Why the Move to Free Range?

Perhaps you have noticed that our packages now say “Free Range” instead of “Cage Free” on them? And you have wondered, why the change? And what’s the difference?

Unfortunately, definitions for humane animal care can be a little confusing, even to us at times. But here’s a simplified guide:

Bad: Caged Eggs. Unless they say otherwise, chances are the eggs you eat are caged (still 90% in the U.S.). These are horrific both for hens and for people, and should be banned, as they have been in Europe.

Better: Cage Free. This is an improvement for certain. But some former caged producers are simply converting their “farms” (i.e. egg factories) to “cage free” by meeting the bare minimum of the standard. In no way do these facilities resemble farms as they still pack tens of thousands of birds together in small confined spaces (including big cages, believe it or not) and feeding the hens antibiotics to ward off the inevitable disease spreading. So “Cage Free” isn’t quite as humane or healthy as it should be in many cases.

Better Still: Free Range. This means hens do have some access to the outdoors. It may not be easy to find the door, and the outdoors may not mean access to anything more than a small concrete porch, but its another step in the right direction.

Best: Certified Humane Free Range, which is what all Pete & Gerry’s Organic Eggs are. That means that the independent, non-profit, widely respected Humane Farm Animal Care organization has audited our operation to certify that we meet their robust standard for free range. That means real access to grass, food and water when the hens want it, ability for them to engage in natural behaviors like roosting, dust bathing being social with each other, and much more.

Becoming 100% Certified Humane Free Range is the completion of a path we have been on for a number of years and we were proud to recently get 100% of our small family farmer partners to achieve every element of this rigorous standard. That’s why we made the name change.

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Pete & Gerry’s Free Range Hens

Why Are Eggs Getting So Expensive?

If you noticed a sharp increase in the price of eggs recently, you’re not alone. Across the country prices for “conventional eggs” i.e. those produced at the lowest possible cost and with the greatest possible inhumanity to hens and people, are skyrocketing. Why? Avian Influenza, or bird flu, is the reason. The disease can spread from wild fowl on their spring migration to domestic agricultural operations. And because these birds live in such densely packed, dirty, inhumane environments, the producers have no choice but to destroy the entire population at that operation once they have a single identified infection – that can mean millions of birds on a single “farm” are lost at once. The result is that over 47 million birds have been put to death since the outbreak started, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch on June 18th.

Here’s the point. These cheap agricultural systems are risky and unsustainable. They only work, until they don’t. Then they shift huge costs and externalities to the communities that host them and to the consumers who buy their products.

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At Pete & Gerry’s, we are not immune to Bird Flu, nor the need to raise prices at times when our costs increase; but because we farm responsibly year in and year out, our small farms, caring farmers, and humanely raised hens have a far better chance of avoiding this epidemic and other health risks like Salmonella over time. In fact, we’ve never had a single outbreak of either in our history. It costs more for us to farm this way. But it also means we don’t have to raise prices as often, or as sharply, when something goes wrong. We provide a far more sustainable and predictable price by being responsible caring farmers.

Update on Avian Influenza

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We’ve had a few questions about the situation at our farms, so we figured it’s time for an update.  So far, we have not had any Avian Influenza (AI) at our small family farms. However, factory farms in the Midwest continue to suffer setbacks. Even if only one hen tests positive for AI, they must destroy all hens on site. This has caused the loss of over 5 million hens at one time in Iowa. So, in total we have seen over 10% of the laying hen population destroyed in the U.S. We are by no means immune from Avian Influenza, but we do have a few things going for us:


1. Small Family Farmers: We believe that each of our small family farmers are the best possible stewards for the hens. Because they typically live at the same place as their hens, they can maintain strict control over who visits the farm and ensure that all of our safety precautions are being implemented. They aren’t simply an employee at an egg factory. This is their livelihood and they care deeply about the health of their flocks.


2. Small Scale Production: Each of our small family farms represents a very small percentage of our overall production and they are not very close to each other. So, even if one were to suffer an AI outbreak, it should not catastrophically damage our overall supply.


3. Geography: Our hens are located in the Northeastern U.S. which so far has not had any AI outbreaks. The outbreaks have primarily been in the Midwest (Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska) along a migratory bird path called the Mississippi Flyway. Migratory activity should be slowing down now until later in the year when we will have to be especially careful with migration along the East Coast.


4. Proactive Precautions: Our family farms have been very proactive with the AI outbreak. We decided quickly to move all of our Free Range hens indoors because of the disease threat. Both USDA and Certified Humane have recommended this practice for Free Range birds due to the severity of the outbreak. While we hate keeping our hens indoors when they’d normally be outside playing on the grass, we feel it’s the right thing to do to keep them happy and healthy during these extraordinary times. To make the best of the situation, we have been putting fresh, organic hay inside the barns.


Hopefully this answers your questions. Thanks for staying tuned in and supporting our small family farms!

Our Precautions For Avian Influenza

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At Pete and Gerry’s we are proud to go above and beyond USDA Organic and Certified Humane requirements.  If you don’t know about Certified Humane, its a designation administered by Humane Farm Animal Care, a non-profit, third party, to those meeting their strict animal welfare guidelines.  One of the ways we exceed those standards is by providing all of our hens with outdoor access on green grass.  In fact, Certified Humane is currently in the process of certifying all of our small family farms to their Free Range standard.

If you have been following the news recently, you may have heard about a particularly virulent strain of Avian Influenza which has infected numerous commercial turkey flocks in the Midwest.  Yesterday, this outbreak took a turn for the worse when a 5.3 million caged hen laying operation was infected and subsequently destroyed (yet another argument in favor of family-scale farming).  You can read more about this here.  The Center for Disease control considers the risk to people from these infections to be low and no human infections have been detected.  However, the disease does pose significant risk to poultry.

Because we never use antibiotics we currently practice very strict biosecurity measures to prevent diseases from infecting our flocks.  Due to this outbreak, we are taking extra precautions at all of our small family farms.  Unfortunately, one of these precautions is that we will not let our hens outdoors until the threat from Avian Influenza subsides.  Because this disease is spread through wild birds and waterfowl, we feel that keeping our hens inside is the best way to protect them.  USDA and Certified Humane both authorize these precautions due to the current situation.

Like you, we believe that the best eggs come from organic, Certified Humane small family farms where the hens spend their days outside on grass.  So, when we need to stray from that we feel it’s best to be open and transparent.  We’ll let you know as soon as the situation improves.  Thanks!

What We’re Thankful For

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Farmers don’t get much downtime to sit back and reflect on their blessings – so we’re grateful for the opportunity Thanksgiving gives the four generations of our family to be together, from Great-Grandpa Les to great-grandkids Piper and Brock.

Even more of a blessing, we’re able to do it on the same farm our family has owned since the late 1800s. We know it’s a privilege fewer and fewer farm families have these days; as we savor it, we renew our pledge to only do business with small-scale farmers who are committed to the welfare of their hens and to wise stewardship of their land.

We’re thankful that back in the not-so-long-ago 1980s, Carol, Gerry, and Pete had the  to convert to cage-free, organic egg farming. As they saw farms around them pushed out of business by huge-scale factory egg farms, it looked like a huge risk.

In the 30+ years that followed, we’ve brought over 30 farm families to work with us—and we’ve seen the natural and organic food movement grow from a fringe category to the fastest-growing sector of the American food marketplace. There have been good times and bad, but we’re thankful that our decision to work only with good people has always seen us through.

We’re thankful for our beautiful, healthy and happy hens….

For the good people who care for them and bring you their eggs…

And for you, who choose to buy our eggs. You’re voting with your fork for good food, in every sense of the word.

Happy Thanksgiving, from our family to yours!

Why We Love Breakfast Bowls

Seriously yummy:  Egg-Sausage & Tomato Breakfast Bowl.

Seriously yummy: Egg-Sausage & Tomato Breakfast Bowl.

We’re not sure who invented the breakfast bowl, but it’s about time we thanked him or her.   Profusely.

After all, there’s no easier way to make a sophisticated looking breakfast. And did we mention that it can take less time than brewing a pot of coffee?

The basic formula

First, put a few humble things into a bowl—maybe hot sautéed potatoes or hash, cooked rice or grits, sautéed greens, or even a bit of a leftover stir-fry or stew.  Next, top it all with an egg or two, cooked your way.   Then, you can give the whole thing an optional dash of some flavorful condiment—say, sriracha sauce, ketchup, or [insert your favorite secret sauce idea here].

Suddenly you have a nourishing, filling meal in a bowl that’s good enough for company. Bonus: Maybe you used up some leftovers, too!

A few easy riffs

Some of our favorite breakfast bowl recipes, from incredibleegg.com, riff just a little more on that same, basic formula.  Make them in your microwave and keep your kitchen cool. They’re perfect for a crazy-busy morning when you want something a little more exciting than cereal.

Give ‘em a try – just click on the title to take you to the recipe.   What’s your favorite breakfast bowl?  Post a photo here!

Microwave 3-Minute Breakfast Hash

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Microwave Egg Veggie Breakfast Bowl

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Microwave Egg, Sausage & Tomato Breakfast Bowl  (pictured above)

 

Eggs and Weight Loss

Yes, eggs can help you lose weight!

Yes, eggs can help you lose weight!

Three ways eggs can help you get (and stay) slim

Maybe you’re hoping to lose a few pounds before bathing suit season hits its peak.  Or maybe you just want to stay at the healthy weight you’re at now.  Either way, eggs can help you get there!  Few other foods can naturally deliver such low-cal, high-quality nutrition.   Here are three key reasons why:

One:   Eggs are amazingly low in calories. A single large egg supplies just 75 calories, 5 grams of fat and less than half a gram of carbs.  In exchange,  you get 6 grams of highest-quality protein, 13 key vitamins and minerals (including vitamins A & D, B vitamins, and key minerals like phosphorus and zinc).  And, thanks to our hens’ healthy diet, our eggs also provide 200 mg of heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids.

Two:  Eggs are rich in appetite-curbing protein.   Science suggests that protein is tops when it comes to making meals satisfying. Protein-rich foods take more time for the body to break down, possibly helping keep hunger-boosting hormones at bay longer.

One study found that overweight people who ate eggs for breakfast were better able to stave off late-morning hunger–and ate an average of 330 fewer calories throughout the day. (That’s the equivalent of cutting out a fast-food cheeseburger!).

Bonus:  Your body uses more calories to process protein it than it does carbs or fat (this is what scientists call the “thermic effect of food” or TEF).  No wonder another study found that dieters who ate egg-based breakfasts lost 65 percent more weight than those who ate the same amount of calories, but started their day with a bagel breakfast instead.

Three:  Eggs are great workout fuel.  If you’re also getting regular exercise to boost your weight loss (good for you!), getting plenty of protein will also help you build and repair muscle tissue.  Since muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue does, that’s a win-win!  And, as you lose weight, keeping your protein intake adequate will help preserve your muscle mass so you’re losing only unwanted fat, not muscle.

Here are some easy ways to incorporate eggs into your healthy eating routine:

• Have an egg with your breakfast.  (Here’s some recipe inspiration.)

• Boil up a bunch of eggs and keep in the fridge for grab-and-go snacks.

• Pack a hard-boiled egg in your gym bag for a quick post-workout snack.

Managing weight is all about losing bad habits, and replacing them with healthy ones.  So try getting into the egg habit. It will do your body good!

 

Cooking with Kids: Mothers’ Day Breakfast in Bed

 

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Image: Breakfast in Bed by Mary Cassatt [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons. 
 

Ask any mom what she wants most for Mother’s Day and she’ll probably say “a day off!” Letting her sleep in and be served breakfast in bed is a great start. It’s also a wonderful way for kids to flex their cooking skills…no matter what their age!

What kids can handle

Kids can usually do a lot more in the kitchen than you think. But no matter how capable they seem, always have an adult in charge in the kitchen.  Here are some age-appropriate tasks they’ll have fun doing:

-Toddlers can wash fruit and tear herb or lettuce leaves for a fruit salad or garnish.

-3-5- year olds can help beat eggs, cut soft fruits, cheeses or avocados with a butter knife, pour pre-measured liquids and mix batters, knead doughs, and grease pans.

-6-9 year olds can crack and beat eggs, use a rolling pin, peel fruits and vegetables, scoop batter into muffin cups, make toast, grate cheeses, and use an electric mixer.

-10-year-olds on up can work pretty independently, but will need adult supervision to make sure they’re following safety rules.

Easy recipes to try together

Make-ahead recipes are ideal so there’s not too much noise in the kitchen in the morning, and Mom can sleep in (or at least pretend to!).  Stratas, “overnight” French toast or muffins, or slow-cooker oatmeal recipes make great candidates.

No-cook recipes are a great choice for little ones, who can simply assemble a meal with pre-cooked or prepped ingredients.  Even a toddler can:

– Decorate an open-faced English muffin with slices of hard boiled eggs and strips of precooked bacon.

– Layer granola, yogurt and berries in a Mason jar for gorgeous breakfast sundaes.

– Stir together softened cream cheese and jam, spread it on an open-faced bagel, and sprinkle with berries.

– Spread pumpernickel bread slices with a little cream cheese and top with slices of smoked salmon and chopped hard-boiled eggs.

Or for an over-the-top (but easy) presentation, kids can fill a Bento box with bite-size tasty tidbits, like cherry tomatoes, berries, toast points, hard boiled eggs, cut-up fruit, mini-muffins, and small containers of jam, peanut butter, or softened butter.

Whatever goes on the breakfast tray, don’t forget a card for Mom (preferably homemade), and maybe a flower or two!  And of course, everyone (except Mom) should clean up the kitchen afterwards.

Tell us… what are you going to serve Mom for breakfast this Mother’s Day?

 

Decorating Brown Eggs for Easter

Neon Eggs

Brown is Beautiful!

Did you know you can decorate brown eggs?  To the families who raise our beautiful brown organic eggs, it just comes naturally. “I’m always baking and cooking with them anyway,” says Neila Zook, who raises hens in two barns for us with her family in Pennsylvania.

G-man and his Egg

No special dyes needed!  The Zooks just use the egg decorating kits available in any supermarket.  This year, they had fun with a neon color kit (here, 4-year-old “G-Man” shows off his handiwork).

Old-world, rich color.  Starting with brown eggs  gives you a whole new color palate to work with.  Eggs take on an elegant, deeper tone:  yellows become deep gold, purples take on an eggplant-like hue, blues and greens become nicely dusky.  It’s a beautiful change from the ordinary!

Other dyes to try.  You can also experiment with organic egg dye kits, or make your own natural egg dyes using ingredients like red cabbage, beets, blueberries, turmeric—even flower petals!  DIY natural egg dyeing takes a little more time, but you’ll love the rich, natural-looking colors it produces.

Eggstra Decoration

Paint, sparkles and feathers, oh my.  Of course, instead of (or in addition to) dyeing our eggs, you can paint them, drizzle them with colored glues, cover with feathers, sequins, or glitter – the sky’s the limit! Or, draw a design or write a message on your eggs (we couldn’t resist a little shameless product placement here).

Another nice perk of starting with great eggs:  When you’re finished admiring them, you can turn them into the best organic egg salad ever (say, this tasty egg salad with avocado, from allrecipes.com via yummly.com).  “Just knowing that I am giving my family the best quality egg there is, is great to me!” says Neila.

How do you decorate our beautiful  brown eggs?  Share it here!

 

Eggs are Powerful Symbols at Passover

 

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When Passover begins tomorrow, families all over the world will gather for a Seder, or ritual meal. No matter what’s served, eggs are always on the table as powerful symbolic foods.

Many families dip hard-boiled eggs in salt water, to commemorate the tears and sweat of their ancestors’ enslavement in Egypt. And a hard-boiled egg, usually roasted, is placed on the Seder plate—its roundness suggesting the cycle of life, rebirth, and renewal. Its burnt, sometimes cracked shell is also a reminder of ancient sacrificial offerings.

If you’re roasting one of our organic eggs, you’ll find its brown color is striking. Just hard-boil the egg first, and place in a 350°F oven until it starts getting a burnt, cracked look—about 15-20 minutes.
All of us at Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs wish you a warm, healthy Passover. Chag Sameach!