My mornings almost always start with a trip to our chicken coop. (Well, after I've made coffee, nothing starts until I have coffee.) I gather whatever kitchen scraps are left from the day before, whatever fruits and veggies are about the head south, and take them all out to our lovely little flock, let the chickens out of the coop so they can wander around their palatial chicken estate for the day.... Sometimes I gather a bunch of eggs - but that's usually an afternoon ritual, as they don't get busy until later in the day either.
I'd be lying if I said that I knew the nutritional benefits of fresh eggs when I started. I had a strong suspicion that they were better for me than commercially farmed eggs, but I didn't know for sure. I just knew I loved animals, I loved the ritual of caring for them, and I love the cycle - they eat our scraps and lay us eggs, we take their waste and compost it and till it into our vegetable gardens, which deliver us incredible bounty that we eat, except the scraps, which go back to the chickens.....
So I was DELIGHTED this morning when I stumbled across an article on MSNBC.com (which is the only thing i do before coffee) about the nutritional value of free-range eggs. (The kind our chickens give us every day.) You can read the whole article on their site, but here are some nutritional facts:
Compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial, "conventional" (i.e. from confined hens) eggs, eggs from hens raised on pasture may contain:
• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene.
Wow, that's great news. BUT, as most of you know, these eggs cost as much as twice as much as commercially farmed eggs. So is it really okay that only the well-to-do amongst us benefit? I don't think so. What do we need to do to get commercial egg farmers to change their ways? And is there a larger benefit to the planet if we do?
I then remembered a segment on the Today show on Monday in which they were giving viewers really simple tips (7 of them, if I remember correctly) on how to save the planet from their own homes. One of the tips was to eat meat one less day a week. Again, from the MSNBC site:
Meat production takes a lot more energy and resources than growing vegetables or grains, and 18 percent of human-generated greenhouse gases come from the livestock industry. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to make a difference in this area: Try skipping meat just one day a week. If every American had one meat-free day per week, it would reduce emissions as much as taking 8 million cars off the roads.
The whole article with 7 simple tips is on their site, and is a great read, but the meat thing is interesting.
Now, we're big meat eaters. Like our eggs, our meat is farm fresh, comes from the Bradrick Family Farms near Olympia, WA. Like our chickens, these cows roam free and can graze on acres of pasture, are not treated with chemicals or medications and are as happy as they can be (until, of course, they are slaughtered. But that's a different issue, and yes, I am aware that it is hypocrtical in some people's minds.) This I did for 2 reasons.
1. Unlike the eggs, this meat is FAR cheaper than conventional meat bought in a grocery store - IF you have the means to buy a whole cow at a time, which is a challenge both financially and in terms of storage. But, I did know that it is way better for me than commercially farmed meat.
2. Start-to-Finish Pastured Beef and Lamb contains four times the vitamin E, eight times the beta-carotene, and three times the essential omega-3 fatty acids as grain fed meat. In addition, these products do not contain the abundance of unhealthy fat that is found in grain finished meat.
What hadn't occurred to me is that it was better for the environment, but it is. So that's a double bonus. (It's also worth noting that it is unbelievably delicious!)
So, here we are. What do we do?
We cant' all be farmers. Even on my dilettante urban farm, it takes a lot of time - between the chickens, the vegetables, the bees - for us to eat the way we eat. (And that doesn't even mention the weekly pilgrimage we make to get farm fresh milk that is not pasteurized.)
But we can all start supporting local farms. Here are some easy-ish things to do.
Shop at your local farmers market. The USDA site has way to find the farmer's markets near you.
When at a major chain store and facing the choice to by organic, sustainably raised food, do it. Not only is it better for you, but it supports a local farmer. Most importantly, we vote with our dollars, as we tell the corporate decision makers that this is what we want, they will, slowly, change their practices to give it to us. Vote with your dollars.
Find a CSA near you that may deliver. The added bonus here is that you dont' have to shop at all, AND, because you never know what you'll get, you may try something new, and like it. I know that in Seattle we have dozens of good CSA's to choose from, but I think you can find them just about everywhere, and they usually deliver to your door. Maybe a little more expensive than Safeway, but generally less than Whole Foods - and, again, support sustainable farming, which is good for the planet, and your body.
On that note, even though it's early, the chickens are making an absurd amount of noise, so I'm going to go see what all the squawking is about. Most likely there are some nice fresh eggs waiting for me. I think I'll make some Cesar salad tonight (which i would really only do using my own fresh eggs. If you want my recipe, let me know, it's awesome.) Maybe some fresh mayo (again, my eggs, if you want the recipe, let me know.)
There's something truly magical about knowing that I am nourishing my family and my planet by doing something that is so naturally pleasurable.
This was cross-posted from my JUST CAUSE Blog: http://justcauseit.com/blogs/alyssa-royse/farm-fresh-good-you-and-planet
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