Aria Bendix is a frequent contributor to The Atlantic, and a former editorial fellow at CityLab. Her work has appeared on Bustle and The Harvard Crimson.
The egg-sharing economy has arrived.
Have your greasy-spoon breakfast skillets been a bit lackluster lately? For months, the worst avian flu in U.S. history has rationed our egg supply. As the virus tears through Midwestern poultry farms, the death toll continues to rise for America’s chicken population (over 48 million have already been killed by the outbreak). The decline in poultry has translated to an 85 percent increase in egg prices since January 2015. Many restaurants are struggling to keep eggs on their menu given that cartons are now as much as $3 per dozen.
Those hit hardest by the flu are farmers, some of whom have had to kill entire flocks. Even farms that escaped the virus have been financially devastated by the ban on American poultry imports, which prevents over 40 countries from importing chickens from the U.S.
One way to ensure that you can shovel scrambled eggs down your gullet whenever you want? Raise the chickens yourself.
It’s possible to pull it off even if you’re not a hardcore homesteader. Enter: Chicken rental services—the equivalent of taking homesteading out for a test drive.
One such service, Rent The Chicken, was established in 2013 by Pennsylvania couple “Homestead Jenn” and “Homestead Phil” Tompkins. Customers rent up to two pairs of egg-laying hens for six months or a year. The company provides everything the brood needs, including a portable chicken coop, food, and water. Prices start at $400 for a standard package. At the end of the rental period, customers can either renew their rental, return the chickens, or decide to adopt them permanently.
Depending on the package, customers can expect to collect up to 28 eggs a week. (That can translate to a little over $2 per day for eggs.) In the end, it’s still a bit pricier than what you might be paying at the supermarket, but as egg prices continue to rise, it might ultimately prove to be a sound investment. And Jenn believes that it’s a better deal than trying to strike out on your own. “We do find it’s more economical to rent and then adopt,” she says.
Of course, some customers may run into problems if their state doesn’t support urban chicken farming. In certain areas of New Jersey and California, for instance, keeping chickens is banned. But in other states, it’s starting to catch on quickly—Pittsburgh just reduced their restrictions for urban agriculture—and there are plenty more sites advertising services similar to Rent The Chicken.
Services like Rent The Chicken also provide a humane way to raise poultry. (Even labels such as “cage-free” can be misleading, Business Insider reported.) “We’re very happy to be able to help people put at least one food source closer to their table,” says Homestead Jenn. Especially when that means consumers can make omelets every day.