Egg Quest: The Peeps

The search for truly rich and delicious eggs has been quite a little journey. It began well over a year ago, and since then I have searched grocery stores, farmer's markets, roadside signs, and private farms. And while I did find some amazing eggs, nothing sparked the A-ha, Eureka, I've Found it! moment. The eggs that have come the closest are from two local farms, Tomatero Farm in Watsonville, CA and Soul Food Farm in Vacaville, CA. Both farms feature their extremely good eggs in some of the highest end, sustainability-focused restaurants such as Nopa, Chez Panisse, Coi, and Frances. Yet still, something was lacking. The richest orange-yolk shades continued to elude me. And the prices (usually around $7/dozen) were seriously straining my struggling writer / wine-slinger budget. So what's a bona-fide egg fanatic to do? Crazy as it sounds, we decided to go straight to the source. Well, actually, we brought the source to us.

IMG_3257
IMG_3257

Yes, we decided to keep chickens. Pretending we were living in the country and not country-club adjacent, we picked up 6 precious little chicks at Rivertown Feed Store in Petaluma, CA, and hand-raised them until they were old enough to start producing their own easter egg-colored beauties. We were so excited about the whole process of caring for the ladies, we failed to document anything and preserve the experience for friends, readers, and our future reminiscing selves.

The peeps.
The peeps.

So this spring, when we were feeling adventurous again, we decided to add to our little flock and raise four new peeps (so dubbed for the adorable yet incessant sound they constantly emit.) And this time, I swore we would spend more time with them and document as much as possible, so that in a few months, we have more than just incredible eggs and big squawking chickens to show for it.

Eggs from our Hens
Eggs from our Hens

While to many people this this may be a ridiculous or overly precious endeavor, I think even more people are inspired by the idea of keeping chickens, as evidenced by the huge, though mostly undocumented, growth in raising backyard chickens. The benefits are many, and the hassle, work, and expense involved are not burdensome. It's a hobby of sorts, but one that promises a sustainable, healthy, and humane way to involve ourselves with a key element in our food sourcing. Modern writers and thinkers have long been lamenting the lack of direct connection we have with our food and our land -- keeping chickens is a revolutionary way of reconnecting with both.

Plus, they are super-cute.

"Asparagus in January"

Unless you've been living under a rock in the mountains of Tibet, you've no doubt seen the beginnings of the great revolution of our time: The Food Revolution. If you've heard recent mention of the words organic, local, sustainable, biodynamic, non-GMO, horomone-free, free range, grass-fed, or pastured, then you've heard of it. It can be difficult to sort out what each of these words mean, and indeed there can be many varying definitions within each word itself. It's far too much to describe in one humble blog post, so I will just focus on the most important of words: revolution

We tend to hear revolution and think of historical wars within nations, like the French or American revolutions. It conjures up visions of battlefields and raised fists and shouts of freedom. In a way, these images could be appropriate for the Food Revolution as well-- except we're fighting to be free from the industrialized food system that is threatening our health, our environment, and our collective conscience.

But at the core of the word revolution is the word revolve, or "to turn over" or "roll." This word comes from the Latin revolvere, or, "to  roll back" or "cause to return." And here we see the true roots of the modern organic, local, sustainable movement-- it is a return to a world where our food system is not being run by large corporations, super mega-markets, and fast food chains. A return to a world where people used to buy their food at the village market or grow it themselves. The Food Revolution embraces technology and innovation while remaining true to the principles of producing and consuming food that were standard from the beginnings of human existence. 

The Food Revolution is thus both a desire to return to our roots and a revolt against the destructiveness of our current and fairly recent industrial food system. The disconnect most people have from their groceries is something we've only really seen in the last few generations. The convenience of the modern supermarkets and the influence they wield is nothing short of amazing. 

We can enter a Safeway or a Lucky's on any day of the year and find tomatoes, lemons, green beans, or shrink-wrapped packages of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. We've simply forgotten that the tomato or the green bean were once seasonal products and only available for a few months of the year. And just because we can get them in the dead of winter doesn't mean that we should. They don't taste as good and they're more expensive.

This notion of eating seasonally, even if we have access to produce from other far-off regions is by no means a new concept. The point is made quite clearly in a dialogue excerpt from Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, first published in 1866: 

"...the way I see it, the great thing for getting on in the world is, always keep to the seasons; if you don't insist on having asparagus in January, you keep your money in your purse!"

And while keeping money in our wallets certainly is at the forefront of our minds in this economy, we must also remember the costs we do not see every day-- the costs to our health, our land, air, water, and animals. It can be so tempting to bury our heads in the sand and buy the Oscar Meyer or Smithfield Farms package of bacon instead of the pricier Niman Ranch or local farm stuff. But if you take five minutes and read just a little about what the big corporate pig farms do to their animals and how they are simply and blithely destroying the environment, you might just think twice about buying that "cheap" bacon. 

Click here for a short explanation of some of the issues surrounding factory farming from sustainabletable.org. This website is a fantastic resource for information on all sorts of issues relating to the Food Revolution. Take a few moments from your busy day to explore some of these concerns.

There are also some incredibly enlightening books out there that are very helpful in understanding our current food system. The most popular, and probably the best, is Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Delimma. Click here for a synopsis. 

The Food Revolution is here. It is up to you to educate yourself and ask yourself where you stand. After all, it's just food. It's also money, the environment, our health, animal and laborer rights, a whole host of issues. But at the end of the day, it's what we buy, prepare, cook, store, serve, and consume. So ask yourself-- what exactly do you want to eat?

Egg Quest, Part I

I can probably trace my obsession with eggs back to my childhood summers spent deep in the heart of Bavarian farm country. Breakfasts there always included a soft boiled egg, scooped up warm right out of its shell. I was continually startled to find the bright orange yolks that tasted so different from the ones back home. And it was these rich, ridiculously fresh eggs I longed for when back in Marin County, where breakfast was a pop tart, usually inhaled in the car when rushing off to school. What I didn't know then was why these eggs were so much better than our eggs back home. Now I know that it wasn't that they were German, its that they were from chickens raised in an entirely different way from our industrialized process. Chickens here are crammed into wire cages, kept under flourescent lights and stuffed full of antibiotics and feed of questionable origin. Even our "free range" or "cage free" chickens rarely see sunshine or grass as they're packed tightly in huge barns. The pastured chicken, common throughout Germany and the not-so-distant past in the United States, eats a mixture of organic, chemical-free feed and grass. They're allowed to forage, move about individually, eat yummy grubs, and lay their eggs in peace. This is why their yolk is so rich and why their flavor is so exquisite. They're what eggs are supposed to be.

bowl of eggs

Now, I know these eggs don't just exist in Europe. They can be found here, right here in Northern California. At least I hope so. I've tried the farmer's markets in the City, and though I've found organic free range eggs, they're still not quite it. I have to go to the farm, find the source itself. The egg quest has begun. 

The best place to start seems to be Petaluma, a po-dunk town in the North Bay that is everything agrarian and quaint. It also used to be the "Chicken Capital of the World." The other day, Chris and I were up there, randomly, on a mission to find some cherries from a roadside stand. Our mission had proved, er, fruitless and we were headed back on a one-lane highway home. Suddenly I spotted a small, hand-painted sign stating "Eggs for Sale" in red paint. I instantly perked up and we turned around in search of the driveway. 

A few passes up and down the highway and we finally discovered a gravel lane with an even smaller sign, this time with just "Eggs" written on it. A short way down the lane led us to a narrow dirt driveway, marked with a sign with just a red painted arrow on it. At last here we would find some really truly farm-fresh eggs!

languid cows

We passed a few languid cows on the way in, and then we were rapidly greeted by five very vocal little dogs. Exiting the car, we spied a healthy vegetable garden with a handful of ducks waddling about. We heard the chickens before we saw them. Squawking and clucking, there they were, milling about in the coop. Utterly enchanted, I turned to Chris and breathily exclaimed, "Oh, Honey. How darling. Let's move out here and get some chickens!"

Being the imminently more sensible one of the two of us, Chris just smiled and went off in search of the proprietor of the lovely little farm so that we might purchase our eggs. I wandered about, daydreaming of my own vegetable garden and year-round sun. Rather quickly though, we soon realized no one was home. We circled the property, admiring the rusty farm equipment and an old trampoline by the fence. As the yappy dogsn hadn't ceased yapping since we'd arrived, and no one had answered our calls, we ascertained that we were alone, wandering around a stranger's property, and utterly eggless. 

First the cherries and now this! Disappointed, we piled back in the car and headed back on the long road home. Chris rationalized that we could always come back another day, or try to track down their phone number. Glumly, I agreed with him, but I couldn't help feeling like a kid who'd been promised an ice cream cone only to find the ice cream parlor was closed. Sure, they'd re-open the next day, but I wanted my ice cream now! 

This is what beautiful, fresh, delicious, humanely-produced eggs will do to me. Though I haven't found them yet, I feel very certain to very soon. The egg quest shall continue. 

Chicken coop