Some sustainability issues are so obvious that they shouldn't even need to be explained, but unfortunately we live in a society supporting some unfathomably unsustainable and unethical systems that what counts as normal has been totally flipped on its head and the simple act of doing things in a non horrible way can be seen as a radical idea. The Vital Farms pasture-raised eggs story is one such example.
Here's a thought: let's not cram millions of chickens in cages packed so tight that we have to cut their beaks off just so they don't peck one another to death. And, maybe let's consider letting chickens, you know, flap their wings, go outside, walk around? Could we try that?
Sadly, letting chickens be chickens is a radical idea, but thankfully we've still got some radical farmers in the United States willing to do things the old fashioned and more sustainable way.
Here's the deal: if you haven't watched the video above, give that a look because it will explain what I'm going to say from here on better than I can.
At South by Southwest Eco, I met Aurora Porter from Austin-based Vital Farms, who explained the benefits of pasture-raising chickens.
Pasture-raising is the way things should be. It is the opposite of the cruel, unethical factory-scale farming that most commercial egg producers practice. As Aurora explained to me, pasture-raising means the eggs are 100% organic. It means no pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals are ever introduced to the chickens, their eggs, or the pasture, which also ensures no harmful runoff in our streams, rivers, and oceans. According to Aurora, Vital Farms farmers also rotate pastures weekly to ensure fresh nutrition for the chickens as well as time for the land to rest, pathogens to run their course and the pasture to be fertilized.
In addition to being great stewards of the land and treating the chickens well, Vital Farms also utilizes a network of family-owned farms, which is where the current crowd-sourced fundraising campaign enters. Vital Farms is raising money via When You Wish to help add another family farm to their network.
When you stop and think about the horrific ways many eggs are produced - the clipped beaks, cramped quarters and toxic filth - it's soon clear that the only reason people would do such a thing is money. When you set aside ethics, it is more efficient to keep chickens in one big building, prevent them from going outside, pump them full of antibiotics to counter the horrific conditions and so forth. It also saves money by reducing jobs. With such "efficient" facilities, one guy can run an egg farm with tens of thousands of birds. To do pasture-raised eggs right - letting the birds in and out, moving the coops and fence - Aurora told me you need one guy for just 2,000 birds. To some, that may sound counter-intuitive to highlight inefficiency as a business advantage, but consider how many more farmers are put out of work by the large-scale producers. Going small and slow can create jobs, protect the land and generate a superior product. Oh, and it won't rot your soul on the ethical front.
If you want to help support family-owned farms and contribute to helping to right the upside down system of egg production in the US, check out the Vital Farms fundraiser over at When You Wish. It won't be easy to change the systemic problems of unethical and unsustainable farming, but we have to start somewhere.