Quality over quantity. Did anyone else grow up hearing this adage? My father, avid budget follower and ultra tight penny-pincher was insistent on it. Although he did not spend his hard earned money on much, when he did, you can be sure that he had bought it based off of many hours of research and that it was of high quality. Back then, the internet was not a tool for research, so gathering information on anything involved trips to the library, lots of phone calls, and face-to-face interactions with others who had used or bought the product in question. It seems to me that back then (during the 1980s-1990s), the amount of cheaply made things just did not exist in the amounts that they do today, or, if they did, that I was just not as aware as I am as an active consumer rather than a child.
Although more commonly used when considering the purchase of non-consumable items, I had the unique experience of this philosophy as applied to our food as well. As a child of a chemical engineer and a stay at home mom, I had the benefit of sharing in the knowledge of what was in my food as well as the nutritional benefit of having nutritious, home cooked meals. At the time, of course, I had no idea that this weird label reading thing that my parents did was ahead of their time and that someday, I’d be so grateful for that knowledge. As a preteen, I bemoaned the days when a farm delivery truck delivered meats, eggs, and milk to our garage refrigerator in the suburbs, and I cringed when the only prepackaged food available for my friends was a single bag of organic corn chips; our once a month family splurge. Little did I realize then, that with every bite, I was fine tuning my taste buds and nourishing my body to set me up for a life of good health.
Of course, as things go, the college years came and went. Although I continued to live at home, my food choices were typically ones offered at the college cafe or vending machine. After not being exposed to any of these heavily processed foods as a child, I thankfully didn’t really develop much of a taste for them, and reverted back to real food eating rather quickly. As time went by, and I found myself starting a family, I became more interested in providing my own family with the most nourishing foods that I could.
My path began with the organic section at the supermarket, then the local food co-op, and finally directly to the farmers who were growing the food. As the number of steps decreased between farmer and consumer, I noticed a few things. First and foremost, I found myself more connected to the community. I began to meet others who shared common values. I also became friends with the people who were providing my family with nourishing food. Secondly, I became invested in what was happening on these farms; with the families, the animals, and the land. As I became more invested, I also became more educated. Lastly, I began to notice a difference in taste and quality between the food I’d buy at the co-op and what I’d buy directly from my farmers. (You will frequently hear me refer to farmers as “my” or “our”. This is not to show possession, but rather is a term of endearment as I truly consider them as part of my close circle of friends).
Although there are quite a few things that I notice a stark difference about, one of the most significant, and one that I consider to be a rather simple switch are eggs. For our family, and for many others, eggs are a staple. One dozen eggs can provide my family of six with a nourishing meal when combined with some sausage and sourdough toast. It is one of the most affordable meals out there, and when sourcing high quality eggs, it is one of the most nourishing as well (in my opinion).
If you were to go to the grocery store today, you might ask, “How do I know which carton to buy?” With so many labels out there, even purchasing something as simple as eggs has turned into a research project with ever changing parameters. We have cage free eggs, organic eggs, free- range eggs, and pasture raised eggs. It’s no wonder that a trip to the grocery store can turn into a confusing and stress filled event.
My first tip would be to try and find a local farmer from whom to buy your eggs. Not sure where to go? Meet Ryan and Desiree Nelson of Nelson Grass Farm. After managing a sheep farm in the south metro, Ryan and Desiree made the decision that farming was the life they wanted for their family. Inspired by the works of Joel Salatin from Polyface Farm in Virginia, and featured in such films as Food Inc and the book, Omnivores Dilemma, the Nelsons resolved in their abilities to run a farm that was both profitable as a business and sustainable to the environment.
Officially founded in 2012, Nelson Grass Farm, located in Ogilvie, MN, offers pastured raised and soy free eggs, chicken, and pork. What exactly does pasture raised mean? It really refers to the amount of space allowed for each hen. By nature, chickens are actually omnivores, eating bugs and slugs and worms along with grasses. One pastured hen is given at least 108 square feet of space to roam around and eat. At NGF, their brood has about 20 acres on which to feed from a mobile feeding shelter. In a space that large, hens will only cover the same ground twice each year. This way of raising laying hens differs greatly from those who are raised cage free or free- range. Cage free hens have less than 1 square foot of space in which to live and are fed primarily corn and soy. Free range hens have slightly more space at 2 square feet of space. They may get outside occasionally and are most likely fed corn and soy feed.
|Hen Type||Amount of Daylight||Space/Hen||Type of Feed|
|Cage Free||None||1-1.5 square feet||mainly soy and corn|
|Free Range||Very little; None required for label||2 square feet||mainly soy and corn|
|Pastured||Access sunrise-sunset with access to barn required||108 square feet||some feed along with bugs, grubs, worms, scraps|
If you happen to compare the yolk and the taste of a yolk from a pastured hen and that from a free range or cage free hen, you are bound to notice a difference. Here is where the ‘quality over quantity’ plays in. Although slightly more expensive than their cage free and free range counterparts, the bright orange yolks from a pastured hen contain more 7 times more beta carotene, times more vitamin D, 4 times more vitamin E, and twice as much brain healthy Omega 3s than other egg varieties.
At Nelson Grass Farm, Desiree and Ryan farm from the soil up. Every decision made is determined by how it will effect the farm as a whole and in the long term. Practically speaking, this means that decisions are not solely made based on the bottom line. The uniqueness of this model is what sets small farms apart from larger corporations. Although fancy grocery store packaging may lead a consumer to believe that they are sourcing their food from a picturesque, family farm, the real deal can only be found when sourcing directly from the farmer when a visit to the farm can immediately indicate the truth in packaging. For a small farmer, transparency and integrity are paramount to their growth and survival.
When asked what the most difficult part of the day is, Desiree notes that bedtime comes along much too quickly as there is never enough time in the day to accomplish everything. Her favorite part of the day? Being outside, enjoying whatever crazy weather that Minnesota has to offer.
(Boneless breast sale and pre order pork info here)