A New Standard for Eggs at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

January 26, 2012


Liz Hunt
Marketing & Public Relations Coordinator
Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture
Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
Phone: 415.291.3276 ext 105

A New Standard for Eggs at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) – operator of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market – has moved beyond ‘free-range’ and ‘cage-free.’ Farmers will sell only pasture-raised eggs at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market starting in February 2012.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (January 26, 2012) – Shopping for eggs can be rather confusing. At the grocery store we’re confronted with cartons that tout “cage-free” and “free-range,” but what do these labels really mean?

As it turns out, not a whole lot. The USDA does not regulate “cage-free” and “free-range” egg production. These hens are typically kept in large barns or warehouses, often thousands of hens per building.  Outdoor access, if there is any, is generally limited to a small, enclosed yard at one end of the building that goes mostly unused by the hens and offers little or no vegetation.

Industrially-raised hens are often subject to practices such as debeaking (a standard procedure when hens are raised in a crowded, stressful environments), wing clipping (cutting feathers to prevent flight), and forced molting through starvation (done to regulate the timing of feather molting, which halts egg production).  Additionally, their feed may include animal byproducts, antibiotics, and hormones. All of this is a far cry from what consumers imagine when they reach in the cooler for a dozen “free-range,” organic eggs.

Hence the need for a new standard. “Pastured” or “pasture-raised” eggs come from hens raised outside. The hens spend the majority of their days engaging in their natural behaviors, pecking and scratching on open land and eating a diverse diet.

The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA), the non-profit that runs the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, has a new egg policy effective February 1, 2012. It stipulates that farmers may sell only pasture-raised eggs at the tri-weekly farmers markets (held every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, year-round, rain or shine).

As CUESA’s Executive Director Dave Stockdale explains, “We believe that only pastured systems are sustainable and humane for the hens, and we believe pastured eggs are what customers expect to find at the farmers market.  We have received complaints from shoppers who have purchased ‘free-range’ eggs at the market and were disappointed to learn that the hens did not spend much, if any, of their lives outside.”

The new egg policy marks another important step in CUESA’s commitment to cultivating a sustainable food system. Running one of the most iconic farmers markets in the United States, CUESA has long been a leader in the movement, paving the way for other like-minded organizations. The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market was one of the first in the state to accept food stamps. In 2008 the market initiated a waste-wise program which keeps 90% of the farmers market waste out of the landfill, and in 2009 the market banned plastic bags. CUESA continues to create educational resources that are used nationwide.

CUESA defines a sustainable food system as one that is environmentally responsible, socially just, humane and economically viable.  These principles are reflected in the organization’s sustainability framework (http://www.foodwise.org/page/sustainability), which guide the education efforts and changes to the market rules and selection criteria.

“We not only offer the best quality produce you can find; we feel it is also our responsibility to encourage our sellers to become more sustainable,” states Dexter Carmichael, Director of Operations for the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. “The USDA has yet to embrace and define a standard for pastured eggs. In light of this absence, and with growing consumer concerns about health standards for poultry, we have defined what this means for our farmers.  Pasture-raised birds are kept outside, as the season and daylight hours permit, utilizing a movable or stationary house for shelter. They have constant access, as conditions allow, to fresh-growing palatable vegetation, with protection from predators when needed. We verify the growing practices of our farmers with farm visits and an extensive application process.”

This past fall CUESA published an article, A New Era for Eggs, in its weekly e-letter. Following the article many notable voices in the sustainable food movement praised CUESA for its bold new egg policy. Customers also responded strongly. Charlie Sowell of Rolling Oaks Ranch said, “Ever since the article, shoppers have been specifically seeking out pastured eggs in the market. They ask whether my hens are pasture-raised before making their purchases.”

Starting in February, shoppers are guaranteed that all eggs purchased from farmers at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market come from pastured hens. Not only will shoppers have the peace of mind that they are supporting a sustainable food system and the humane treatment of animals, but they will also enjoy distinct health benefits. Pastured eggs have around 10 percent less fat, 40 percent more vitamin A, 34 percent less cholesterol, and up to 20 times more healthy omega-3 fatty acids than those from factory farms (http://www.localharvest.org/pastured-eggs.jsp).

Raising chickens in a sustainable, humane manner costs more. Stockdale says, “We know that price is a concern to many, especially in the current economy.  And we know that until good food is affordable to all, our food system will not be sustainable.  But we feel strongly that low prices cannot come at the expense of farmers, farm workers, animals, or the environment.  We believe that only pasture-raised eggs reflect the values of a sustainable food system, and we believe that $0.60 per egg (the approximate price of a pastured egg) is a good value for a high-protein, flavorful, humane product.”

Further Reading
A New Era for Eggs
New Standards for Humane Eggs (PDF)
Egg Definitions, Producers, and Articles
CUESA’s Sustainability Frameworks (PDF)
Beyond Cage-Free: A Panel Discussion


Interested in learning more about pasture-raised eggs? CUESA is hosting a panel discussion, Beyond Cage-Free, on Thursday, February 16, 2012 from 6:30pm – 8:30pm, at the Ferry Building. Join CUESA for a dialog with Douglas Gayeton, creator of The Lexicon of Sustainability, a series of “information art” photo collages that teach the vocabulary of sustainable agriculture, and two Ferry Plaza farmers who offer pastured eggs: Marin Sun Farms owner David Evans and Charlie Sowell of Rolling Oaks Ranch. The event will include a screening of “The Story of an Egg,” one of 24 short films that will supplement the Lexicon. The discussion goes from 6:30 until 8:00. A reception with farmers market refreshments will follow. A $5 donation will be requested at the door (no one turned away).


The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) a non-profit whose mission is to cultivate a sustainable food system through the operation of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and its educational programs.