Over Christmas, my friend and I held the first ever Bay Area vs. Boneyard Egg Off, pitting the eggs of TLC Ranch and Mariquita Farm of Watsonville, Cal., against those of Moore Family Farm of Watseka, Ill.
The Moore eggs hung with the others on flavor. But, since green grass has been a thing of the past for several months here, they had to take second to Mariquita on color. Like most East Central Illinois small-scale producers, the Moores have to supplement their laying hens with dry hay over the winter. It’s good, but it’s not the same as fresh pasture.
Hens raised on pasture produce eggs that are up to ten times higher in Omega-3s. These eggs can actually improve your cholesterol levels and may reduce your risk of some cancers. Additionally, people with diets high in Omega 3s are less likely to suffer from depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder and Alzheimer's disease.
However, producing eggs on pasture takes land and labor, both of which are expensive. The sad fact is that most eggs in the grocery store are laid by chickens that are kept in crowded cages with no access to fresh pasture. Worse, to keep them from pecking each other to death, the tips of their beaks are burned off.
Cage-free chickens are at least allowed to run around, albeit typically in dusty barns with no access to pasture. And before you start feeling superior about that carton of Omega-enhanced eggs in your fridge, you should realize that those chickens were given a diet that included flax seed. Flax seed is an expensive feed ingredient, but cheaper than buying pasture land. So, it’s back to cages and burned beaks.
Local eggs from small local flocks have a lot going for them when it comes to nutrition, reducing your carbon footprint, and treating chickens humanely. Unfortunately, this winter has been hard on our supply of local eggs. Cold weather has meant fewer eggs being laid, and in some instances, farmers have lost birds due to the extreme temperature shocks. Hundreds of area birds were lost due to the rain and sub-zero temperatures that followed Thanksgiving weekend.
Of course, folks in Urbana, like those in San Francisco, Chicago, London — pretty much any civilized city on the face of the earth — can raise a few birds in their backyard to keep themselves supplied with local eggs. But thanks to a 1997 Champaign Council ruling, residents of Champaign no longer have this right. This, despite the precedent of Illinois Supreme Court decisions from the same time period, which were loathe to restrict agriculture and food production.
Urbana allows residents to have up to six hens as long as they provide the birds with adequate shelter and food, and don’t let them run into neighboring properties. Note, that Urbana’s ordinance does not include roosters, which are necessary for producing baby chickens, but not eggs. It also does not include a setback requirement. Champaign’s previous ordinance stipulated that animals were to be kept 50 feet from neighboring properties. This unnecessarily penalized residents with smaller properties.
So, I am calling upon Smile Politely readers in Champaign to change the city code back to that of a civilized community and not that of a megalomaniacal, mosquito-pond-loving homeowner's association.
Contact your local council member and ask him or her to work on changing Section 7-5 of the Champaign Municipal Code to mesh with that of Urbana and other major cities, so that we can raise our own local eggs.