These days, if you look around and listen closely, you may find some chickens roaming around your neighbors’ backyards. The practice of raising and keeping chickens to produce pastured and grass-fed eggs for the family table is a growing lifestyle choice and is not unique to Swarthmore and its surrounding environs.
Once a niche practice relegated to farms (or at least those with some acres of land), backyard chickens can now be found throughout suburbia and in urban settings. Moreover, a quick survey of the eggs carried by local chain grocery stores and small grocery cooperatives suggests a growing number of people willing to spend more than $5.00 per dozen for pastured, grass-fed eggs. One has to wonder what is behind the demand for these eggs, particularly given the time, energy and cost associated with producing pastured eggs vis a vis eggs produced by intensive farming techniques.
From an environmental standpoint, chickens allowed to roam in backyards and on small farms have less destructive impact on the environment than chickens raised on industrial farms. Waste products associated with raising chickens are not confined to a single site and are commonly used as fertilizer in the yard or on the farm. Moreover, like many homegrown foods, fresh eggs from a backyard chicken coop don’t have far to travel to get to the table, thereby reducing one’s carbon footprint.
Also, according to Ms. Nadel, a growing body of scientific literature indicates greater human health benefits from pastured and grass-fed eggs and chickens as compared to commercially raised chickens. For example, they have been found to contain one-third less saturated fat and cholesterol and 1/3 more Omega 3s, a group of hard-to-find nutrients. Other benefits include freshness and taste. Local chicken owner, Katie Crawford, relates another perk. “I thought looking out the window and seeing chickens would make me feel really happy, she says, “and it does.”
Notably, there is a clear economic impact to a family’s food dollars that has to be considered when choosing “sustainable” foods, such as pastured eggs. Ms. Nadel offers a strategy that might be helpful to some. She suggests cooking more vegetarian meals, which tend to be cheaper (and healthier) than meals made with animal products, and purchasing pastured chickens and eggs as the budget allows.
Or, like many of our neighbors, you could raise chickens right in the backyard.
For more information, check out the Backyard Chicken Coop Tour on September 15, 2012, from 1:30-3:30 p.m. (www.swarthmore.coop) in Swarthmore. Brought to you by The Swarthmore Co-op and aFewSteps.org, the walking tour will visit four backyard chicken coops. The hosts will share just what it takes to raise chickens. At the conclusion of the tour, you can sample some of the fresh pastured eggs produced by Swarthmore chickens.