Eggs-Change Turning the Organic Affordability Question on its Head

We get it. Organic food typically costs more than conventional, that that’s a significant barrier for people under financial strain. Food activists are working toward big-picture, systems-wide changes that could make organic food more affordable, but in the meantime one company in New York State is trying to make organic food more affordable and accessible–one dozen eggs at a time.

Dean Sparks is already working hard to scale up the organic dairy and egg market in New York. His NYFoods company makes organic farming a viable options for farmers–and organic options more available for consumers. The eggs, cheese, butter, and milk sell in nearly 30 stores throughout the region and supplies all the milk and cream for Brooklyn’s adored Blue Marble Ice Cream. But after reading Start Something That Matters by Toms Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie, Sparks wanted to do more.

If Mycoskie could give away a pair of shoes for every pair he sold, could NYFoods give away a dozen eggs for every dozen it sold?

Sparks is trying out this model at the Mott Haven Farmer’s Market in the South Bronx. Working in partnership with fresh food distributor Regional Access and local community organizers, NYFoods gives away a dozen eggs to every shopper at the market. This not only delivers free organic eggs to the community, it also provides an enticement for the community to shop at the market in the first place. It didn’t hurt that at the program’s launch on September 28 shoppers got samples of Blue Marble Ice Cream as well.

“Organic eggs from pastured hens are a healthy source of protein that’s so hard to find in many food-desert communities, even in New York City,” says Dean Sparks of NYFoods. “Free, certified organic pastured New York eggs from our small, family-owned farms in upstate New York are full of protein, vitamin E and omega 3 fatty acids. Any family in need can use them at home, regardless of their cooking skills or kitchen tools.”

How is this a viable business model for NYFoods? By making judicious use of what the hens produce. The company selects only extra-large eggs for the cartons sold for a premium at stores like Whole Foods. But those pastured hens are also laying smaller eggs–a bit too small for retail but still high-quality and nutrient-dense. The smaller eggs would otherwise be sold as egg whites, but NYFoods is distributing them for free.

The food news has been devastating lately with widespread contamination outbreaks emerging seemingly every day. Hearing about a food company working on positive change gives me a bit of hope for our food system. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see similar programs spread across the country?

11 thoughts on “Eggs-Change Turning the Organic Affordability Question on its Head

  1. As soon as the producer makes no more money using organic growing standards than he/she would make using conventional growing standards, then most producers will go back to conventional. Although you have some evangelists… true believers in organic food, most see this as a niche market that commands a premium.

    Take away the economic incentive to grow food in a slightly more environmentally friendly/less efficient way, and there is no reason for that standard to be employed.

  2. Sam,

    You can have your own opinions, but not your own facts. Organic food in the US is now 5% of total sales. Science is backing, time and time again, that food grown without poison is somewhat healthier for you than food grown with poison. Please allow consumers to make the choices they see fit in regard to what they eat. Thank you!!

  3. To think that people who farm organically are only doing it for the money means that you just don’t get it. Also, you need to look at the latest Rodale report – your facts are all wet – organic farming methods are just as efficient as the poisonous methods.

  4. This is an incredible idea with significant potential for mainstream consumers.

    First, by providing a better-than-conventional, healthy food incentive, shoppers will begin to appreciate the clearly better path of organic foods without changing their spending priorities. Sort of like an organic test drive.

    Second, beyond the product level benefits, these shoppers will begin to increase the frequency of shopping trips to retailers taking concrete steps to help move eaters toward better foods. Building such loyalty with consumers will help accelerate dietary transitions, despite perceived higher costs, and create more profitable relationships between retailer and their customers.

    Finally, in the face of “advocates” for the Big Ag and Big Food status quo, you are launching an initiative that will reward producers in ways that neither can easily offer, i.e., producers hard work in nurturing healthy, organic foods will nurture the health of those eating it. A win-win!

    Keep up the fantastic work!

    Cheers,

    Rob Smart
    Shelf to Seed

  5. Dean- can you explain more how this model works for the farmer? Do they get paid for the free eggs you distribute? Our pullet eggs, which are the small eggs you describe, sell quite well for a good price. I am not really sure why the farmers could not find a ready market that is willing to pay for the fresh pullet eggs, but does your program still pay them a fair price for them? Thanks- I would love to hear more about the internal workings of this model!

  6. This is a wonderful idea Dean! Keep up the great work. I’m curious to see you answers to Rebecca’s questions. We often give away free eggs to our meat customers as a way to build loyalty.
    As for Sam: really?

  7. @Sam – as soon as fossil fuel scarcity drives up the prices of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, conventional farmers will switch to organic.

    Yeah, organic has a price edge right now, but someday the cost of conventional farming will match or exceed that of organic farming. You can’t bet that fossil fuels will last forever, or that they will be used for farming when viable alternatives such as organic exist.

    I say – more power to them. And don’t you dare turn those gorgeous eggs into egg whites!

  8. All,

    Unlike backyard flocks, our production is a rotationally grazed, grass fed model on larger flocks (5,000 hens each). We provide at least one acre per 1,000 hens of grasslands, and the birds are rotationally grazed on fenced pasture around their laying house. They are outside from 10am until dark everyday…the girls need time in the morning to eat, preen, and lay their eggs.

    When the eggs are shipped for packaging, little or no market exists for the smaller eggs. Our producers are paid the same market rate for those eggs as they would get from the processor, and then they are packed in a simple pulp carton for distribution at the farmers markets.

    This is a trial program, and we hope to build it with partners committed to enhancing and expanding these opportunities in food deserts throughout the country. In picking up on a small, but consistent hole in our food model (in this case, something that was almost considered “waste” by some…FOR SHAME!!), we are able to efficiently and affordably provide a high quality, high protein product to families seeking alternatives for protein.

    We in no way want to suggest this is a perfect program, but rather one that, now started, can be adapted to capitalize on efficiencies at all levels in the supply chain.

    Hope this helps…let me know if I can be of service.

    Dean.

  9. Eggs are the toughest thing to buy. True farm eggs are not that easy to find. I am so lucky to get eggs from chickens I see on my friends farm, the yolks are deep orange and taste nothing like any egg buy in a store….but when his chickens slow down laying eggs, I have to find another source. Any farmer that can routinely supply dozens and dozens of eggs to a market is less likely to have real range roaming chickens. The last ones I bought from a very good organic farmers’ market were pale yellow with tiny yolks. Real farm eggs do make us elitists.

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