You know how it goes: Like chicken, like egg. A healthier, happier chicken raised in an environmentally friendlier way produces an egg in its likeness.

This Easter, treat your party to “certified organic” or “free farmed” eggs. These are the two most meaningful labels for poultry products, because independent, third-party certifiers verify that rigorous standards are met. 

Organic eggs come from chickens raised “under conditions which provide for exercise and freedom of movement,” on organic vegetarian feed, which must be produced without pesticides, genetic engineering or sewage sludge, not to mention no-fowl cannibalism. Organic eggs’ parents also cannot have received antibiotics, the overuse of which contributes to antibiotic resistance in bacteria. (The USDA has more information on the National Organic Program.)

Free farmed eggs come from fowl that are given space to move about in comfort, as prescribed by American Humane Association standards. Antibiotics are given only when a bird gets sick.

Although it’s not third-party verified, another good poultry/egg label is grass-fed or pastured, which means the birds got to peck and “graze” on grass, grubs, whatever comes naturally. Currently, all we have to rely on is assurances given by the farmers, but the consensus is that reputable farmers can and should be believed. To find one near you, check out Eatwild.com's directory.

Now for the colorful part

Rather than dye Easter eggs in traditional artificial food colors, which were linked to hyperactivity in children in a study, we can make our own organic dyes. Just thinking about it makes us feel empowered!

For four cups of natural dye, mix in a pot

1 tablespoon of a spice or herbal tea, or 4 cups of a chopped fruit or vegetable (see below).

4 cups water

2 tablespoons white vinegar.

Bring to a boil, then simmer for at least 15 minutes (leave longer for a darker shade).

Dip hardboiled eggs until they reach desired intensity.

Colors and sources

Pink or red: pomegranate juice, red onion skins, beets, chopped rhubarb, cranberries, raspberries, red grape juice

Orange: yellow onion skins, paprika, saffron (but it’s pricey)

Yellow: orange or lemon peels, carrot tops or skins, celery seed, ground cumin or turmeric

Green: spinach

Blue: red cabbage, canned blueberries or blueberry juice, blackberries, purple grape juice

Egg on! And Happy Eastering.

Story by Mindy Pennyback. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in March 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008