The egg shelves have looked different every week at Ann’s Health Food Center in Arlington.
One week, it would be all organic eggs. Some weeks, there would be several egg brands. Then, sometimes the shelves would be empty.
“When our only choice is to offer a higher price egg or no eggs at all, the choice is straightforward,” said Corey Houston, the food center’s managing partner.
Tarrant County residents have been searching for cheap eggs after prices skyrocketed. The main reason for the increase was an Avian flu outbreak that killed millions of poultry.
Eggs saw the biggest price increase of any single food item from December 2021 to December 2022, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. During that time period, the Agriculture Department recorded a nearly 60% increase. The department only tracks the percentage increase, not the price.
The Federal Reserve, however, tracks the average price for Grade A eggs and saw it more than double in 2022. In December, the price was $4.25. In January 2022, the price was $1.93.
The cost of eggs isn’t expected to decrease anytime soon.
Tarrant County small farmers have a solution to this problem — support them all year round.
Small farmers and farmers markets in Tarrant County have seen an increase in demand from people trying to find alternate egg options.
Larry Goodson is the owner of First Earth Farm in Erath County, southwest of Fort Worth. He frequently sells eggs at the Cowtown Farmers Market in Fort Worth.
“We’re caught in the middle,” he said.
Goodson has had to raise his egg prices. The increase is to keep up with the costs associated with running a small farm, he said.
“The margins are so thin, even at these price increases, there’s not much profit,” Goodson said.
He isn’t currently set up to meet the demand, but Goodson is hesitant to scale up, he said. It would be risky since it’s not a consistent market. As soon as egg prices go down, the customers will disappear, he said.
Farmers markets around Fort Worth:
Knutson has about 60 chickens. Large commercial egg producers have between 20,000-50,000 chickens that may be confined in one building, according to a report by Animal Place.
Most small farmers are producing eggs to sell directly to customers, Knutson said.
Even commercial suppliers cannot keep up with the demand. That affects small, locally-owned grocery stores like the one Houston runs in Arlington.
“Expected egg orders aren’t always delivered since the larger grocery chains receive priority over us,” Houston, the managing partner of Ann’s Health Food Center, said. “We fall lower in priority with our suppliers because we’re a small family-run grocery store.”
Businesses and customers aren’t the only ones affected. North Texas food pantries, such as Tarrant Area Food Bank, have seen the high demand for eggs — and can’t keep up.
Food pantries rely on their grocery partners for their stock, so it isn’t guaranteed that Tarrant Area Food Bank would have egg alternatives.
“We see the disappointment daily when hungry families come to us for eggs,” said Michael Polydoroff, director of marketing and communications at Tarrant Area Food Bank. “We aren’t able to accommodate them. Purchasing them is prohibitive, but we do our best to secure some limited stock.”
If communities would always buy local, farmers and ranchers would always have enough for demand, said Knutsun, the owner of Hollow Trace Market Farm. Knutsun has stressed to her customers that local farmers and ranchers are always here for their communities, no matter the situation.
“A good solution for people is don’t pay the price that the grocery store is charging and buy something else sometimes,” Knutson said. “Make a decision to consistently support your local farmers and ranchers. It’s a long-term solution.”
Juan Salinas II is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.