There are many ways of understanding simple things, but generally the opposite is true for difficult ideas.Miyamoto Musashi
There are so many things we take for granted. Truths we just accept.
But when somebody speaks the truth of why we take that for granted we are enlightened. Our mind opens in a sort of “Ah-Ha” moment. What we accepted as true becomes clear, but now we know the why behind the what.
It just takes the right person to put the words in front of us to expand our mind and alter our perspective.
Christine and I were fortunate enough to have this happen on our recent trip to the Homesteaders of America Conference in Front Royal, Virginia.
This was a great conference. Our first. There were a number of exceptional speakers who shared their knowledge with participants this year. If you were willing to listen, someone there was willing to teach you.
But one of the most eye opening speakers this year for me was Tom Watkins of Murray McMurray Hatchery in Webster, Iowa.
Christine and I have known Tom for just over two years now. We first met him at the Homestead Festival at Rory Feek’s place in Tennessee. We knew Tom from his appearances on Roots & Refuge with Jessica Sowards and were thrilled to meet him in person. Plus, we had purchased chickens from his hatchery earlier in the same year that we first met.
Tom’s always been great to chat with and to catch up with at each homesteading event we attend. He’s gained customers for life from Christine and I.
Attending his talk at the HOA Conference, however opened my mind to something I hadn’t considered before. At least not in the way that Tom presented it. But it was a truth that rang loud and clear once he spoke it. And it has rattled around in my brain ever since.
You see, one of the benefits of our homestead has been a surplus of eggs provided by our laying flock. We easily have more eggs than we can use. Even in the winter months when the hens lay fewer eggs, we are always flush with eggs. So the sale of eggs has been one of the constant income streams that has supported our homesteading dreams.
We sell farm fresh eggs for $4.00 per dozen. That seems to be about the going rate for our area. Where farm fresh eggs were sold for as little as $3.00 a dozen the year before, inflation seems to have kicked everyone around us up to the $4.00 range.
But every once in a while someone will comment that they can purchase eggs at the store for .98 cents a dozen. And that’s true. Mass produced, commercially available eggs can be had for quite a bit less than what it costs us to produce them.
We can argue all day long that our eggs are better. They simply taste better. They’re higher in nutritional content than store bought eggs. Once you’ve had them you can tell the difference between store bought and farm fresh eggs.
Our chickens live better lives. They eat better diets. Their eggs are superior to store bought eggs in every way.
But the cost difference is a hard argument to overcome.
In a time where inflation is running rampant and every family is closely watching every dollar, the $3.02 difference between farm fresh eggs and store bought eggs is hard to overlook.
But at this year’s HOA event, Tom pointed out something that I often forget to factor into our cost differences.
You see, the $4.00 per dozen we offer eggs at is the cheapest we can do because of our input costs into raising the chickens. We foot all of that bill ourselves. Feed, housing, animal care, collection… that’s all on us. No one subsidizes our work. Our costs are directly translated into the prices we sell our eggs.
At this point we don’t even figure in a salary for ourselves. We’re simply covering feed and housing of the flock.
And this is what Tom expertly brought to the front of our brains during his talk.
You see, the grocery store subsidizes eggs greatly. They sell them at cheaper than it costs them to sell them!
Because they use the lower price on eggs to draw you in to purchase other products that they make significantly more money on.
They lose a few dollars on egg sales, but they make far much more money on shelf stable goods that cost them pennies to produce and that have a significantly longer shelf life than the “fresh” eggs they purport to sell.
Think about it. Eggs, milk, bread, fresh vegetables… these items all have relatively limited shelf lives. A week, maybe two, and they begin to expire or go bad. But overly processed, factory produced foods are shelf stable for months at a time. And they can be produced at pennies on the dollar compared to fresh, real foods.
A gallon of milk lasts what, two- to three-weeks on the shelf? But a package of mac-and-cheese is shelf stable for a year or more. Fresh vegetables last perhaps a week on the grocers shelf, but a canned soup or a microwavable dinner will easily last a year. Natural, preservative free bread should not last past a single week, but commercially packaged stuffing mixes will potentially outlive you and me. Plus these items are far cheaper to produce per serving than what fresh, real foods are.
But grocery stores lure you in with the promise of cheap eggs, milk, bread, and fresh vegetables to get you to purchase the items from which they make far greater profits.
Grocers sell you a dozen eggs below what it costs them to purchase those eggs. But they know they’ll make a profit on the can of soda, the bag of chips, or the microwavable dinner that you’ll purchase in the name of convenience.
Tom pointed this out as a sort of an aside note in his presentation, but it struck a deep chord within both Christine and I.
Sure, you’re paying less for those eggs. Or that milk. Or the chicken. Or the beef. But you are paying more for so many other things that the savings on the eggs, milk, chicken or beef, that the grocer can absorb the loss.
And the product you are buying at a lesser cost is truly an inferior product. The eggs are not as rich in color, flavorful, packed in nutrients, or beneficial as their farm raised equivalents.
Compound that with the higher priced, commercially mass-produced, shelf-stable inferior products that we purchase along with those subsidized eggs and we are actually paying a much higher price for less nutrient dense and flavorful foods.
It is just one more way that the current food system is stacked against us.
We need to demand better. We need to prioritize locally produced, more nutritionally sound, better foods in our food system. We need to opt out of heavily subsidized, lower quality foods and improve real food access for everyone.
Christine and I know that. But now it is on us to spread that awareness to others.
Thank you, Tom Watkins. You’ve enlightened us and we are better for it.
Hopefully we can all work to a more fair, equitable, and honest food system. Because, without a doubt, the current one is broken.