangerous and common pathogen carried by eggs. Consumers confuse egg grades—only an assurance that the eggs aren’t cracked or misshapen—for a safety standards. At best, egg grading tries to make sure the white eggs aren’t mixed with the brown. At worst, the seals allow companies to pump up prices.
Well, maybe the critics should take a look at the USDA grading sheet. There might be a reason we never see the eggs that don’t make it into the supermarket.
USDA describes sour eggs like a bad movie monster, the eggs cast a “weak white and murky shadow around an off-center swollen yolk.” Under UV light, the sour eggs fluoresce and give off a green sheen. Other defects include blood spots, meat spots, bloody whites, mixed rot, blood rings, stuck yolks, embryo chicks, and problems with bubbly, ruptured air cells.
There are also green whites and something called black rots—and I’m relieved that the USDA is keeping me from ever knowing what that looks like.
So what can we trust? First, find an egg company certified by outside boards: Vital Farms, Family Homestead, and Oliver’s Organic all have good reputations according to the Cornucopia Institute and Shop Ethical!, two respected consumer guides. Walmart, Target, and other big box stores carry Happy Egg Co. and Pete and Gerry’s, the largest of the free-range egg producers that has generally good ratings.
Outside watchdog groups often rank egg companies based on their own criteria of sustainability, nutrition, and humane treatment. Some, like the Cornucopia Institute, investigate unethical practices themselves while others like the Shop Ethical! consumer guide will include egg producers among other consumer products.
So forget hormone-free, antibiotic-free, natural, fertile, or any other nonsense. Ideally the best egg is organic, pastured (or free-range), USDA A or AA, stamped with the Certified Humane or Animal Welfare Approved seal. If you have to pay a dollar or two more than usual, you’ll know you spent money on the things that matter.



Fiddlehead Ferns


Can you imagine eating a fern? WEIRD?

It may seem unusual to forage for food but that is exactly what the owners of Monument Hill Farm did this weekend. And they found the fiddleheads.

The flavor is reminiscent of asparagus but maybe a little nuttier.

To prepare: 
Clean and trim the fiddleheads, drop in a bath of ice water and drain. You can sauté in oil or butter with garlic add some chopped nuts and it's a wonderful side dish that says "yeah winter is over"

We deliver on Thursdays
Order HERE ctfarmfreshstore.com

When is Fresh Really Fresh?

What’s your definition of fresh? Picked that day? Yesterday? How do you know what’s fresh means when you go to, say, Whole Foods, Walmart or Stop & Shop? Where do they get their “organic” food from? Is it from China, Peru, California or is it coming from the state you live in? What are the “organic” practices in other countries? Who’s watching across the pond and what standard do they follow? We should all be aware of where and how our food is grown.  

My definition of fresh and local food is simple: to me fresh is walking out to your back yard and grabbing a few veggies or herbs from the garden, eggs from your chickens, and berries from your bushes. The advent of the “Eat Local” and “Farm to Table” movements have been made popular by celebrity chefs and social media and have forced big agriculture and big box stores to jump on the bandwagon or be left behind. But they only make things blurry with their claims of freshness and local!

I am not sure how the big box stores get away with using the terms "fresh" and "local" together. These stores have a system of moving food that takes time. When it reaches your home, it’s been around awhile, and has lost a lot of it’s nutritional value, which in my view is more important than being certified organic. 

Big supermarkets are moving large quantities of product all over the state and sometimes the country. They store in warehouses and they ship to different stores, from there the store managers place it on the shelves and you come in and buy it. So fresh doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. Fresh to them may be 3-4 days old or longer. At the end of the day how do you really know? 

Fresh without the fuss…and knowing its always fresh, always local. 

Connecticut Farm Fresh Express (CTFFE) has been gathering local and fresh foods for 10 years and delivering it to doors of homes, stores and restaurants all over the state. We began the business and remain motivated by the desire to help our local farmers remain viable and sustainable, by offering  another avenue to distribute their products. We choose our farmers and vendors with a lot of care. We search for farmers that look to have nutrient-dense soil - no need to be “certified organic” as long as they follow organic growing methods. The livestock farms need to provide an area for free-range, grass-fed and the animals need to be able to roam around and not be kept in a small pen without the ability to access pastures if they want.

Is our FRESH your FRESH? We hope so!

At (CTFFE), we know it’s hard for working couples and parents to even get to a grocery store let alone a farm or farmers market. Pea Pod has a thriving home delivery business for big agriculture food companies. So we decided to bring the farmers market to your door all year long. We publish what products from farmers will have for us and we make it available on our online store. Items change weekly and with the seasons. Once a week we send our team out to those farms and bring fresh food back to our facility in East Haddam, where we collate and package orders for delivery the following day. 

The benefits of eating local are myriad: fresh, environmentally sound, healthy, supports local economies, tastes better, and it’s the right thing to do!

Deb Marsden, Founder of CT Farm Fresh Express, LLC


Last Chance to Place an ORDER Online and have it Delivered Right to Your DOOR! 

Can't be any easier than that... 

Click on the LINK and your on your way to having beautiful, local, fresh foods and more delivered to your home or office.

Share us with a friend and you will both get a free gift, your friend gets a free delivery of a bag of fruit and veggies, and you will get a free delivery, if they order from us after they taste your fresh food gift...

We bring the farmers market to your door - all year long! 

Great Feedback from a NEW Customer

Subject :: Pure gratitude!

A good friend recently asked me, "Where does your food come from?" this made me think, as a new resident to CT and I did a little research. I cannot be more grateful to have found CT Farm Fresh! 

The food and products they deliver to our doorstep are from local farms and artisans. Our family is eating more fresh and healthy foods since we started ordering! 

I highly recommend this to my friends and I am so happy about finding this local service. Thank you CT Farm Fresh for offering such great service to our doorstep! 

Thanks CTFFE :: Jenn
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