The incredible, edible Upper Peninsula eggs and why you should buy them

When isn't it great to sit down and chomp down on a scrumptious egg? From an omelet in the morning to an egg salad sandwich for lunch right to a tasty hamburger with a fried egg on it for supper, there isn't a single meal that doesn't benefit from the flavorful little morsels.

But have you ever wondered about where your eggs come from? What is being fed to the chickens that create them? What conditions are those chickens living in?

The critics of massive egg farms cite everything from horrific treatment of the hens to unhealthy feed to deplorable working conditions for the workers as reasons to avoid buying mass-market eggs. The good news is that you, the consumer, don't have to purchase eggs from these factory-style operations.

You are lucky enough to live in the Upper Peninsula where you're not only surrounded by pristine wilderness, but also happy chickens producing quality eggs and living on farms with owners who care about the animals.

Consider Shady Grove Farm in Gwinn, located in Marquette County. Owner Randy Buchler, who operates the farm with his wife, Libby, and children, Hala and Teyan, says his farm started because his family wanted to focus on eating healthier foods they grew themselves.
"We started out growing our own gardens in 2002 and keeping chickens for eggs for our family in 2003," says Buchler. "Things just evolved from there as our love and passion for this healthy way of life grew. Each year, I would order more laying hens. They are easy to keep, efficient, provide incredible fertilizer and are fun to watch."
Shady Grove Farm now houses approximately 150 laying hens and just ordered new chicks for this year's flock. Their eggs are available through Link UP Food Club, the Marquette Food Co-Op and in Gwinn during summer months when the Forsyth Township Farmer's Market is open.
Local businesses, such as the Marquette Food Co-Op, have found quite the demand from their customers for locally-sourced eggs and Shady Grove Farm is one of the co-op's local suppliers, which include BSB Farms and Cloverland Farm in Skandia, and Seeds and Spores in Beaver Grove.
The push for locally-grown, healthier eggs is evident in the demand alone.
According to Bryan Spencer, buyer and Marquette Food Co-Op branding coordinator, sales for the month of January totaled 1,448 dozen, including duck eggs--that's a staggering 17,376 eggs. The monthly sales average throughout 2012, says Spencer, was 1,164 dozen.
Spencer says buying locally-grown eggs, among other products, is a great way for money to stay right here in the Upper Peninsula.
"Simply put, choosing U.P.-grown foods increases demand for local growers and producers," he says. "Local food production directly impacts the economic, social, and ecological health of the U.P. with jobs creation, vibrant local networks, and fewer miles traveled and reduces our reliance on conventional supply chains."

"In the case of the Marquette Food Co-op, we visit the site of each farm to ensure the health and natural behavior of the hens meet standards for outdoor access, daylight and space requirements and commitment to quality of the eggs. Buying local eggs is a commitment to fresher, tastier and more nutritious food grown by someone down the road in return for the farmers' commitment to your health and welfare of the animals," says Spencer
If you're the frugal type, you're probably grumbling right about now about the cost of these locally-produced eggs. Sure, retail prices at the Marquette Food Co-op range from $3.79 to $5.49 a dozen, but consider what you're getting for that price. The chickens are cage free, they are fed quality feed and the eggs are guaranteed fresh. For the most expensive eggs, the chickens are certified naturally grown with organic feed (see Randy Buchler's column for U.P. Second Wave detailing this important distinction).
"Our number one priority is the quality of our eggs," says Buchler. "We put quality before profit. We accept a lower profit margin to provide the most nutrient-dense, protein packed eggs we can possibly offer to our family and community. In order to achieve this, a farm must have the healthiest and well cared for livestock. That's why we use the highest quality feed we can get, which is nearly double the cost of conventional feed."
And if you do the math, it's actually not that expensive to eat such a healthy alternative. Even at $5.49 a dozen, each egg costs the consumer just $0.46--that's a mere 92 cents for two eggs at breakfast.
Some local businesses have been doing the math, and Rock River Café in Chatham is one of them. Owners Pat Nesberg and John Filus offer up local eggs on some of their menu items, such as their farm burger and their Cobb salad. Additionally, they use them in any recipe that calls for eggs, such as cheesecake and bread pudding. Not only did Nesberg say they buy local eggs--and as many other locally-sourced products as possible--to help support the local economy, she says they do so because of their commitment to serving only the best to their customer.

"Our restaurant serves high-quality ingredients and menu items," she says. "It just so happens that local ingredients including eggs are higher quality than national brands. It's a perfect situation. As we seek higher quality, we find local. As we seek local sources, we find higher quality. In the case of eggs, the quality lies in the freshness of the product, the feed the chickens ingested while creating the egg, and the air they breathed while wandering throughout their day. These eggs conform to our principle of serving simple, pure ingredients unimpaired by unnatural engineering."

The national trend is starting to lend itself to a higher-quality egg, too. According to the American Egg Board, as of March 2012, cage-free egg production accounts for 5.7 percent of the entire United State's flock size. Of this, 2.9 percent is focused on producing organic eggs.
"The demand for local eggs and local meat products continues to grow as community members seek trusted alternatives to industrially-raised food," said Spencer. "The 13,977 dozen eggs sold in 2012 represent over $50,000 in revenue to these small-scale family farms which is multiplied when the dollars, again, stay in the local economy. It's hard to justify writing a check to a concentrated battery-cage farm who-knows-where when the benefits to our neighbor-farmers are so real."
And if that weren't enough, then consider that buying local eggs means you know exactly where your eggs came from. No question of freshness. No question of the quality of environment the chickens live in. No question about the handling of the product.
"People should consider buying local eggs because they are the next best thing to having chickens in your own back yard," says Buchler, who is happy to say Shady Grove Farm offers customers grateful eggs, laid by hippy chicks. "They are the freshest eggs you can get. Come and meet your farmers. See the operation and the chickens that are laying your eggs. Support your local economy; know where your money is going."
"Eggs at the local grocery may be cheaper, but they are not fresh and you know nothing about where they came from most of the time. One of the most important things we do each day is eat, so we should be putting premium foods in our bodies. Look at eating healthy as a form of health insurance. Buying local gives you the opportunity to know your food and farmers," says Buchler.
Sam Eggleston is the managing editor of U.P. Second Wave. He was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula and has more than a dozen cage-free chickens on his property that help keep him and his family eating fresh, local eggs all year. He can be reached via email

Photos by Shawn Malone.
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