July 1, 2015
Real Food | Real Farmers
Toni Frank of What Came First Farm
As Toni's husband said to me, "You'd never believe she was a city girl from Chicago, huh? She's amazing." This is true. Toni Frank is amazing.
When Paul from Good Earth Organic stopped raising his organically pastured chickens, I had an egg hole in my life. So, was thrilled when Toni joined the line up at Good Local Markets. I visited her property and birds and can say with assurance - this is as good as bird life and eggs get! Before I give you the tour and breakdown of what I learned from Toni, here is a list of what I've learned makes the BEST EGGS.
HOW TO KNOW YOU'VE GOT A GOOD EGG*
*rich, orange-yellow yolk, superior flavor, lower cholesterol, substantial texture
1. KNOW YOUR FARMER
Ask them where and how they raise their chickens, what they feed them.
2. PASTURED IS THE WAY TO GO. ALWAYS.
Farm animals graze. This means, in addition to their human-provided feed, they are munching on bugs, insects and worms. They are getting sunshine. Eating native grasses. Kicking up earth. Rolling around in dirt. Breathing fresh air.
I've found that high-quality feed definitely improves the color, texture and flavor of the yolk and white. Lower-grade feed pastured eggs are still preferable over factory farm or "cage-free" (which is also factory farm). But the best of the best will be fed organic, non-gmo feed and their roaming area will be organic - no toxic chemicals used on the farm.
Now! To Toni's What Came First farm....let's take the tour...
This is Toni. She has 3 full-grown children. NOTE TO SELF: Working land, garden and nature gives you great legs!!
Toni and her husband moved to Sunnyvale, Texas from the White Rock Lake area of Dallas when her gardening passion took over all their yard space. That was over 20 years ago.
Now she has 5 acres to play with...
She's got entertaining areas, a pool, vegetable gardens, floral, koi ponds, greenhouses, offices of wom farms and chicken breeding zones.
But it's really all about "her girls," as she calls them. Any chicken is lucky to land here.
Coops for birds at different stages of their life are spread around. Young birds are kept together as they learn the farm routine. Ready to roam free once they've learned to "go to bed" at sunset, cooping at night keeps them protected from predators. By about one year old, the birds have learned to wander to their favorite coop at sunset and Toni can secure them all before dark.
Toni plants her property with specific grasses which the birds love to munch and is good for them.
Nesting structures around the property give the birdss choice areas to mingle and lay eggs. The chicken chill out houses are designed to be comfy and cool and are maintained meticulously with easy-to-clean boxes, clean hay and food & water stations. By the way, she builds all this stuff herself!
In the photos above and below, you can see the well-designed feeders. See the chickens with their heads stuck in the round, red feeders? They poke in there for a snack and get their fill or move along when another one nudges them, "Hey you! My turn."
The birds at What Came First farm live harmoniously. Ample feeders, water stations, coops and nesting areas all over Toni's property means arguments are never necessary. Plenty of trees and bushes for perching. Lots of love and care. These birds have it good. So they make good eggs.
All eggs pictured above are duck except the brown chicken egg. The tiny egg is a "fairy egg." The very first egg ever laid by this particular duck! No yolk inside, just a starter. She will lay normal-sized eggs going forward. This was the last of Toni's current ducks to start laying so I am lucky I was there for this fairy moment and spotted the egg!
Duck eggs are richer than chicken eggs because ducks have more fat. They are a luxury for baking, frittatas, quiches, french toast and such.
The ducks are separated in their own large enclosed pen with lots of pools. They are more difficult to encourage into a coop at night so the separation keeps them manageable and safe.
All the chickens who have graduated to "going to bed on their own" roam free around the property all day. Toni breeds and handles these ladies and roosters from birth to death so they are rather docile around people.
Ready for some miracle of life action? Watch the video below of a baby chick starting his break out.
As noted in my Blue Yarn Farm visit write up, male ducks and chickens (aka roosters) literally live to protect the females. They have a quick bow-chic-a-bow-bow about twice a month and the chickens stay fertile in between. So, all these fresh farm eggs are fertile. There is no embryo, though, without incubation. Which means when you eat a fertile egg you are NOT eating an embryo. There is no life unless a bird or human keeps the egg incubcated at precise conditions for days. Learn more.
Toni keeps some of the roosters she breeds and sells off the others. Like all the small farmers I've visited, she knows exactly where all her stock goes and what will happen to them.
As for the birds she keeps - as hens age, they get patchy areas where feathers don't grow so well anymore. They continue to lay eggs every once in a while but the eggs are extremely fragile and delicate - falling apart in your hand because the chicken doesn't hold calcium like she did in her youth. Just like us and our brittle old bones!
Life comes and goes and there is no better place to watch that lesson than on a farm.
The good news is, all birds who are part of Toni's flock start and end their life here. When an elder is ready to enter an eternal sleep, she will wander to her favorite coop and lie down.
Forever resting her head at home.
Know where your food comes from.
Get educated about what "conventional" and "factory farm" production actually mean.
Once you know, you won't want that in your body.
And we should all know.
Support real farmers, seek them out. They are everywhere working their asses off to bring us clean, sustainable, healthy food. Cheers to Toni Frank and the many others like her!
Stay tuned for the next edition of Real Food | Real Farmers.