Up until about 3-4 years ago, I never put a ton of thought into where my food comes from. It comes from HEB, right? (Or insert your favorite grocery store). Thanks to social media and a LOT of consumer activism, more and more information is surfacing about the quality of life for the animals raised for food. While there are, obvious ethical problems associated with poor living conditions for the animals, the less obvious problem is that it affects how nutritious those animals or animal by-products end up being for us.
Farm animals like chickens, pigs and cows that are raised in conventional farms are pumped with antibiotics, sick, injured, stressed, and quite often, not fed the food they are meant to eat (they are usually fed GMO corn or soy and they are meant to eat grass, bugs, worms, etc). Just do a quick Google search of "chicken factory farming" if you'd like to see images of the quality of life for these animals.
Pasture-raised animals are happy, healthy, stress-free, and full of nutrients. You are what you eat- which one do you want to be?
There’s so much that goes into this topic, but today I’ll be focusing primarily on eggs and chickens since poultry is the number one meat consumed in America.
I visited Three Sister Farms located just north of Tomball, TX. I’ve been buying their eggs, poultry and bones (for stock) for a few months now and absolutely love their taste and quality. Their eggs are incredibly bright and orange- a reflection of the healthy living conditions of the hens, plus the quality of their feed. And you can DEFINITELY taste the difference. Once you have a farm-fresh egg, you’ll never be able to eat a conventionally-raised egg again!
See below photo comparison.
Top right- Three Sister Farms pastured egg. Bright orange, larger, less opaque, and thicker in consistency.
Bottom left- Eggland's Best conventionally raised egg. Yellow, more opaque and more runny in consistency.
I decided that I need to see this place for myself and figure out how they produce such tasty eggs while ensuring a happy and stress-free environment for the animals. Sara Wilson, the owner of Three Sister Farms, graciously allowed me to visit the farm and gave me the grand tour, which consisted of visiting the hens, the chickens raised for meat, the pigs and the ducks. I also got to play with some of their beautiful farm dogs- day=made!
Interview with Sara Wilson, owner of Three Sister Farms in Tomball, TX
H: Tell me how Three Sister Farms got started.
Sara walked over to a wall of photos by her desk.
S: This is my grandfather, and this is my great-grandfather; both Swedish. It was always in my blood to be a farmer. I tried working desk jobs, and couldn’t do it. My parents got these 60 acres of land here in Tomball about 4 years ago. I came over here and started raising the animals.
Walking to another photo- This is Justin; we met at 13 years old. We’ve been best friends for like 23 years.
You can meet Justin every Saturday at the Urban Harvest Farmer's Market!
H:What practices do you have in place to make sure your customers are getting the best quality eggs, poultry, and meat?
S: Rotating our pasture and keeping the animals happy, and feeding them a good-quality feed. We always make sure the customers are happy- if a customer brings something back because of an error, we make it right. We provide great customer service. We also have a loyalty program for eggs- you buy 10 dozen and you get the 11th for free. HEB and Whole Foods don’t do that. We want you to come back and shop with us instead of cheating on us with HEB.
H:What are the health benefits of consuming local, pasture raised eggs?
S: Good quality, pastured eggs have higher Omegas, more vitamins and minerals. They are also fresh-everything we bring to you at the market is only 2-3 days old. When you get eggs at the grocery store, they’re probably 2 weeks old by the time they hit the shelves. Also, you’re supporting a local business. You keep the money circulating in our local economy. Three Sister Farms employs 2 people full time, and 3 people part-time. It creates jobs locally within 45 minutes of downtown.
H: Additionally, what are the economic and environmental benefits?
S: Instead of a confinement barn that creates bad smells and environmental toxins, by moving the chickens to different parts of the pasture, we don’t have to use commercial fertilizers with nitrogen. The chickens eat the grass, then fertilize it. They are also scratching, pecking, tilling, and massaging the ground. I’m no scientist, but you can tell where a patch of chickens has been, because once you move them and the grass grows back, it’s greener and healthier.
H:What questions should consumers be asking stores/vendors to ensure their eggs are ethically and sustainably produced?
S: The Ag industry does a great job of pulling the wool over our eyes when it comes to labels.
Sara brought out a few empty egg cartons from a cabinet with various labels.
“Organic Large Brown Eggs- Free Range”- Ok, that just means they opened a door of a barn and maybe gave them a tiny bit of space inside or outside (unclear), and fed them organic feed.
“Organic Large Brown Eggs”- doesn’t say anything about the condition the chickens lived in. So most likely, these birds were possibly in cages their whole lives, but given organic feed.
“Cage Free” -that means they’re in a barn, with one square foot of space. Doesn’t mean they had access to grass or sunlight.
So, what you want to ask is, “Are they pasture-raised?” You are what you eat, just like the chickens are what they eat. You want chickens that are eating grass, bugs, worms, and a quality feed. Keep in mind, there’s no industry standard for these labels which is why Big Ag gets away with this stuff. Before I started doing this, I didn’t understand the difference, even though I came from a farming background. So, what makes you think the average person would understand the difference?
People go to the store and wonder why they should pay $2 more for pasture-raised eggs. Now you know what you’re paying for- there’s a lot more behind it. Cheap food comes at the cost of the farmer, the environment, and the animal. Pork raised in confinement barns causes the pigs to suffer. No space, no access to outdoors. Our pigs get to be pigs. Our chickens get to be chickens. Chickens want to scratch, peck, take a dust bath, lay an egg, and move on with their day!
Three Sister Farms is located in Tomball, Texas. You can find them at the following Farmer’s Markets on Saturdays:
Tomball Farmer's Market - Known for their local selection of fruits, veggies and prepared foods. Open Saturdays 9am -1pm *Open rain or shine!* Located at 205 W. Main St. on the corner of Main Street (FM 2920) and Walnut Street in Downtown Tomball two blocks west of the railroad tracks, you will find plenty of free parking.
Urban Harvest Farmers Market - Open Saturdays 8am – 12pm Located at 3000 Richmond Ave, Houston, TX 77098
Gramen Farm (eggs) - Open Mondays 9am-6pm, Saturdays (am-5pm, Sundays 12p -5pm Located at 20158 Hockley Rd., Tomball TX 77377
You can also order online for pickup at the farm, or at one of the Farmer’s markets by ordering through the store in their website:
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