Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I'm trying something new: starting a "grass-fed eggs" movement as a way of promoting great-tasting eggs from happy outdoor hens. People have become cynical about the term "free-range," which often doesn't mean what people want it to mean. Everyone wants free-range eggs to be eggs from happy outdoor hens who have something better than a barren yard to forage around in, but that's not what they get. So I'm hoping my as-yet unsullied "grass-fed eggs" term will fare a little better.
You probably already know that grass-fed eggs are the best-tasting eggs ever, have superior nutrition and are environmentally friendly. And the flocks are way more picturesque, aesthetically pleasing and fun than the alternatives. But lots of people don't know this yet! It's an easy sell, though. We just have to spread the word.
I picked the term "grass-fed eggs" because it doesn't quite make sense — eggs don't eat grass, or anything else, for that matter. So when people see the term, they have to ask about it. (Of course, it's the hens that eat the grass, not the eggs.) The cartoon was chosen for the same reasons: to evoke the idea of happy outdoor eggs (or maybe chickens) in a way that has some appeal, but which still makes people ask the question.
Once they ask the question, we can pony up the answers without boring them. Much better than button-holing people and talking to them about eggs when they haven't asked!
I don't like rigid definitions, so my take on grass-fed eggs is that the ideal is "great-tasting eggs from happy outdoor chickens who get lots of fresh green plants to eat." But mostly the key is to acknowledge the ideal, while doing the best you can under the circumstances. It's hard to have grass-fed eggs or happy outdoor chickens when there's 6 feet of snow on the ground. It's hard to have free-range hens in a suburban backyard. Do the best you can, and don't let people tell you that your approach isn't pure enough.
This is also my answer to the supply-and-demand problem. Hardly anyone is making a living from growing grass-fed eggs, so consumers need to hook up with people who are doing it as a sideline — or raise a few hens of their own. The small scale of most operations blurs the difference between consumers and producers: many people have hens some of the time, but not always. So this is not a consumer movement or a producer movement, but a "people who like grass-fed eggs and happy outdoor chickens" movement.
One of these days, someone will figure out a business model that allows people of ordinary ability to make a living at grass-fed egg farming. When that happens, the eggs will become a lot easier to find in stores. But that hasn't happened yet. Not even close. I certainly haven't quit my day job! So let's start with the problem in front of us: popularizing the notion and hooking up consumers and producers. With enough demand, commerce on a larger scale will follow.
To help get the ball rolling, I've ponied up three sets of resources:
- Eat Wild is maintained by Jo Robinson, author of the books Pasture Perfect and Why Grassfed is Best. The site also includes a directory of producers of grassfed beef, bison, pork, chicken and dairy products.
- A discussion group at Google Groups. This is the clearinghouse of information from everybody who cares about grass-fed eggs: producers and consumers. Topics will include how to find grass-fed eggs, how to sell them, backyard housing, predator control, dealing with neighbors who don't like chickens, and so on. Post your questions here!
- A line of Grass-Fed Egg merchandise. As I already mentioned, when someone sees your "I Heart Grass-Fed Eggs" T-shirt, shopping tote or mouse pad, they'll ask you about it. This gives you the chance to give them your spiel and maybe press some eggs into their hands to ensure their conversion. It's also a good way for people who are already sold on the concept to identify each other. We're pretty scattered!
Anyway, check out the website, the discussion group and the goodies. I'm hoping we can change the world one egg at a time, with a totally grass-roots, non-hierarchical movement. I expect it to be great fun.