The Real Cost of Real Eggs (And a Potato Frittata Recipe)
I remember pretty clearly the first time I saw them: a dozen eggs for 5 dollars. I had just moved to Seattle, and, wandering around at the University District Farmers Market, my eyes caught the carton and what I then considered to be the ridiculously expensive price. What could possibly make these eggs worth five dollars when I could find a dozen at the supermarket for one dollar?
A vegan at the time, I didn’t let the question linger in my brain for too long. I picked up my veggies, probably went to the store and bought a 3 dollar brick of tofu, and let it rest there.
It wasn’t until I worked at a farm that raised chickens – and until this year when I raised my own – that I began to understand a few things:
1. Not all eggs are created equal. The pale yellow soft yolks you’ll find in much of the supermarket stock don’t compare to the rich firm orange-yellow yolks of the eggs that come from chickens who have had (and made use of) access to grass, dirt, bugs, veggie scraps, etc
1a. That grass and dirt, the fresh air, bugs and veggie scraps – they’re part of a more varied and healthy lifestyle that animals in a factory-farm setting don’t have access to. This is at least an ethical issue, to say nothing of the health of consumers and of the environment. (Food Inc speaks to these issues brilliantly)
2. Raising chickens on a small-scale farm (or likely any scale) is not a get-rich-quick scheme. The farmers I’ve talked to barely break even on selling their eggs (yes, even at $5/dozen) – and that’s without considering their labor in the costs. I’ll price out our costs in just raising 6 chickens below.
and 3. Raising chickens is absolutely worth it! Not only do they provide delicious eggs, but they scratch up and fertilize our soil, and are great pets and companions.
But they do cost, in both money and time –
And here’s how much, in our case:
6 baby chicks: $18
organic feed: $20/40 pound bag (from Scratch and Peck)
The chicks went through about $70 worth of feed before they started laying eggs (around 5 months). Once they got laying, they were eating about 2 bags of feed/month ($40/month) and were laying 5 to 6 eggs/day.
So let’s look at one month into their laying: Just to get them to that point, we spent $88 Adding on an extra $40 for that month’s feed gets us to $128 in the hole. Let’s say they’re laying 5 eggs/day for that month: that’s 150 eggs, or about 13 dozen. If we price eggs at $5/dozen (which is what we were paying for them at the farmers market), that’s a $65 value. $128 in expenses – $65 in eggs: That puts us at $63 in the hole.
If, in all of the following months, we pay out $40 in feed and gain $65 in eggs, we’ll break even in a few months. Of course this doesn’t take into consideration the infrastructure: our fencing, the chicken tractor we built so that they could cruise our yard, heat lamps, straw, food and water dishes, etc. And then there’s our time and effort: providing fresh food and water, letting them out, closing them in at night. How do you price those out?
Some people choose to; some don’t. I’ve loved having our chickens, and it’s hard to put a price on being able to eat fresh delicious eggs that you’ve raised in your own backyard. Ultimately, I just think it’s worth it. And for those still raising your eyebrows at the 5 dollar price-tag, I can’t blame you: I’ve been there before. But consider how much dense, protein-packed food 12 eggs really is; consider too what else you’re willing to spend that 5 dollars on.
If that doesn’t have you convinced, shell out the 5 bucks and make this:
INGREDIENTS1 medium onion, chopped 3 cloves garlic, chopped 1 medium sprig rosemary, stemmed and chopped 2 medium potatoes, chopped thinly 5 eggs 1 -2 Tbs butter salt and pepper, to taste THE HOW TO
- Heat butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Saute onion until translucent and starting to brown.
- As the onions are cooking, boil the chopped potatoes until they are tender, but not mushy. (Peel them if you like) Potatoes should be in pretty small chunks, but whatever shapes and sizes you prefer. (I cut the potatoes in quarters and chopped them a centimeter thick or so).
- Add the garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper to the onions and, once incorporated, add the potatoes too.
- Cook this mixture for a few minutes; as it’s cooking, whisk up the eggs.
- Try to spread the potato mixture evenly over the bottom of the skillet and pour the eggs over top. The eggs will begin firming up – this should take 5 to 8 minutes. Turn down the heat a bit if it seems to be happening faster.
- After it looks like the bottom has firmed up but the top is still a bit liquidy, turn the broiler of your oven on (this wouldn’t be a bad time to sprinkle some cheese on top if you have some on hand) and finish the top under the high heat – just a couple of minutes.
- Enjoy with salsa or hot sauce or as is – the eggs speak for themselves!