GASTRONOMIC SHELL GAME: Backyard Eggstasy Awaits in Metro Aurora

It’s not a yolk, Aurora, unless it comes from a chicken who gets a lot of TLC. Egg aficionados say Åconsumers are the losers when it comes to the culinary shell game that mass produces marginal eggs. See who the local winners are.

“I can’t imagine myself buying grocery store eggs ever again,” says Pamela Zorn as she describes the origin of the pearly cream, brown, light blue and mint-green eggs that are elegantly arranged in the carton in front of her. “I would probably do without eggs if I couldn’t find a farm-fresh egg.”

Those eggs are a labor of love for Zorn, who co-owns Zorn Family Farms with her husband in eastern Colorado and is also the co-owner of Wine & Whey, a cheese and winery shop where you can learn to make your own liquid of the gods in Denver’s River North neighborhood.

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Egg or chicken first? Doesn’t matter so much as it does that everything is fresh. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Magazine

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Egg or chicken first? Doesn’t matter so much as it does that everything is fresh. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Magazine

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Egg or chicken first? Doesn’t matter so much as it does that everything is fresh. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Magazine

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Egg or chicken first? Doesn’t matter so much as it does that everything is fresh. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Magazine

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Egg or chicken first? Doesn’t matter so much as it does that everything is fresh. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Magazine

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Egg or chicken first? Doesn’t matter so much as it does that everything is fresh. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Magazine

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Rebecca Stark feeds her chickens mealworms on Friday June 26, 2015 at her home in North Aurora. A measure to allow more hens is being considered by the cityÕs Housing, Neighborhood Services and Redevelopment policy committee. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

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Rebecca Stark's chickens spread out hay in the back yard on Friday. A measure to allow more hens is being considered by the cityÕs Housing, Neighborhood Services and Redevelopment policy committee. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

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Rebecca Stark cracks some of her chicken's eggs into a frying pan for breakfast on Friday. A measure to allow more hens is being considered by the cityÕs Housing, Neighborhood Services and Redevelopment policy committee. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

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Rebecca Stark's fresh eggs on Friday. A measure to allow more hens is being considered by the cityÕs Housing, Neighborhood Services and Redevelopment policy committee. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

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Rebecca Stark's four chickens have most of the backyard to roam on Friday. A measure to allow more hens is being considered by the cityÕs Housing, Neighborhood Services and Redevelopment policy committee. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

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Egg or chicken first? Doesn’t matter so much as it does that everything is fresh. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Magazine

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Egg or chicken first? Doesn’t matter so much as it does that everything is fresh. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Magazine

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Egg or chicken first? Doesn’t matter so much as it does that everything is fresh. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Magazine

She points to a pale, sky-blue egg that comes from an Araucana, a quirky, tufted hen originally bred in Chile that in recent years has become popular in America’s backyards and local farms.

“I have a barnyard mix of chickens because I like the beautiful mix of eggs,” Zorn says.

And so do her customers.

“I can’t imagine myself buying grocery store eggs ever again,”
-Pamela Zorn

Anyone who has tasted one of Zorn’s eggs immediately notices the difference between what she is selling and what can be bought at the usual grocers, or even upscale stores like Whole Foods.

Egg or chicken first? Doesn’t matter  so much as it does that everything is fresh. Photo by Trevor Davis/Aurora Magazine

“They’re more egg-y, and they’ve got more structure to them,” she explains. “The yellow is actually yellow or orange, instead of that pale butter yellow. They taste fresher because they are fresher.”

The difficult part about buying eggs, according to true connoisseurs, is you can’t really tell what’s going on with an egg by looking at its shell.

Anyone who has tasted one of Zorn’s eggs immediately notices the difference between what she is selling and what can be bought at the usual grocers, or even upscale stores like Whole Foods.

That’s why Schelli Nimz drove all the way from her home in north Aurora to purchase a dozen of Zorn’s colorful eggs on a blustery Friday in May.

Nimz, a longtime Aurora resident who last year successfully spearheaded an effort to legalize backyard chickens in the city, is now putting that same passion for local food towards her new online business, Bloominkraft UrbanAg.

Every Friday she drives a heavy-duty pickup truck from Aurora through the narrow streets of Denver to pick up eggs from Zorn for shares that are ordered through the Bloominkraft website. The site charges $6 for a dozen eggs, and offers a $20 deal for residents who sign up for a month’s worth.

Nimz says most people have the misconception that if you simply buy eggs at a farmer’s market, or ones that say “organic” on the carton, you’re automatically getting a quality product. She says she’s even heard from some people that if the eggs look a little dirtier, they are fresher.

Rebecca Stark's four chickens have most of the backyard to roam on Friday. A measure to allow more hens is being considered by the cityÕs Housing, Neighborhood Services and Redevelopment policy committee. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

“Eggs covered in poop, straw — that to me is just a really bad sign of chicken keeping,” Nimz says. She says what makes Zorn’s eggs so good is that they are extremely well taken care of: from how well the hen’s coop is managed, to what they are fed on a regular basis, to how the eggs are washed. Zorn feeds her chickens a whole ingredient feed which means it hasn’t been processed.

“It’s not a pellet and it’s not a crumble. It actually looks like birdseed, and my chickens think it’s the best thing ever,” she explains.  Zorn’s hens also eat “free range,” which she says encompasses a healthy dose of backyard bugs, mice and even snakes.

You also shouldn’t trust an egg carton that has the label ‘vegetarian-fed,’ Nimz chimes in. “Chickens are not vegetarian. But you’ll see that label in stores, and it’s a marketing gimmick. It’s very sad for the chickens because they’re omnivores.”

Nimz says most people have the misconception that if you simply buy eggs at a farmer’s market, or ones that say “organic” on the carton, you’re automatically getting a quality product. She says she’s even heard from some people that if the eggs look a little dirtier, they are fresher.

Another thing about Zorn’s eggs that makes them different from what you might find on grocery shelves is they’re not commercially washed. According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, that process involves washing eggs with water that is at least 110 degrees Fahrenheit, and then sanitizing them by dipping or spraying them with a chlorinated or hydrogen peroxide solution. The process removes a natural coating the chicken produces to protect the egg from bacteria, and critics of the practice have long-questioned whether commercial washing actually increases risk of salmonella poisoning from eggs.

Nimz adds that if the eggs keep their natural coating, they can be left on the counter for up to a month. No refrigeration necessary. That often draws gasps from generations of cooks who throw away eggs even if they become room temperature for a couple of hours. One of the first things world travelers often notice is that few  but Americans refrigerate their eggs.

In Europe, eggs are stored at room temperature, and  the same is true for most of the world where eggs are consumed.

“Eggs covered in poop, straw — that to me is just a really bad sign of chicken keeping,” Nimz says. She says what makes Zorn’s eggs so good is that they are extremely well taken care of: from how well the hen’s coop is managed, to what they are fed on a regular basis, to how the eggs are washed. Zorn feeds her chickens a whole ingredient feed which means it hasn’t been processed.

Experts cite the difference in production practices between Europe and the U.S. as the culprit. Europeans are required to vaccinate their hens for salmonella. Meanwhile, American producers do not have the same requirement, hence why the USDA requires them to be so thoroughly washed.

Rebecca Stark's four chickens have most of the backyard to roam on Friday. A measure to allow more hens is being considered by the cityÕs Housing, Neighborhood Services and Redevelopment policy committee. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora SentinelThe two women agree, that in America’s quest to mass-produce everything, so that eggs are always abundant on grocery store shelves, something has been lost. Which is why they say, the best way to find truly good eggs, is to get out of the grocery store, and become friends with a local farmer.

“It’s really sad when you go out to eat now, and you get your plate of huevos rancheros. And you look at it, and you go, the food I have at home is so much better,” Nimz says.


The chicken must come first, really

You, too, can raise your own chickens for eggs in Aurora. It’s not an easy undertaking, and there are plenty of city rules: You can have only four hens. No roosters. You must obtain a $40 city permit. And there are rules about where the hens can nest in your yard. But the rewards are well worth the trouble, backyard egg lovers say. And there’s plenty of area help and advisors to get you on your way.

Grow your own

www.auroragov.org
www.backyardchickens.com

Fresh egg info

www.agrilicious.org
colorado.doortodoororganics.com
www.bloominkraft.com

  • RonnieEGray

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  • disqus_Nc13bJ8iDr

    Nice article, Rachel. We love the fresh eggs direct from chickens. Jack Dougherty, P.E.

  • Daisy Rothschild

    The eggs from local chickens that can walk around and enjoy their lives are really special. They are creamy and delicious. And the chickens are happy too. Great article.