Sunday, May 15, 2022

Harvest of the Month: Eggs

Feeding Hens at Essex Farm. Photo by Ben StechschulteEggs, more specifically, chicken eggs, are an integral part of traditions, celebratory dishes, and the everyday diet around the globe. Historians estimate that humans have been eating eggs for roughly 6 million years. Originally, people foraged eggs from wild bird nests until they were domesticated around 1500 BCE in Ancient Egypt. Throughout history, eggs have become a symbol of life, rebirth, renewal, and fertility for many cultures

Today, humans eat about 88 million tons of eggs each year worldwide. China is the top producer of eggs (roughly 34 million tons), then the United States (roughly 6.9 million tons), and then Mexico (roughly 4 million tons). While we may think of them as a staple of the American diet, countries like Japan, Paraguay, China, and Mexico consume more eggs per person each year. 

The Association of Eggs and Spring

You may have noticed the association between eggs and the spring season. If chickens lay eggs year-round, why are eggs associated with spring? On average, each female chicken (hen) lays one egg every 24 hours. This frequency fluctuates based on factors like weather, age, health, and daylight. In order to produce an egg a day, chickens require about 14 hours of daylight. Farmers can use artificial lights to keep chickens producing eggs, this is what the big commercial operations do. But for many small farms, egg production simply slows down during the dark winter months. As daylight starts to lengthen in the spring, hens are put into high-drive and begin producing an abundance of eggs again. 

Cora Darling with chickens. From Adirondack Life Mag, Eliza Jane Darling.

Cora Darling with chickens. From Adirondack Life Mag, Eliza Jane Darling.

Eggs in the Adirondacks

Chickens have been a backyard fixture in the Adirondacks since the earliest European colonists and settlers moved in. Chickens were historically raised on subsistence farms for both eggs and meat. An interest in keeping backyard chickens exploded during the early days of 2020. In the Adirondacks, you can find many farmstands (from retail locations to coolers on the side of the road) with eggs for sale. 

Some of the large egg operations in the area produce their eggs in facilities similar to what you’d see in a commercial operation- indoor spaces, lots of birds. Many smaller farms in the Adirondacks keep their egg layers outdoors, in a coop with access to pasture usually in a fenced-in area. 

Hens at Moon Valley Farm in Jay, NY. Photo by Ona Kwiatkowski

Hens at Moon Valley Farm in Jay, NY. Photo by Ona Kwiatkowski

Why Local Eggs?

Health: How a chicken is raised and what it is fed are the biggest determinants in the flavor and nutrition of the eggs they make. According to a 2010 study from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, eggs from pastured chickens had up to twice the amount of Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Vitamin E than eggs from conventionally raised chickens. 

Taste: Chickens that have the opportunity to forage in grassy open spaces will also create eggs with deeper yellow yolks and more flavor. 

Humane Conditions: The majority of eggs sold at grocery stores and commercially are made in large-scale egg operations, where chickens are confined, crowded, and live in generally miserable conditions. They are not a healthy place for animals or workers to be. They are notorious for causing dangerous levels of pollution in surrounding communities. If you’re curious about how eggs are produced on a local farm, just ask! Most farmers will be happy to tell you how their animals are raised, and may even offer to give you a tour so you can see for yourself. 

Transparency: Because consumers are becoming more aware of the importance of healthier living and growing conditions for farms, and are becoming more discerning about the products they purchase, large companies have used this as a way to charge a premium for their products. There has been a large increase in the sale of “pastured” eggs in the United States in the past three years. However, “pasture-raised” or “pastured” eggs just means that birds have access to the outdoors for 120 days of the year. This definition does not specify how big, or what kind of space the birds have access to. Additionally, “Cage Free” only means that the bird is still kept indoors, but isn’t kept in a cage. You may find that buying eggs from a local farmer might ensure that the qualities that are most important to you are more than just a label slapped on a package.

Farmers’ Market Frittata with local eggs

Farmers’ Market Frittata, from M&A Farm and the Saratoga Farmers’ Market

Recipes to Enjoy Local Eggs

Recipes to try

Where to Buy Local Eggs

Find farmstands, retail locations and markets selling local eggs at:

adirondackharvest.com/browse

How do you enjoy eggs? Comment and let us know below!

Photo at top: Feeding Hens at Essex Farm. Photo by Ben Stechschulte

 

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Mary Godnick is the Digital Editor for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Essex County. She lives in the Champlain Valley where she grows vegetables on a cooperative farm plot with her partner and two rescue dogs. You can read more of her work on AdirondackHarvest.com and follow her on Twitter at @MaryGodnick.




3 Responses

  1. Todd Eastman says:

    Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the current avian flu doesn’t hit too hard. Egg supply could be impacted.

  2. Joseph Van Gelder says:

    Nobody in here but us chickens.

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