I'm lucky enough to be able to shop at Berkeley Bowl, which offers a truly overwhelming array of egg choices: vegetarian, cage-free, free-range, Omega-3 enhanced, and/or fertile under the brands Petaluma Farms, Vege-Pro, Gold Circle Farms, B & B Farms, Uncle Eddie's, Clover Stornetta, Horizon, Judy’s Farm Fresh, Rock Island, and Happy Hens. All are in the $2+/dozen range. The only thing the Bowl doesn't have is cheap eggs from battery hens. Turns out, however, that there are fewer choices than I thought: Petaluma Farms owns Uncle Eddie's, Judy's, Gold Circle, and Rock Island.
Now, I have no problem with Petaluma Farms offering different kinds of eggs under different brands. I sort of assumed maybe they had bought a bunch of family farms and then distributed eggs. Well, as my ex-Marine dad likes to say, "'Assume' makes an ass of u and me both." (He's original that way.)
We'll take Judy's, because that's what I bought last. You would never know it was owned by Petaluma Farms from either the packaging or the Judy's Family Farm website (penned by "Judy," who says she's "just learning HTML and have no idea what this CGI stuff is yet.") What an adorable scene! Amish-looking, Holly Hobbie children holding cute little chicks in their hand. And here's what the inside of the carton says:
Thank you for purchasing Judy's Family Farm's Certified Organic Eggs. You are supporting our local family farm and also the many organic farms that supply us with the whole grains that our hens enjoy. The hens that produce these eggs are raised free of cages and can "run, scratch and play" in the fresh air of the Sonoma Valley. Enjoy one of nature's finest food sources, Judy's Family Farm's Certified Organic Eggs.
Matches the drawing nicely, doesn't it? This is an excellent example of what Michael Pollan calls "supermarket pastoral," a fairy tale written just for the consumer — meaning, oops, you just got punk'd!
Here's a screen shot of what Petaluma Farms actually looks like from above, courtesy of Google Earth and an address I tracked down from the Petaluma agribusiness association website. (click to see enlarged version). Think there's a lot of fresh air in those hangar-size sheds? Maybe the one on the left is Judy's Family chicken warehouse?
There is an actual Judy — Judy and Steve Mahrt own Petaluma Farms. Maybe there's an "Uncle Eddie," too, the guy who the carton says gave up a telecom career to raise chickens. And yes, raising chickens organically means that you have to be really careful that they don't get sick (because you can't give them antibiotics and then sell the eggs as organic) and sure, maybe chickens don't really like that fresh air and would prefer to stay inside with their 2,000 feathered friends. And we should all be happy that they haven't been de-beaked or fed animal byproducts such as beef and pork tallow, lard, and bone.
But I don't feel very happy about that right now. I feel kind of deceived and well ... like an ass. Thanks Judy! Perhaps I'll be back to buy your eggs again — after I Google Earth some of your "small, family-owned" competitors.