Why You Can't Find Good Eggs in Toronto

Boiled, fried, scrambled or poached, there's no denying the egg is one of nature's perfect foods.

And yet, whipping up an omelette recently, I couldn't help but observe the runny consistency - to say nothing of the bland taste later.

According to Brent Preston, the owner and operator of The New Farm, most eggs come from hens that aren't fed or raised in the way nature intended.

"The taste varies with the season," he says, "because they eat different things at different times of the year. The biggest thing is, if they're eating green vegetation, the yolks are much darker yellow than what you'd get in a store. They hold together better and stand up in pan instead of spreading out. The taste is much more intense, and richer. There's a buttery texture in the mouth."

That's the egg I want. So why can't I (or any other Torontonian) find it?

Thank the egg marketing board, run by the Egg Farmers of Ontario.

"The Board makes it virtually impossible for small scale farmers to sell eggs into an urban area like Toronto," Preston says with frustration, "I have 90 hens but I can only have 100 hens on the farm without buying quota from the board. If I wanted to double my production, I'd have to pay $120 per hen to buy the quota. I'm looking at $20,000 just to double my production."

As Preston notes, there isn't just a monopoly on egg production, but on the grading of eggs as well.

"There used to be little egg grading stations in Ontario, but they were all bought up by big corporations. The closest one is in Newmarket."

Preston can't sell his eggs anywhere but off his farm directly - it would go against marketing board rules to do so. He and his wife make a living by producing other farm-fresh products, notably heirloom vegetables, which are supplied to many of Toronto's top restaurants.

"The way the system is set up is that in order to make a living selling eggs, you have to be really large-scale. There are so many roadblocks, like the cost of equipment, feed, quota, and transport. The best you can hope for is to make a few cents per dozen in profit. Unless you produce thousands of dozens, you can't make a living."

Tobey Nemeth, Executive Chef at JK Wine Bar, notes the restaurant wanted to use Preston's eggs, but Board rules prevent it. The New Farm simply can't produce on the scale JK and other retaurants need.

"That quota-system nightmare really doesn't favour the small farms at all", she notes.

"Consumers have to recognize that one of the biggest obstacles to getting better access to local food is provincial government regulation," Preston says. "These regulations could easily be changed without threatening the overall system. Most of our customers who hear about problems with the board say it's stupid. Once you really look at the system, there is no way to justify it. People are becoming aware. It comes down to putting pressure on the right people to change it."

Photo by Tim Shore.

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