When a penny-pinching friend teased me for shelling out twice what he pays for eggs, I countered by saying that we weren't exactly comparing apples with apples. Sure, his supermarket-bought eggs go for about $2 per dozen, and I was paying $4.50 at the farmers market. But the small, chalky white specimens that he calls breakfast don't come anywhere near the rich flavor and intense high-protein texture (not to mention the color -- vivid caution-sign-yellow for the yolks, and a taupe that borders on terra cotta for the shells) of the generously sized beauties from Braucher's Sunshine Harvest Farm.

"Isn't an egg an egg?" he asked, after I finished my spiel. Uh, no, and in my view it's hardly a splurge when this superb gift from Mother Nature runs roughly 38 cents a pop; that's the epitome of affordable luxury. For confirmation, I asked farmer Colleen Braucher to clarify the difference between a bargain-priced egg from the supermarket and a fresh, one- or two-day-old counterpart from her family's farm.

"That's easy," she said, taking out a three-ring folder and flashing through pastoral photos of the farm, located just south of Lakeville. "It's small family farming vs. factory farming." In other words, quality vs. quantity. Instead of warehousing thousands of unhappy birds into cramped cages inside monolithic structures, all of the Brauchers' 500 or so Red Sexton hens enjoy full lives in the great outdoors -- at least during the warm-weather months -- soaking up plenty of fresh air and sunshine.

That translates into great-tasting eggs. Ditto the hens' diet. The farm's eggs are a shining example of the You Are What You Eat movement, with hens happily feasting on a chicken-friendly diet of crickets, worms and grass, supplemented by a feed composed of organic grains. In other words, they eat like queens. They get their cardio, too. "You should see them -- they run around like maniacs," said Mike Braucher. "All that exercise, it really makes a difference."


Eggs ($2.50 per half-dozen, $4.50 per dozen) from Braucher's Sunshine Harvest Farm (www.sunshineharvestfarm.com) at the Kingfield Farmers Market, Nicollet Av. and 43rd St., Mpls., www.kingfieldfarmersmarket.org. Open 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 31. For a listing of this weekend's farmers market events -- plus recipes featuring eggs -- go to www.startribune.com/tabletalk. For a map of Twin Cities metro-area farmers markets, go to www.startribune.com/taste.