Buying eggs from local farms might cost slightly more, but the household decision is something to consider as the domestic egg-production industry faces a growing challenge from avian influenza.

Reuters reports that an outbreak of H5N2 avian influenza was discovered at a giant U.S. poultry farm in Iowa, the top U.S. egg-producing state, on Monday. The entire 3.8 million flock of hens at Sunrise Farms, an affiliate of Sonstegard Foods Company, will be culled in Iowa to prevent spread of the disease.

It’s the worst outbreak of bird flu so far in the nation. Twelve other states including Missouri and Kansas have detected bird flu in poultry since the beginning of the year. The disease is not considered dangerous by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be dangerous to humans but can kill an entire flock within 48 hours.

It’s a mind-boggling number – 3.8 million. That’s the population of Los Angeles, based on the 2010 U.S. Census.

That figure and the consequences of factory farming reaffirm my decision to buy locally-sourced farm eggs available at the grocery store rather than purchase the cheapest eggs on the shelf. That decision is a personal choice for moral, economic, taste and other reasons. I don’t think it’s a superior decision to the alternative. It’s one that aligns with my values and preferences.

Cheap food prices are appealing, but the methods to produce, deliver and sell food at the lowest cost has consequences at each step in the agri-industrial process. Factory farms filled with millions of chickens exist to produce eggs and poultry on an economical scale. Unless consumer demand and behavior shifts significantly, it’s unlikely that factory farming practices for chicken, meat or produce will change soon.

Buying local farm eggs or other foods won’t prevent bird flu. It won’t save the lives of chickens caught in the crossfire of a disease and a company’s costly decision to cull their inventory. It doesn’t mean that the flocks of local farmers with egg-production operations aren’t susceptible to bird flu or other diseases. It’s naive to think so.

However, buying foods that are locally grown, raised and sourced puts money back into the local economy. The money I spend goes back to local farmers and gives them an incentive to operate with efficiency and, more importantly, with sustainable practices that benefit the farm, environment, consumers and, yes, the chickens in question.

Large-scale farming has its place to feed a nation and supply food manufacturers, government agencies and retailers. We’re a big country with a big appetite and an unwillingness to spend too much money on certain things in life. So, the U.S Department of Agriculture, farm operations and experts have their work cut out to prevent the spread of this disease.

Here’s a short list of resources, if you’re interested in buying or sourcing local farm eggs.

Camp Creek Farms near Olathe
• La Ferme Du Bonheur from Higginsville, available at some Pricechopper stores
Campo Lindo Farms eggs are available in some Cosentino’s, Hy-Vee and Whole Foods stories.
Gasper Family Farm has monthly drop-offs in Overland Park. Order online.
PlayHaven Farm takes orders online via email and delivers in KC.
• Ask farmers at local farmers markets such as Badseed, Parkville, Brookside and Overland Park.
• Check KC Food Circle for other sources.

Image credit: Flickr – cyclonebill