Guide: 5 Local Bay Area Egg Producers You Should Know

Local eggs for sale at the grocery store. (Kelly O'Mara)

When you stand in front of the egg cases at the grocery store it can all start to seem a little overwhelming. What's the difference between fertile and non-fertile? Grade A or AA? Brown and white eggs? With the increase in local eggs in recent years, how do you know which ones are the best ones and which are going to be recalled for Salmonella?

Let's get one thing out of the way to start with: The color of the egg's shell comes from the breed of hen, while the color of the yolk is a result of what the hen eats.

Although brown eggs often command a higher price than white eggs, most farmers will tell you there's no real difference. It's more a matter of preference. And prices overall for eggs are on the rise this year anyway, because of an increase in demand and a decrease in international production due to avian influenza. Not to mention there are more fancy local organic vegetarian-fed pasture-raised eggs than ever.

To understand all those various labels, there are a handful of definitions to know:

Organic

Organic is a specific and regulated term that means the chickens and their eggs meet USDA organic requirements. Generally, organic standards require the hens to eat organic-certified feed (and, if they're on pastures, organic-certified grass and pasture). The chickens also can't receive most drugs or hormones, and must have access to the outdoors. However, the current Trump administration has planned to roll back organic egg standards and one of the first things to go was stricter animal welfare rules that would have outlined precisely how much space and what kinds of outdoor access should be required.

Cage-Free

Cage-Free is a USDA label that means the hens aren't held in cages, though they typically are kept in a large barn. Free-Range is also a USDA-regulated label that requires the hens to have access to the outdoors. What kind of outdoors access can be limited. There are also humane certifications granted by nonprofit animal welfare organizations. If eggs are certified humane and also cage-free or free-range, then that means they met the humane standards for space per hen, which are higher.

Pasture-Raised

Pasture-Raised eggs are not regulated by USDA, but generally come from hens that have continuous access to pastures. Per certified humane standards, pasture-raised hens have 108-square feet of outdoors space and indoor access for inclement weather.

Omega-3

Eggs that are labeled with extra Omega-3 simply means that the hens' feed has been fortified with omega-3 fatty acids.

Fertile

Hens lay eggs whether a rooster is involved or not, though the quantity varies over the year. Fertile eggs, however, are eggs that have been fertilized by a rooster. Nutritionally, there isn't a difference. And since eggs in the U.S. are required to be refrigerated and inspected, you won't end up with a baby chick in your egg carton no matter what.

Grade AA, A or B

The most basic of USDA standards are egg gradings. Grade AA, A or B are determined by in-depth USDA grading requirements. U.S. Grade AA eggs are the top level in consistency, with nearly flawless shells and firms yolks and whites with no defects. Grade A eggs look the same, but might have slightly inferior interior quality per specific standards. Grade B are the lowest quality eggs.

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Confused yet?

Along with USDA certifications and animal welfare standards, the most important factor, of course, is how they taste! We tried five different local eggs to compare taste and make, starting with a basic plate of scrambled eggs and expanding into other styles. (It should be noted, the biggest differences likely can be tasted in soft-boiled eggs, and the differences in taste vary over the year based on the hens' seasonal diets -- especially if they're pasture-raised and eat grass.) Hens who have access to natural light and the outdoors produce more during these longer days, which means now is the best season for fresh pasture-raised eggs. And, honestly, you can't go wrong with a dozen of any of these Bay Area eggs.

Clover's organic and organic Omega-3 eggs.
Clover's organic and organic Omega-3 eggs. (Kelly O'Mara)

Clover

Clover is perhaps the largest of the local egg and dairy producers. Their egg production operates in a similar fashion to their dairy production, which means that they contract with five local farms who are required to meet their quality and sustainability standards. The local farms then retain ownership and control, but Clover works with them to meet all standards and to systematize the process. After being laid on the farm, the eggs are then brought into the Clover facility in Petaluma and distributed either by Clover's own trucks or by their distributor, NuCal.

Clover eggs
Clover eggs (Kelly O'Mara)

What they produce

All of Clover's eggs are cage-free. They also then produce organic eggs, per stricter USDA guidelines, and organic Omega-3 eggs. These are considered a step up from cage-free eggs. This past October, they also added organic pasture-raised eggs from one local farm, which already was involved in a dairy partnership with Clover. The pasture-raised eggs aren't yet available in all stores and are limited since there are just over 3,000 pasture-raised hens. The other Clover farms are all slightly larger.

All the hens are also American Humane certified.

Sunnyside-up eggs from Clover
Sunnyside-up eggs from Clover (Kelly O'Mara)

Why buy them and what they taste like

Part of the upside of how Clover operates is that it allows the local farmers to retain control, but still gives them the benefits of working with a company that can offer support and higher prices for their eggs, as well as provide quality assurances for consumers. According to Clover's Vice President of Marketing Kristel Corson, the new pasture-raised eggs could also offer these long-time dairy farmers an opportunity to diversify their income streams and create sustainable business models.

In addition to producing cage-free, organic, and now pasture-raised eggs, Clover works with egg farms all within 100 miles of its distribution facilities. That means you're typically getting eggs in the store within 48 hours after they've been laid. That makes them all fresh and then the taste comes down to what specifically they're being fed. For example, the omega-3 eggs have a feed with extra flax seed.

Cracking Clover Omega-3 eggs.
Cracking Clover Omega-3 eggs. (Kelly O'Mara)

The extra omega-3s gives the eggs a slightly darker yolk, while the regular organic Clover eggs weren't as orange and had more ball-like yolks. Both the cartons were full of a dozen brown eggs and fairly standard looking. The omega-3 eggs were light and flat, slightly richer in taste. Both versions of Clover's eggs were fresh and clean.

Where to get them

    Clover's eggs are around $7-8/dozen.
  • Available in most Bay Area grocery stores
  • The new pasture-raised eggs are only currently available at the local chains, like Mollie Stone's and Nugget
Eggs from Uncle Eddie's, Judy's Family Farm, and Rock Island.
Eggs from Uncle Eddie's, Judy's Family Farm, and Rock Island. (Kelly O'Mara)

Judy's Family Farm & Uncle Eddie's & Rock Island

You might be more of Uncle Eddie's fan than Judy's Family Farm, but the reality is both those brands (along with the Rock Island fertile eggs) come from Petaluma Farms in Petaluma. The third-generation family farm, run by Steve and Judy Mahrt, also produces eggs for Whole Foods and Organic Valley.

Petaluma Farms produces eggs under the Rock Island, Uncle Eddie's and Judy Family Farms brands.
Petaluma Farms produces eggs under the Rock Island, Uncle Eddie's and Judy Family Farms brands. (Kelly O'Mara)

What they produce

Petaluma Farms has many thousands of hens across multiple facilities outside Petaluma that meet organic and cage-free standards. The various brands comply with the different certifications, based on the hens' feed and housing. All the hens are cage-free and fed a vegetarian diet, but some are also fed organic or omega-3 diets. However, the farm came under criticism a few years ago for an undercover video showing what animal activists deemed inhumane conditions. The Mahrts said the video showed just three hens, whose conditions were taken out of context. Additionally, Petaluma Farms has met certified humane standards at its organic facilities.

You can see a tour of Judy's Family Farm facilities in this YouTube video:

Another lawsuit was settled in 2014 over the Judy's egg carton packaging, which the Animal Legal Defense Fund claimed was misleading.

Why buy them and what they taste like

Rock Island eggs
Rock Island eggs (Kelly O'Mara)

One of the largest local organic eggs producers, Petaluma Farms supplies many of the cage-free eggs you can buy at the store at a fairly affordable price. They're also one of the original cage-free egg producers in Northern California. In fact, according to the farm press, none of the chickens at any of the Petaluma Farms are raised in cages. In addition, the Mahrts are involved in the local Sonoma County community and sponsor the Petaluma Butter & Eggs Days Festival.

Rock Island is the company's fertile egg line raised without antibiotics and 100% vegetable diet. The eggs are brown and slightly smaller, with a hard shell. And once cracked, the yolks aren't too runny or overly orange, but taste thick and full of flavor.

Scrambled eggs from Judy's Family Farm
Scrambled eggs from Judy's Family Farm (Kelly O'Mara)

Judy's eggs are brown and appear bigger than Rock Island's dozen. They're certified organic, humane and non-GMO, as well as cage-free and raised with no antibiotics. The ones I tried were also fortified with omega-3 fatty acid. Judy's tasted lighter than Rock Island, not as heavy and thick, but it's splitting hairs. They were essentially normal local eggs.

A carton of Uncle Eddie's eggs.
A carton of Uncle Eddie's eggs. (Kelly O'Mara)

The most obvious difference with Uncle Eddie's Wild Hen Farm eggs are that they're white and extra large. These cage-free eggs are verified non-GMO, no hormones or antibiotics, and are fed a vegetarian diet too -- as are most of Petaluma Farm's eggs. (Uncle Eddie's, however, are not certified humane.) They tasted slightly fluffier than the heavy Rock Island eggs, but were very similar to Judy's.

Where to get them

    The brands range from $4-5/dozen.
  • Available in most Bay Area grocery stories, including Whole Foods
Marin Sun Farms' eggs can be bought at their butcher shops.
Marin Sun Farms' eggs can be bought at their butcher shops. (Kelly O'Mara)

Marin Sun Farms

Best known for its butcher shops and grass-fed beef, Marin Sun Farms has also gained a following for its local eggs. Though the original ranch outside Point Reyes Station had hens for years, all of Marin Sun Farms eggs now come from a farm out in Fallon, on the edge of the Marin-Sonoma border.

Marin Sun Farms eggs
Marin Sun Farms eggs (Kelly O'Mara)

What they produce

All five of the farms' hen breeds are pasture-raised -- housed in large mobile henhouses and moved to fresh pasture when the grass is eaten down. The diversity of breeds is also why their egg cartons are filled with white, green, and brown eggs. The eggs are also all certified organic, meaning they're fed organic grain and that the pastures are certified organic. They're then washed, packaged, and distributed out of the Marin Sun Farms plant in Petaluma.

Marin Sun Farm eggs in the frying pan.
Marin Sun Farm eggs in the frying pan. (Kelly O'Mara)

Why buy them and what they taste like

Marin Sun Farms is known for its high-quality farm standards and working with local farmers, originally in the cattle industry, to create sustainable models that support Marin and Sonoma agriculture. Their organic, pasture-raised eggs fit with that model. You're also virtually guaranteed to have fresh eggs, if you can get your hands on some, since they sell out every week.

Because the hens are true pasture-raised, what they eat does vary over the year, as does their egg production.

Marin Sun Farms' eggs scrambled.
Marin Sun Farms' eggs scrambled. (Kelly O'Mara)

The current batch were a bit small with hard shells and a big orange yolk. That larger, heavy yolk gave the eggs more flavor and made them slightly chewier. There was a lot of egg to taste even for the smaller size.

Where to get them

    Typically, Marin Sun Farms eggs cost $9-10/dozen.
  • Available at Marin Sun Farms butcher shops in Point Reyes Station and at Market Hall in Oakland
  • Can be purchased at a few local stores, like Bi-Rite
Eatwell's carton has a home-grown quality.
Eatwell's carton has a home-grown quality. (Kelly O'Mara)

Eatwell Farm

If you're looking to have eggs delivered in your CSA box, then Eatwell could be for you. The farm out in Dixon does most of its business out of CSA boxes of seasonal produce, which includes their eggs. There are over 800 families that have CSA boxes delivered, and members are also invited to attend special events at the farm.

Eatwell eggs
Eatwell eggs (Kelly O'Mara)

In addition, they sell their eggs at farmers markets and directly to some restaurants and stores. Nopa buys cases of eggs from Eatwell, said Lorraine Walker, who owns and operates the farm since her husband died. The farm has about 2,000 hens currently laying eggs, with another 500-600 about to come into production to replace those being "retired" to the soup pot.

What they produce

The farm pulled out of organic certification for its eggs a few years ago, said Walker, because much of the grain, soy, wheat and corn that makes up organic chicken feed comes from far away due to a lack of supply locally. Often it's grown as far away as Turkey or India. Walker explained that her husband decided to instead move towards a local non-GMO feed formula made specifically for them, with as much organic material as possible -- but not 100%.

The hens are pasture-raised, however, in mobile houses that are open 24 hours a day, except when they need to be moved. And the pastures are certified organic.

Eatwell eggs in the pan.
Eatwell eggs in the pan. (Kelly O'Mara)

Why buy them and what they taste like

Obviously, the carton has a more home-grown look to it, which trickles right down to the eggs. Expect the size and shape to vary slightly from egg to egg, though they were all brown and once cracked had normal yolks. That is was happens when your food comes right from the farm. Buying from Eatwell also has the benefit of supporting the CSA, and if you become a member, then you can attend events at the farm.

Eatwell egg on toast.
Eatwell egg on toast. (Kelly O'Mara)

Of all the eggs I sampled, the Eatwell batch tasted the most different from the others. The yolks were dense and slightly chalky, but the real difference was in the whites, which were thick and had a pillowy texture.

Where to get them

Rolling Oaks eggs
Rolling Oaks eggs (Kelly O'Mara)

Rolling Oaks Ranch

The CUESA farmers market permits only pasture-raised eggs to be sold at their markets. If you're looking for small, local, straight-from-the-farm eggs, then the farmers market is a good place to start. There are a handful of notable egg producers at CUESA's markets, including Eatwell (listed above) and Rolling Oaks Ranch.

The multi-colored eggs.
The multi-colored eggs. (Kelly O'Mara)

What they produce

Rolling Oaks Ranch, in Ione, was primarily a cattle ranch with a feed and tack store when the couple, Charlie and Liz Sowell, ended up with a flock of chicks a customer had ordered. Today, they have 1,900 hens out on pasture all day and inside at night. They raise seven different breeds of hen, including the Ameraucana, which produce eggs with green or blue shells.

Because the hens stopped laying eggs during the drought at high enough rates to sell to consumers, Rolling Oaks wasn't able to offer its eggs at the farmers market for months. They recently returned when the weather and longer days got the hens going again.

Why buy them and what they taste like

This is a truly family-run operation, with Charlie himself moving the hens' homes from pasture to pasture during the week. It's not organic-certified, but the hens' grass-eating is supplemented with feed from the U.S. They're also fortified with Omega-3s.

Rolling Oaks' eggs in the frying pan.
Rolling Oaks' eggs in the frying pan. (Kelly O'Mara)

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The carton was full of multiple colors and big eggs, each with their own unique shapes and oddities. The shells were think and the yolks were big and bright yellow. The eggs, though, weren't overly rich or heavy -- more like normal, light eggs with just a little bit of extra flavor.

Rolling Oaks' eggs scrambled
Rolling Oaks' eggs scrambled (Kelly O'Mara)

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