I am currently looking for a local farmer source for chickens but it's taking a while. So in the meantime is this even a good option?
I'd say you cannot trust any meat from a typical grocery store except maybe some of the Whole Foods Market meats. However, if I was in a position where I couldn't get a decent chicken, I'd probably buy an organic one from the grocery store every once in a while. Honestly though, I am in Texas, and I buy organic, pastured and chemical free chickens directly from the farm for the price you are quoting at Kroger. The price of a whole chicken goes far especially if you use it in soups or other recipes and then make stock from the carcass. For us it lasts 2-4 meals for a family of 3 and then I make stock on top of that.
Also organic means the animal was raised without chemicals like antibiotics and hormones and chemical free feed. It in no way means the animal is pastured or ever even sees the light of day. they are still raised in chicken houses usually.
You know I have only contacted a couple of places. I'm just not sure where to begin to find a farmer selling whole pastured chickens. I found one CSA way east of us by like over an hour and then contacted one place like 30 minutes from us the other day but haven't heard back. I don't think I've asked my beef supplier again recently. I think I asked her years ago when i started buying from her but haven't lately and it might be worth another asking. It's not so much that we can't afford it, I would find room in our food budget for that! It's just a matter of finding the place that sells chickens like that! The nearest whole foods to us is over an hour too. The sad thing is we kind of live out in the country and I still can't find a farm selling chickens! I'm sure i just need to ask around more...
I personally choose pasture raised over store bought organic. The pasture raised meat is healthier because the animal is eating it's natural diet instead of an artificial diet. Chickens were made to eat bugs and worms, not vitamin fortified grains. The price on that Kroger meat is rather high IMHO. I just put a pasture raised chicken into the oven that was $11 from my local farmer. I do agree that's still expensive which is why we mostly eat pasture raised beef as we get a great price on a half cow twice a year.
Here is information on what the USDA considers organic. Part G mentions substances allowed/not allowed. There's a lot to it:
Hopefully the organic chicken would not be subject to the chlorine baths that conventional chicken gets dipped in. So I guess after all of this rambling, to answer your question, it's probably better to eat the store organic meat vs conventional.
If you can find a local source for meat, i think you will be very pleased. In my case it's been a blessing to meet the farmer that raises our meat and he can look me in the eye when he tells me the animals have not been abused or shot up with hormones and antibiotics or fed unnatural feed.
Have you looked into a local WAP chapter for resources? Also, some farmers will do bulk deliveries to multiple cities even if they are hours away from you. Shipping is available from some places too which I'm sure can get really pricey but depending on your budget could be an option.
Since you said you live in the country, there might be someone raising chickens naturally on a smaller scale. You could try looking into a WAP chapter in the nearest large city as they might have found some of your smaller local farmers that fly under the radar.
Most WAP groups have email lists so you wouldn't have to go to a meeting.
I've checked all those sites but its been a little while. I will try and see again. I think that's how I found my beef supplier many years ago! I found eggs from a random post I made on a local yahoo list asking for any local sources, and shes the best! She's a horse rancher that teaches horseback riding. She literally just has chickens to keep her land clean of bugs and for personal eggs but she has so many she has enough to sell. Cheap that way!
If you have the option, look at your local Farmer's Market. Sometimes you can find locally grown, pasture-raised chickens available. I was appalled to learn that for chickens to legally be labeled as "organic", they are required to be fed 100% vegetarian - not a natural diet for chickens. This also means they will most often be fed with a soy-based feed, which more than likely is a GMO product. For me, that is not what I'm going for when I am looking for a "natural" food. When eating meat, I find that I feel better physically after eating pasture-raised meats. No bloating, no cramps, zero diarrhea (sorry for TMI). Maybe because I cannot tolerate soy in my diet. For others, they may not have this problem, but it is a serious consideration for me.
If you do not have access to a farmer's market, or someone local who has a few backyard chickens, call around to see if you have a local butcher shop. Often they will have free-range or pasture-raised chickens for sale.
Yes, they do cost more. I have overcome this dilemma by changing the way I eat chicken. I rarely BBQ, I never fry. Sometimes I will oven roast and divvy up the meat for a few meals and make broth with the bones. Most often though, I will cook it the crock pot overnight, remove the meat and refrigerate for use in several dishes, and make bone broth with the skin and bones. By becoming creative, I can stretch one chicken into 3-4 meals (salads, casseroles, sandwiches, tacos, soup.)
I do think that organic chicken from the regular grocery store is better than conventional. I definitely would prefer pastured, but I haven't found a source near me yet, either :( Also, I disagree that organic chickens would most likely be fed GMO soy. I thought that the feed had to be organic, too, which means no GMO feeds. I could be wrong though...
I buy conventional chicken but the kids and I generally eat very little of it. It comes down to money and availability. We live on a military base and the only close grocery store is the commissary here. I can get a fryer chicken for $2.50-3 and a big roaster for $4-5 and the store is just 10 minutes away. Organic chicken is $10-14 and requires a 45 minutes drive each way to get. We have minimal freezer space so buying more than a couple at a time doesn't happen. To get pastured chickens is around the same price as organic but would be 2 hours of driving each way. Maybe after we move we'll be able to get a deep freezer but I still worry about food losing nutrition after long stints in a deep freeze (although I haven't done much research on this). Anyway, poultry in the US does not contain hormones. Some mainstream brands claim to be antibiotic free but this is in contention. If you're eating little chicken I wouldn't worry too much about it since it doesn't contain hormones. Rinsing it and not eating the skin would help get rid of ammonia or chlorine residues if they're there. I might spring for an organic chicken when making stock but for everyday meals where the six of us are splitting two chicken breasts I don't worry too much about it.
We live in central Tx and we just butchered 46 broilers. I wouldn't classifiy them as "organic" per se. They were our children's 4H project. So they were raised on regular feed but not in the same conditions as a chicken farm by any means. Maybe you could ask your county agent if he knows any of the local 4hers who would like to sell some of their chickens. I know the Fort Worth Stock Show just ended I'll bet there are people out there who are like us and are thinking "what in the world do we do with all these chickens" You would be amazed at the number of people who won't take our home raised chickens! Crazy!
Organic chickens have to be fed organic food, that means no GMO soy. If I only had the choice between organic grocery store chickens and conventional grocery store chickens, I'd definitely go with organic. If I could get non organic chickens from the farmers' market where I could talk to the farmer and find out how they are raised, I'd go with that.