The demand for farm-fresh organic eggs is up in Sonoma County after a national outbreak of salmonella last month created a massive recall of millions of mass-produced, grocery-store eggs linked to salmonella.
The increased interest in organic, locally produced eggs has put more pressure on the small egg producers who are already struggling to keep up with demand. Eggs at farmers markets are snapped up quickly. Small farmers with chickens take orders in advance, and customers come right to the farms to pick them up.
Halfway through the Santa Rosa Farmers Market last Wednesday morning, there were still some local eggs available.
"On Saturdays, our eggs are usually gone by 8 or 9 a.m.," said Jill Adams of Crescent Moon Farms in Santa Rosa. "The early crowd gets the eggs."
Both egg producers and customers expressed outrage — but no real surprise — at the news that the massive salmonella outbreak traced to the chicken's feed had sickened hundreds of people nationwide.
"When people eat those eggs, they need to think about what they're eating," said Hector Alvarez of Hector's Honey, who sells farm-fresh eggs. "What you eat is what you're seeing in the news .<TH>.<TH>. There's no light or sun, and the chickens are fed and treated like a machine."
Uwe Schroeder of Santa Rosa, holding a basket of fruits and vegetables he had purchased for the week, said he blames the customer for demanding cheap food.
"If you are asking for crap, you will get that," he said. "I eat maybe six eggs a month, but for that, I can pay 50 cents an egg."
Those who had already made the decision to buy free-range, organic eggs from local farmers said they felt relief when they heard the news about tainted eggs distributed nationwide that were traced to two giant producers in Iowa.
"I had just gone up to a farm in my neighborhood on West Sexton in Sebastopol when I heard about the recall," said Lacey Reese a personal chef and owner of Natural Chef Services. "I paid $5 a dozen .<TH>.<TH>. and we walk up there to get them."
Many of the farmers who sell at local farmers markets said that their eggs often are sold out within minutes of opening their stand.
"My problem is that our supply is down," said Larry Kidneigh of Triple T Ranch and Farm in Santa Rosa. "The flock is older, and we have new ones coming in, but we're in a transition period right now."
Grower Tom Noble of Armstrong Valley Farm in Guerneville said he thinks customers are not only looking for healthy eggs, but ones with good flavor.
"My goal is to try to make a nice-flavored egg with a deep, rich yolk," he said. "It completes my goal when people say they can't buy a supermarket egg anymore, after tasting my eggs."
The advice to know your farmer is one that chef/owner John Franchetti of Rosso restaurant in Santa Rosa has always taken to heart, especially when it comes to eggs.
"Whenever I meet an egg farmer, I always get to know him," Franchetti said. "You can't have too many egg farmers, because production is limited."
If you don't want to fight the crowd at the farmers market, you can always arrange to pick up your eggs right at the source.