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The following is part of an Organic Journey guest post series, written by Amy a long time helper behind the scenes of Southern Savers.
I spent $120 on groceries this week. I almost cried when I brought my groceries in from the car. My 6 bags of groceries filled up half of my kitchen counter and cost me a whopping $67. I looked at my husband and made this declaration, “Gone are the days of having a counter full of groceries for $40.” Then, later in the week, I took my kids to our new happy place, the Dekalb Farmers Market. If you live in the Atlanta area and haven’t been, oh do go! To watch my daughter beg, “please Mom, can I get some snow peas!” or to see their eyes light up when their Nonnie spoils them by buying them a bag of apples (that aren’t in season right now so Mom won’t get them!), this is my reward. If they grow up loving what is good for them (and appreciating the wonders of an occasional double stuffed oreo!), then this labor is worth it for me. And, I’m going to cut myself some slack. Figuring this whole thing out is a big learning curve. I’m not going to get it right at first. It’s going to take time. (Plus, those dried apples from the farmer’s market were like candy! Perfect for the girl who loves junk but is trying to do better!)
But I digress. This week, I decided to tackle eggs. We love eggs. Once a week, we have breakfast for dinner. Eggs have become a new treasure for me since I have lost my first love of quick protein choices, cheese (yep, I discovered that I am allergic to dairy a year ago). I used to get excited when eggs were 99¢ a dozen at Kroger. Then that infamous documentary opened my eyes. I needed to know what my options were. Here’s what I discovered.
The first thing is to establish where your chickens are roaming. There are three basic options that I have discovered.
Normal Grocery Store Eggs
My well-loved cheap eggs come from chickens that don’t roam. In fact their beaks are cut off, and they are packed into farms like sardines. The more I have discovered about my cheap eggs, the more I realized that we were going to have to change. Not only is their habit unnatural, their diet is like mine was a few years back (a bit unnatural) and they are loaded with antibiotics which are necessary because of their living conditions.
Per the USDA, “This label indicates that the flock was able to freely roam a building, room, or enclosed area with unlimited access to food and fresh water during their production cycle.” Notice though that no one regulates this.
Again, in USDA speak, “This label indicates that the flock was provided shelter in a building, room, or area with unlimited access to food, fresh water, and continuous access to the outdoors during their production cycle. The outdoor area may or may not be fenced and/or covered with netting-like material. This label is regulated by the USDA.”
Now how about what our chickens are eating? This is where the whole organic label becomes relevant. The organic label means this:
“Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.” USDA
There are several ways to get eggs. You can raise chickens and get your eggs from them (both my sisters have done this…my neighborhood would not love it. Check before you start to make sure it is okay where you live.) If you live in the country, you can most likely find a farmer who will sell you eggs. My sister gets free-range eggs for $2.50/dozen!! Around Atlanta, the only places I can find free-range eggs are at local farmers markets (that are held in the town parks) and at the Fresh Market grocery store. Whole Foods doesn’t carry them nor does Trader Joe’s. Cage-free eggs are everywhere. You can even get them with added Omega-3’s (it appears that they just add flax to the chicken’s diet). Cage-free are priced around $2.69. If you make it organic cage-free, it’s about $3.69.
So, in a nutshell, if you want your chickens eating grain that doesn’t have chemicals in it, organic is the way to go. If you just want to make sure that your chickens are eating a normal diet for chickens, cage-free is the best bet. If you just need to feed your family, plain jane eggs are the way to go.
Now we get down to the nitty gritty. I’ve done my research, and man oh man, free-range eggs sound awesome! There are farms that deliver free-range eggs to different places in Atlanta, so I start making calls. Yeah, it’s expensive. Free-range eggs in my neck of the woods are $5/dozen. Gulp. As much as I would love to have free-range organic eggs, it just isn’t doable for us. I would spend $30/month on eggs alone. That’s about 10% of my food budget. For now, my baby step is to move in the right direction. We are buying Cage-Free eggs from Farmer’s Hen House. And call me crazy, but seeing that the chickens are raised on Amish and Mennonite farms makes me feel better about the whole thing. Maybe they are just slick marketers who has pulled the wool over this newbies eyes, but it worked.
How to save money on all of this? Well, check your local grocery store to see if they carry Eggland’s Best Cage-Free or if your Kroger has the Simple Truth cage-free eggs. You can find coupons for these and save money that way! Oh, and one other thing, if you are buying it from a local farmer, ask them about their pesticide use and what they are feeding their chickens. They may not pay to be certified organic because it is an expensive process, but they might be organic nonetheless. To find a local farmer near you head to localharvest.org and enter eggs in the search field with your zip code to see if there are any farms near you that direct sell to consumers. You’ll also see reviews from other customers that can help you make educated decisions on who to pick.
One quick update, after writing all of this I had some super smart friends share that Costco has great deals on organic eggs and other goodies, so next week I’m off to see what they have for myself! Tune in to see what we find.
How about you? If you eat eggs, have you found any ways to get a great deal on them?