Where Do Your Eggs Come From?

If you’re a regular purchaser of our organic, free-range eggs, you know that we don’t produce all our eggs here on the home farm in New Hampshire. We did once upon a time, when we were just a small family farm ourselves. But as demand for our wonderful organic eggs grew over time, we had a decision to make. Should we keep adding barn after barn to our farm, which is certainly an efficient way to produce eggs, and wind up more like the enormous factory farms that nearly put us out of business only a few years before? Or, should we grow in a smarter, kinder and more sustainable way?

We choose the latter.

Where Our Farms Are

We now sell eggs in all 50 states, and those eggs are laid by hens on over 50 independent, small family farms that we partner with (see the interactive map here). They provide us with incredible, organic, free-range eggs. We provide them with the processing, packaging, and transportation they need to get their eggs to market.

Becoming a Pete and Gerry’s Organic Egg Farmer

Each farm in our partner network must go through a years-long vetting process with us, and become certified by Humane Animal Farm Care to become Certified Humane, which insures that they will be able to produce the kind of high-quality eggs our customers expect. It’s a true partnership with our farmers. We work with them throughout the process – helping them with barn construction, equipment purchases, and in most cases, really teaching them how to be successful as an egg farmer. And it doesn’t stop there, we are in touch with all of them weekly about the nutrition mix in their feed, flock health, and a range of other issues.

Every Farm Tells A Story

The result is farmers that stay with us for many years and are able to support their families with a livable income. Most of them have young children who help walk the barns picking up eggs, take care of the birds, and work in the packing room where the eggs are placed into pallets for shipping to us. You can learn about their lives here, or by watching this video.

Growing by Staying Small

Our customers like you tell us they appreciate that their eggs are helping to support their states and local communities. In that spirit, we continue to develop new farm partnerships further west and south as our grocery distribution expands in those regions. It is a multi-year process, but we’re making progress. As a B Corporation, we’re very proud of the difference this business model is making in dozens of small communities where our farms thrive.

To see where our farms are today, you can click on our farm map and see all the individual farms in the states where we have partnerships thus far. If we’re not already there, we hope to be in your state producing local farm eggs very soon.

Know of a farm that might like to partner with Pete and Gerry’s? Have other comments about our small family farm approach to making your eggs? Please share with us in the comments!

Organic Soft Boiled Egg on Salad

Are Eggs Healthy?

Eggs are healthy. You just can’t say that.

Virtually everyone knows that eggs are nutritious. They are one of the healthiest, nutrient-dense, natural foods that you can find. Eggs are one of the most complete sources of protein available. They boast generous amounts of Omega-3 and contain all of the essential amino acids your body needs to build and repair muscles. They contain lutein, zeaxanthin, and choline. I could go on, seriously. All of that, for a slender 75 calories per egg.

But we can’t say that eggs are healthy. Not legally, not on the package. And we can’t tell people that they are “nutritious” or even “safe.” One of nature’s most perfect foods, and we can’t recommend that people eat it. Additional things that egg producers cannot say about their product include: “good for you,” “part of a healthy diet,” or “healthful.”

They will, however, allow us to say that they taste good. Which is nice.

Why can’t we say eggs are healthy?

If this seems like a triumph of well-intentioned consumer protection efforts over simple common sense, we would agree.

The original reasoning behind this policy goes back to the 1950s. The link between high cholesterol levels in the blood and health problems, like heart disease, was established by the now famous Framingham Heart Study beginning in 1948. But the USDA went further to make an unsupported conclusion that ingesting any food high in cholesterol would, in turn, drive up the levels of cholesterol in the blood, and thus should be avoided.

It turns out not all foods behave the same way in the body. Subsequent reviews of this study, and of numerous, more current studies, have revealed no evidence that egg consumption actually elevates cholesterol within blood levels. Thus, no correlation with increased disease risk can be drawn. You can read more about that here.

The USDA is not the only agency involved of course. The FDA also plays a significant role in the inspection of shelled eggs, as well as issues broad guidelines for all food products as to what can or cannot be labeled “healthy.”

Will they change the rule?

In recognition of the improved science and understanding around eggs, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, co-developed by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, eliminated their opposition to dietary cholesterol. Thus, eggs were no longer identified as a concern for overconsumption.

In fact, Karen DeSalvo, HHS assistant secretary for health, stated this at the time: “Eggs can be part of a healthy eating pattern and people should be thoughtful about including them into a healthy routine.”

That sounds promising. The FDA is currently reviewing their rules for what constitutes a “healthy” nutrient claim on food labeling as well. It seems that the science is catching up to the policy, ever so slowly. Today, eggs remain guilty of “misleading advertising” if they try to promote their considerable nutrition and health benefits, but hopefully soon, that will no longer be the case.

What are your thoughts regarding eggs and health benefits? Let us know in the comments below.

The featured image on this post comes from Reclaiming Yesterday, a member of our ambassador program. Click here to try the recipe.

Pete and Gerry's Caged Hen

What the end of the OLPP rule means for your organic food

The OLPP rule was created to ensure your organic food met the standards you’ve come to expect. That rule was just overturned. Here’s what you need to know.

It probably comes as a little surprise to anyone who reads this blog that the Trump Administration is hostile to small businesses, to everyday consumers, and to, well, animals. On December 15, 2017, they made official what everyone knew was coming: they killed the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule.

Read more in this Washington Post article.

A quick review of the OLPP Rule:

The OLPP rule was developed to close a significant gap in the original USDA Organic Standards, between consumer expectations and industry practice. This gap allowed unscrupulous producers to sell cheap organic eggs and meat by raising them in factory farm conditions. As long as the feed was organic, it didn’t matter if the animals were badly cramped and grossly mistreated.

OLPP sought to update the standards such that consumers who paid more for Organic got what they expected: humane treatment and healthy living conditions. It also sought to protect small, responsible farms that were already maintaining high standards of animal care to be able to compete with the rock-bottom prices of Big Ag Organic.

The rule was seven years in the making, going from conception, through public review, and final passage by the Obama Administration in 2016. It was the definition of a thoughtful, democratic process and should have been left in place. Out of the 47,000 public comments made about the proposed rule change, 99.9% were in favor of it.

Just 27 individual comments were opposed to the new rule. These were obviously 27 very powerful voices, however, because the Trump Administration instantly sided with this infinitesimal fraction of the country upon taking office. As Brian Levin of Perky Jerky said: “it’s just about getting the fat cat fatter.”

The results of the decision to kill the OLPP rule

The tragedy here is manifold. There are the small farmers, like those we work with every day, who will continue to have to try to absorb the actual costs of responsible farming, while their giant competitors ignore those costs. And, there are the consumers who are becoming increasingly mistrustful of the USDA Organic seal. This is so unfortunate because so many things about this voluntary standard remain important and meaningful. But it’s no wonder that trust is eroding with decisions like this one.

For now, we will keep up the fight. The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has filed a lawsuit to see if a court will reverse this egregious abuse of power and process. Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs will continue to offer Certified Humane Free Range, Organic eggs that meet and exceed the expectations of our customers.

And you can help too; by learning which Organic eggs are following the spirit of the rules, and which are not. Share that knowledge with your friends and family. One way to know is to look for the Certified Humane symbol, the most respected third-party animal welfare certifier in the U.S.

Pete and Gerry's Pasture

What are Pasture Raised Eggs?

It’s a question we’re getting more and more. What does the pasture raised eggs label mean? How is it different from our Free Range pastured hens? And why aren’t Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs pasture raised?

We wrote a longer blog post about this, a little over a year ago, titled ‘Why We Are Free Range and Not Pasture Raised.‘ But, as the question continues to come up, it may be time for an update on the issue.

Humane Treatment of Animals

First of all, we support humane treatment for all farm animals, including hens obviously, and we sincerely hope that people will only buy free range and pastured raised eggs in the future. The Cage Free standard has already been co-opted by factory farms. It is better than the battery cages that still dominate the industry today, but only marginally better, as the hens are essentially confined to larger cages in massive industrial facilities with no outdoor access.

Pasture Raised Eggs vs. Free Range Eggs

As for the difference between free range and pasture raised eggs, they are both excellent standards; provided that they are certified by a credible 3rd party, such as Certified Humane, as ours are. Beyond that, our firm belief is that the amount of space our hens have is more than sufficient. You can see that in all of the photos of our family farms, where the hens rarely cover more than a small fraction of our substantial pastures.

History of Pasture Raised Standards

The much larger space requirement for Pasture Raised actually originates from a British soil management standard defined in the 1940s that was based on rotational grazing needs. In other words, the amount of space per hen was not based on having enough for the hens to be comfortable, but how much you need if you are moving flocks from pasture to pasture.

The idea was to ensure viable grass and soil for other crops or animals after the hens had been on it for a period of time. So the space requirement had nothing to do with animal welfare.

Despite this, it was adopted by the two primary certifiers in the U.S. as the “Pasture Raised” standard. And interestingly, the standard allows for “rotational fencing” meaning that even if they claim 108 sq. ft. per hen, that is the undivided total, not what is available to a hen on any given day.

More space is great. We applaud responsible egg farming at whatever scale. But the more space you use the higher your prices. One only has to look at the price of farmland to know this.

Pasture Raised Eggs vs. Organic Eggs

It’s important to not confuse Pasture Raised eggs with Organic eggs either. They are entirely different things. Laying hens, including Pasture Raised hens, do not get their primary source of nutrition from foraging. It comes from their feed, which is either organic, or it’s not. There are many Pasture Raised Eggs that are not organic as they are fed conventional feed that was grown with pesticides and herbicides.

Our Free Range Organic Eggs

At Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs, we don’t see a meaningful difference in animal welfare between these two excellent standards, so we choose to maintain the Free Range standard and sell our Organic eggs for a bit less money. If you prefer to buy Pasture Raised eggs instead, we are absolutely fine with that. Just know that when you choose our Organic, Certified Humane, Free Range Eggs, you are guaranteed that you are getting an egg laid by a hen that has an exceptionally humane existence.

Why Do Good Eggs Cost More?

At Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs, we do understand the question. From the outside, one egg looks a lot like another. And when you regularly see eggs at the store for $2 dollars a dozen (and sometimes less) you begin to see this as the “real” cost of eggs. From there it’s natural to assume that anyone who charges more is just padding their profit.

But before we talk about why our free range organic eggs cost more, let’s first look at why their eggs cost less. Consider that a typical hen can lay almost one egg per day. But to feed and house her in a heated, ventilated barn for a year is not inexpensive. After an egg is laid, it must be collected, washed, inspected, and graded for sale. Finally, the eggs must be packaged and shipped to market. It’s a pretty labor-intensive business. When your great grandparents’ generation was selling eggs straight off the farm to neighbors or to local stores, the inflation-adjusted cost was way, way over $2 a dozen. In those days, people accepted that food had to be a significant part of their overall household budget because most people had first-hand knowledge of how difficult it was to produce that food.

The reason that commodity eggs can sell today for an almost laughably small amount of money (less than a bottle of water, less than a cup of coffee) is the result of giant agribusiness and the blind pursuit of “efficiency.” Efficiency sounds good, and it is good when balanced with other costs and considerations, but in this case, efficiency means putting hundreds of thousands of hens into a warehouse, stacked floor to ceiling with battery cages that cram six hens into a space the size of a microwave oven. The overcrowding, filth, disease and general misery of the animals is so extreme that it stands out even in the world of mass-produced animal agriculture. Their feed is a “least cost formulation” lacking essential nutrition, but that does usually include antibiotics to control the diseases that spread in the overcrowded barns. But, it is efficient! They can crank out millions of eggs and still make a small profit at $2 a carton.

We simply won’t do that. It’s bad for hens and bad for people. And thankfully, now that consumers are learning about these practices and speaking out, change is coming. “Cage Free,” which doesn’t quite mean what it sounds like (i.e. the birds are still confined in massive numbers, cannot go outside, etc.), will still be an improvement in terms of animal welfare. It is likely to come at a higher price on the shelf too. And, it will be money well spent for hens and consumers, despite its shortcomings.

Our farming practices are far better still. We are USDA Organic, Certified Humane Free Range, which means free access to ample pasture space except in very cold weather, ample space in the barn, no confinement whatsoever (“Cage Free” can’t say this, learn more here), roosting spaces, nesting boxes, high quality organic feed and much more. We do this on true small family farms that support real farm families and their rural communities. So, when all is said and done, you will get 12 humanely raised, organic, antibiotic free, protein-filled, nutritionally dense eggs for a few dollars. When you compare that value to your cable bill, your car insurance, or just about anything else at the grocery store – it starts to seem like a pretty good deal.

So the question we ask is not why Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs cost so much, but why do those other eggs cost so little?

Journey of the Egg – From Farm to Table

How does an egg make it from one of our small family farms to your home?

At the Farm

The journey begins in a nesting box, inside the barn, where one of our hens lays her egg. She will typically lay one egg per day, usually in the morning hours. From there the egg will slowly roll down the inclined, padded surface of the nesting box to the conveyor belt that runs the length of the barn. It will usually sit motionless on the belt until about 11AM when the farmer turns on the belt and gets ready to pack eggs in the packing room. The conveyor delivers the egg, along with several thousand others from that morning, to the packing station. A packing machine gently loads the eggs from the conveyor into plastic trays. The farmer, and if they are lucky a family member or two, run the packing machine, pull out any cracked eggs, and carefully stack the trays of eggs onto a pallet. Each pallet contains 900 dozen eggs. The pallet is then rolled into the adjacent cold storage room that is kept at 45 degrees.

On the Road

Once a week, one of our fleet of “Rooster Cruiser” trucks will turn into the farm and roll up to the small loading dock next to the cold storage room. At that time, the week’s worth of eggs, somewhere between ten to twenty thousand dozen, depending on the farm, will be loaded onto the truck. The truck will make a few more stops at other farms in the area until it is full and then proceed to one of our two processing plants in Pennsylvania or New Hampshire.

In the Plant

At the plant, the egg will now be rolled into our “nest run” cold storage area. When we are ready to run the eggs from that farm, the egg trays are loaded into our egg washer where they first go through an Organic citrus-based solution. Brushes do a gentle scrub before they get a sanitizing rinse.

At this point, things get pretty technical as each individual egg is photographed and cataloged by the computer. The camera is looking for specs of dirt, cracks and other imperfections. It is also gauging the size of the egg so that down the line it will know to send them to the correct packing station for Large, Extra Large, Jumbo and so on. Each egg is also tapped lightly by a tuning fork at this stage to test for hairline cracks that the camera cannot see. Broken or otherwise problematic eggs are pulled from the line automatically. A little less than 1% of them are simply thrown out to become pig feed for other farms and other are sent to a “breakers” line where they are cracked into our liquid egg products. The intact eggs move up the line to the packaging station based on their size and are automatically placed into cartons, never being touched by human hands. From there they go into master cases and are put back onto a truck. See our video of this part of the journey.

To the Store

From here, the trail can get a little complicated. Sometimes, our trucks will deliver right to a grocery chain’s central warehouse and they will redistribute them to their individual stores. In other cases, we might deliver them to an independent distributor to haul for us. And in some cases, we might even deliver our eggs to a big factory farm where they are “cross docked” and loaded onto other trucks that do individual store delivery. That’s because we don’t operate a big enough fleet to drive to individual stores, nor would we have enough eggs of our own to deliver even if we did. So in those cases where a big caged egg company is also the sole egg distributor for a given location, we have to “ride along” with them. That’s why you can see our trucks backed up to these mega farms. It’s not because we’re picking up eggs there, it’s because we’re delivering them there! Not an ideal situation, but for us, the only way to get our eggs where they need to go.

On Your Table

The final leg of the journey is from the store’s back room out to the egg shelf, and then home to your kitchen table. The typical time from nest to table is about 25 days. That is well within what USDA recommends for fresh egg consumption and still leaves plenty of time for you to store in your refrigerator before eating. We print the “Best By” date right on our carton as to when we recommend you consume the eggs by. But don’t worry, eggs are very resilient to spoiling and it’s possible to eat them beyond that date and be fine. We don’t recommend that of course, but typically you only lose a little bit of freshness. A good test if you’re not sure of an egg’s freshness is to drop it into a bowl of water. If it sinks, it’s still fresh. If it floats, that means that the egg has had time to develop air pockets between the shell and the egg and it’s time to toss it.

Once your eggs are safely home from the store and in the fridge, it’s time to cook them up!  If you’re looking for recipe inspiration, here are some of our favorites.

Why Cheap Eggs Are So Expensive

At Pete and Gerry’s, our eggs cost a little more than conventional eggs. We don’t apologize for this. In fact, we’re proud of it. We’re proud of producing a great product in a way that is both beneficial and sustainable.

Consider the alternative. Over the course of this past spring, roughly 48 million chickens & turkeys had to be put to death during the Avian Influenza outbreak. In Iowa alone, 24 million hens, or 40% of the egg-laying population, were hauled to landfills, buried, or burned. That’s because if a single bird within their massive warehouse enclosures (aka “barns”) contracts the disease, all other birds that could have conceivably come into contact with it have to be put down to contain the spread. So that might mean 5 million birds on a single “farm” are lost all at once.

The loss represented almost 20% of the laying hens in the U.S. This meant an immediate and dramatic increase in the price of conventional, caged-raised eggs that continues to this day. And that wasn’t the only way consumers paid. Several counties in Iowa were declared disaster areas, so taxpayers there were also forced to bail out the huge corporations that make up the agricultural industry in Iowa. Governor Branstad of Iowa also requested federal relief funds but was denied by the Obama administration. Still, the USDA has paid $191 Million in direct payments to farm corporations for their losses already.

This raises the question, how much do eggs really cost? In the store, they might retail for as little as 2 dollars a dozen. That’s because these “farms” have tried to make farming like building widgets. They have created mega-factories, scaled up as much as possible, built an assembly line of sorts, systematically eliminated human intervention, creature comfort, or any other detail that could have a small cost associated with it, and built an egg-producing machine that can put a carton of eggs on the shelf for 2 bucks, and still leave a tidy profit for the shareholders.

There are two really big problems with this model. One, chickens aren’t widgets. They are living, breathing, thinking animals. So this system that reduces them to egg-laying cogs is cruel beyond belief (and that is probably the best reason not to patronize these companies). The second problem is a systemic one. The scheme has little tolerance. If one bird on a single mega farm gets sick, that means destroying millions of hens, which immediately drives up prices, not to mention requests for government aid. The system is so inhumanely narrow in its construction; it’s just one big house of cards.

The public also bears other costs of giant agricultural operations in terms of waste ponds (giant manure filled puddles that frequently leach into groundwater and surface water), the overpowering smells generated by these places, and many other forms of pollution that would not occur with human-scale farming. A study cited 8,400 jobs lost in Iowa as fallout from the epidemic. That means more unemployment claims and a variety of other societal costs. The Des Moines Register estimates the outbreak cost the Iowa economy $1.2B. Figures for the country as a whole are $3.3B.

At Pete and Gerry’s, our small family farms have yet to lose a single hen to Avian Flu. Some of that is due to our careful safety protocols, the close eye our farmers keep on their flocks, and some of it is just luck. But even if we did lose a flock, our egg production is spread out over forty small family farms, each with just a barn or two on their property. None of our partner farms represent more than 3% of our capacity. This humane, distributed method of farming is ultimately a better value for consumers when one carefully considers all the costs.

Egg Yolks – Two for the Price of One

Have you ever cracked an egg with a double yolk? Lucky you! Ever cracked into several eggs in your dozen to find double yolks in more than one? A fan did recently, and he wrote to us in amazement to find out why. Here’s what we shared:

Double yolks are fairly rare – you might find them in 1 of every 1,000 eggs. These eggs typically come from our younger hens who are still just learning how to lay eggs.

Double-yolked eggs also tend to be very large. They are usually graded ‘Super Jumbo.’ Eggs identified as Super Jumbo are too large for our packing machine to pack into cartons, so they are moved to the hand packing station. At Pete & Gerry’s, these eggs are still labeled as Jumbos, even though they are technically Super Jumbos. As our team fills Jumbo egg cartons with the Super Jumbo eggs, of which more than 50% of which will include an extra yolk, that makes something fairly rare in nature suddenly appear rather common.

So if you crack open a Pete & Gerry’s egg and find a double yolk, you’ll actually be pretty likely to find another ‘eggstra’ yolk or two in that same dozen. And because those cartons are hand packed and placed in cases together, you could find a whole grocery display of Jumbo dozens that have a high likelihood of containing a double-yolked egg or two!

Higher egg prices hitting shops, consumers

An article was published by bostonglobe.com regarding the rising cost of eggs following an outbreak of the bird flu in the Midwest, which resulted in the euthanization of about 35 million egg-laying chickens.

“A national shortage has sent the cost of eggs skyrocketing during the past month, leading managers to increase prices on other menu items, a nickel here, a dime there, to avoid raising the tab on the three-egg best seller.”

Businesses nationwide are experiencing similar situations.

View Full Article »

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

microwave-3-minute-breakfast-hash

Microwave Egg Veggie Breakfast Bowl

microwave-egg-and-veggie-breakfast-bowl

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