Deciphering Your Egg Carton with Alexis Koefoed
Alexis Koefoed of Soul Food Farm in Vacaville, California, recalls the first time she heard the term cage-free: “I got kind of excited. I thought maybe there were free chickens running around. It took a little research, and I found out it didn’t mean much. Actually, the chickens were still in big huge houses on industrial factory farms. I didn’t think it was anything more than just good marketing, so we think things are nicer and sweeter and kinder than they really are.”
Consumers caught on. They recognized that cage-free eggs only offered a marginal improvement in a chicken’s quality of life. Then the term free-range appeared. “Free-range was a term I really loved,” Koefoed recalls. “I really thought it meant something for quite a long time. Finally, I learned that that term had been hijacked as well,” continues Koefoed. After weighing her options, Koefoed decided that while free-range was confusing, it was still meaningful to put on her egg cartons. Her customers revolted. “People were just so disturbed by the term that we took it off,” Koefoed remembers. “We realized we couldn't fight against the marketing giants who were using free-range as a term to sell more eggs even though they were the same old industrial chicken companies with confined animals.”
Then she discovered the term pasture-raised. “I just love that term,” Koefoed says, “because when you say ‘pastured’ you immediately think of a field so it really explains, very clearly, in one word, that the animals are outside, meaning ‘grass,’ meaning ‘bugs,’ meaning ‘sunshine.’ So I think it’s a really good term to define what someone is doing, whether it’s chickens or any other animal.” Movements promoting “good food” succeed when the messengers become their messages, when their foremost practitioners embody the language of sustainability, and when a farmer doesn't just farm. “We’re small farmers in a new world,” Koefoed concludes. “We don’t just farm. We’re educators and we’re learning to be marketers so we can hold on to the authenticity of words and take them back from the big corporations.” That’s something to think about the next time you buy a dozen eggs.
Alexis Koefed and her family bought the land which would become Soul Food Farm in the late ‘90s. No house, no running water, no electricity. Just 55 acres of prime pasture and farmland in Vacaville, CA, which had been untended for 30 years. Over time, a vision began to emerge. At first, it was simply about feeding people, supporting their family and being able to afford this farm. Over time, subjects that had been on the fringe of their belief system before began to take everyday importance. The family immersed themselves in issues of community land use, the true cost of feeding people, workers’ rights, and the humane treatment of animals. Today, Soul Food Farm has layers of diversity that allows Alexis and her family to harvested sustainable products all year long.