Santa Monica Farmers Market Report: For Chickens, the Rent is Too Damn High

A new law giving hens more space has raised egg prices, but farmers still see tremendous value in their yolks

For the first time in 20 years, farmer Peter Schaner has raised the price of his eggs. While ordering my usual dozen at the Santa Monica Farmers Market on a recent Wednesday, I was surprised to hear the vendor tell me it would be $10.

“Isn’t it usually $5?,” I asked.

He pointed to a sign hanging above the arugula. It read, “Due to the drought, price increases of feed and logistics due to Proposition 2 we unfortunately will be raising price of our eggs.” Down the street at Lily’s Eggs, an employee confirmed that their prices would soon be on the rise as well.

Proposition 2 requires that chickens in California have more room to (literally) spread their wings, and while the bill was originally passed in 2008, the final push for implementation came just a few weeks ago on January 1. According to Schaner, commercial hen houses in California that once held as many as 50,000 birds have been reduced to 18,000 in order to comply with the new law. Many of his neighbors are investing in additional hen houses in order to get back to pre-2015-production levels.

“There is less inventory now in California,” farmer Candi Rodarte says with a shrug. “My Jumbo A’s were $2.75/dozen, but now they are $5.” Her Mike & Sons farmstand consistently draws the longest line at the Wednesday market, and for the price it’s easy to know why.

“They are still the best deal here,” a customer says to me, and even at the new price of $5/dozen he’s probably right. Although Rodarte’s market sales have remained strong, her wholesale business has nearly capsized in the last three weeks. Before January 1, she was selling 140 cases each week to wholesale clients. Now, she is lucky to sell 40.

While farmers like Schaner and Greg Nauda of Rocky Canyon already complied with the requirements for Proposition 2, the new law allows them to sell eggs for a competitive price that reflects the true cost of doing business. “Everything is going up,” says Schaner, who has been hit with rising feed costs as well as larger water and electricity bills. “We don’t have air-conditioning in our house or heating in our house. All our lights are LEDs, but still we have to pump water on the farm and even if we’re doing it as efficiently as possible, it’s still expensive.”

One farmer I spoke tried to conceal an eye-roll while saying, “Finally! We’re finally getting the prices we deserve,” and Schaner, who tries to keep costs down for customers, had a similar sentiment. “You know, we sell a bunch of carrots or a bunch of green garlic for $2. If we sold our eggs for $1 each, then two eggs for $2 is a lot more food value than a bunch of carrots or green garlic.”

In the spring when the chickens are laying consistently, Schaner hopes to get the cost back down to $8 per dozen, and so far he has resisted raising the price of his duck eggs. His emu eggs, which have always been a novelty, are now selling for $20 each, but considering that just one emu egg is the caloric equivalent of 18 chicken eggs, it seems fair enough.