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Sustainable Table: Buying Local Turkeys

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ASHLAND, Ore. — Hard to believe we’re inching ever closer to the holiday season. First up is Thanksgiving.

All the traditional fixings are easy to find–locally and organically grown. But what about the main course? It’s not all that challenging to add turkey to your sustainable table.

They’re popping up in the supermarket near you. Huge, frozen turkeys ready for your oven. They’re cheap.

“You can buy a turkey at 79-89 cents a pound,” said butcher shop owner Cam Callahan.

But you get what you pay for.

“If you read on your turkey it has a 3 percent solution added to it or it will say clear up to 15 percent added, so it’s a tenderizing solution with water that’s pumped into the turkey,” Callahan said.

Not interested in a pumped and plumped turkey? How about finding one and making sure it’s local.

The TV show Portlandia takes it to the extreme in an episode where the main characters ask their waiter at a restaurant about the life story of the animals being served there. But Oregon turkey farmers would have no problem answering that torrent of questions.

“I can tell you what (our turkeys) are eating a combination of grains and alfalfa and such and then they get cracked corn, and grass. They eat frogs. They eat bugs. Anything that moves, a turkey will pick it up and put it in its mouth. I can tell you what kind of stress life they have,” said turkey farmer Joan Hancock.

The most stressful thing these turkeys ever encountered is a news camera, so life at Quail Glen Farm near Ashland is pretty good. But after 25 years of raising white turkeys, Hancock is changing things up. The book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle prompted her to get rid of all her white turkeys.

“They apparently cannot reproduce. They are too big because they are going to be Thanksgiving dinner,” explained Joan. “They are too large and they have to be artificially inseminated. I wanted something that I could maybe grow my own.”

Her turkeys Bourbon and Opal are a heritage breed and can take care of things themselves. At a southern Oregon butcher shop, staff doesn’t worry as much about the breed.

“It makes no difference as far as the turkey goes. It’s what you are feeding them and how you’re raising them,” Callahan said.

It does make a difference in the price, though. The quail glen turkeys go for $5.50 a pound, but no one’s complaining. Joan sells out every year.

“We know exactly what they cost us to raise and to clean,” Callahan said. “They cost us $2.59 a pound. We charge $2.98 a pound.”

So maybe you pay for what you don’t get.

“There are a lot of turkeys that are raised in confined spaces that the big conglomerates use. Our turkeys get nothing added to them–no hormones, no water solutions, no nothing,” Callahan said.

If you’d like to find a local turkey farm, click here for more information.

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