What Egg-actly is the Definition of Local?
By Leslie Jones

Most of us prefer to buy from local food sources whenever possible. Even when something is labeled as local, what does that actually mean? Local can be defined as San Luis Obispo County, somewhere within the Central Valley or anywhere in California.

Using eggs as a primary example, much has been discovered about local eggs and whether they are actually sold and distributed fresh from San Luis Obispo County. “There are few local eggs,” explains Bob Spiller. “Permits for poultry ranches here are almost impossible to obtain from the county. Not only is it much more expensive to truck the feed here, but people just won’t tolerate poultry ranches in their neighborhoods.”

Spiller, a long-time poultry specialist for the Animal Science Department at Cal Poly, has a bachelors and masters degree from Cal Poly along with his Doctorate in Poultry Nutrition from Oregon State University. Having previously managed all aspects of the Cal Poly Poultry Unit and still teaching poultry science classes today, he has worked closely with all aspects of the commercial poultry industry in California.

His son Greg owns and operates the Los Osos Poultry Ranch. Also a graduate of Cal Poly, he labels his packaging as Locally Owned – California Grown. While he sells his eggs exclusively from Solvang in the south to King City in the north, his white eggs come from Bakersfield and the organic eggs are from Petaluma, once known as the “Egg Basket of the World.” The most significant egg production counties in California include Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Merced, San Bernardino, Riverside and Sonoma Counties.

One of the local egg producers, the Cal Poly Poultry Unit, was built in 1995. There are approximately 4,500 hens on campus currently. Eggs are distributed to the Cal Poly cafeteria, on-campus grocery stores and local grocery stores including Albertsons on Foothill Road and Laurel Lane Market, both in San Luis Obispo. The Cal Poly Poultry Unit has received awards for being the top contract producer for Foster Farms in producing broilers, as well.

Nature’s Touch Nursery & Harvest, located in Templeton, offers eggs produced from 10 different small-scale farms around San Luis Obispo and southern Monterey Counties that are free range on irrigated pasture, fed a natural feed only when composted produce is not available, and fresh within 48 hours when purchased through the store. Explains Melanie Blankenship, owner of Nature’s Touch, “We also have 150 free-ranging hens, 10 geese, 10 turkeys, 4 ducks, 6 guineas and 75 Cornish meat birds. This helps keep us stocked with local products. It’s a supply-and-demand situation. Community support is important, along with educating the public on what it takes to raise poultry.”

New Frontiers in San Luis Obispo does carry some local brown and white eggs from a small source called Quail Spring Farm in Cayucos – somewhere between 12 and 15 dozen are delivered per week. The Glaum Egg Ranch in Aptos and Judy’s Family Farm in Petaluma are their other California-based sources. Close to 50 percent of the eggs sold there are organic and no caged-bird eggs are bought by New Frontiers, not even for use in the deli.

Big Sky Cafe, a favorite restaurant for many in San Luis Obispo, offered up an interesting perspective on the local egg situation, as well. Known for using the freshest, most local and organic produce available, they too experienced an “egg” challenge. “We try to do the right thing, based on what’s available,” explains Charles Myers, owner of Big Sky Cafe. Most of their eggs come from Drake Farms, a San Luis Obispo-based egg distribution company.

Big Sky Cafe, a participating member of the Central Coast Ag Network, is listed on the Central Coast Grown website, www.centralcoastgrown.net, which promotes sustainable local agriculture offered to local residents. The website is a good source of information on local food products and who’s involved with this movement. Myers mentioned the desire to see more of a “clearing-house”-type of movement in the future which would further support and connect local farmers and businesses alike.

This local status question can apply as well to other products including those at farmers’ markets across the county. “Any farmers’ market manager can refuse a request for someone to sell his produce due to an abundance of others already selling a specific type of produce or due to physical space,” Spiller explains. “They cannot, however, shoot you down because you come from another region in California,” he adds.

It’s important that those who sell their local food products are careful how they use the term local. We, as consumers, who wish to support our local farmers, need to do some investigative research and further educate ourselves, as well. The next time you see the term local advertised, ask yourself this question, “Egg-actly what does local mean?

Leslie Jones grew up in Santa Barbara and now lives in San Luis Obispo. She writes often about natural habitats, wildlife and sustainability and has written for WildBird Magazine, the California Coastal Commission and Friends of the Sea Otter along with numerous magazines in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.