buy a happy turkey from a happy farm

These are my neighbors broad-breasted white turkeys. When you drive down the road past their farm, if it is a nice day, you are nearly guaranteed to run into this roadblock. 

I am reprinting (with a couple minor revisions) a piece I wrote last year just before Thanksgiving about the turkey you will buy, eat, celebrate, and give thanks for this year. The turkeys that I advocate for buying will be more expensive to you, the consumer, but they are a tastier bird, they are a bird that lived well.  They are a bird that you can be truly thankful for and proud of at your dinner table. They are birds raised on small farms, by good animal welfare-minded farmers. 

If the cost of a humanely-raised turkey proves too much for you, I urge you to think of alternatives for your holiday table, like a humanely raised chicken or duck. Your guests won't be appalled, they'll if anything be grateful for the change in menu and meat. 

I would also like to offer my googling/emailing/craigslisting services to ANYONE who needs them, in trying to find a locally raised small farm turkey near them. Please write me at kathryn.maclean (at) gmail.com. I helped several readers find local eggs last spring and I would love to help any of you find a good turkey this year. 

There was an article in the Times about the price of turkey last year : In the Labyrinth of Turkey Pricing, a Reason Under Every Giblet.  The article was in the business section of the paper and investigates why some turkeys are sold for 49 cents a pound and others can go for $6.50 a pound and What You Are Paying For.

I highly recommend you read it. The interesting point the author makes is that nobody is making money off turkeys. Not those selling confinement, non organic birds at dollar candy prices. Not those selling free range, happy healthy organically raised, humanely raised birds. The cost of feed is too expensive. Corn and soy prices have shot through the roof in past years and the consumer refuses to take on the burden. The consumer chooses the less expensive option, almost always. In fact it is the consumer that expects, Every Year, that the Price of anything will go down. Especially the Price of a 16lb butterball turkey. And so the Price does.

Seeing signs at supermarkets for 49 cents-a-pound birds makes me literally laugh aloud. Having raised turkeys in North Carolina I can only imagine what sort of cost-cutting measures these farmers are taking to at least break even if not lose money on turkeys this year. Even the organic turkeys for sale at Whole Foods,  advertised at a whopping $1.49 at our local store, can't possibly reflect the actual cost of raising the bird. In order to grow a turkey from late spring, when they are born, to weight at Thanksgiving, you need to feed them a lot of grain. 

But forget the farmer that is losing money. Forget the supermarket that will most likely make no money on these Thanksgiving birds. Forget how much breast meat you are hoping to have afterwards for the prodigal leftover. Forget how much food you intend to heap on to your plate that afternoon. Forget the feelings of guilt about how much you need versus how much you take.

And try to remember the life of the bird this Thanksgiving. Try to remember where she was raised. Try to remember if that bird ever got to see the light of day, or smell fresh air, or keep her beak, or her toes, or her wings. 

Try to remember whether or not this bird was grown and fed so quickly that her breast grew faster than her legs, so that at the end of his life she could barely walk.

I don't advocate on this blog To Not Eat Animals. Humans are omnivores. Have been for what seems like Forever. Will be for as long as animals continue to taste so good. But I do advocate researching the animals that you eat and what better time, what more black-and-white a time to do this than with the Thanksgiving turkey. 

I've never been the best at the Cold Hard Facts so I urge you to give you some attention to the Turkey Welfare report from the HSUS to read about how a turkey is bred, raised, and slaughtered in our perverse modern industrial agriculture. Once you have read it I urge you to at the very least consider an organic bird, so that you know those birds aren't living in conditions where antibiotics are a base-line. I urge you to then consider a free range bird. A free range bird means only that the bird is not kept in a closed warehouse but can still be kept in a indoors with just one, small, open door. According to the HSUS report the stocking density in these houses is so high the average amount of space a turkey-hen gets is 2.5 square feet and these are big birds. Organic or free range or heirloom or heritage. The package could have any number of romantic adjectives in front of the word turkey. None of it matters though as most as the name of the farm it comes from. I most viciously, urge you to support a small, nearby farm this year when you buy your turkey. 

According to this HSUS report: 

"In 1910, the U.S. turkey industry was composed of 870,000 farmers raising 3.7 million turkeys, an average of 4 birds per farm,  typically in free-ranging systems that allowed the birds to experience a varied, complex environment in which they could display normal behavior patterns. In contrast, in 2007, more than half of the nearly 265 million turkeys slaughtered in the United States  were raised under contract in industrialized production facilities for only three companies." 

The way we are raising the Thanksgiving turkey in this country is not only creating deplorable conditions for the birds but it is killing our family farms. Farms like mine. Farms like that of my neighbors who raise the free-wheelin' turkeys above. 

I urge you this Thanksgiving season to think with your dollars when you are remembering the bird's life and the farmer who raised her. We all have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.  Let you count in your blessings at the table this year the bird whose life was given for your meal. And let it have been a good life.

Also please know that small farms sell out of turkeys fairly early. So, it is best to call now, before November really takes a hold. 


final road trip before the snow

Earlier this month our dear neighbor (of yurt fame) one-upped himself and gave us his yellow VW bus.  He has been consolidating and cleaning all summer and is ridding his home and barn of the 1970s. It would appear. This is one of the best presents anyone could have given my dear boy. We are fortunate that it was gifted so late in the season for he has not stopped tinkering and toying with the  big piece of metal since we got it, farm be damned.

We were able to take her down to the Berkshires for a wedding several weeks ago which saved us having to spend milk money on a hotel.  We have been aching for one more trip before the first snow falls and it is truly too cold to spend a night in a tin can. So, on this uncommonly warm fall weekend we are packing up the bus to head for the coast of Maine to visit our dear friends Julie and Craig and little Gus. We are going for two whole days and I am so excited I barely slept last night. Like a child waiting for bathtub full of sweet candy. This will be the longest Nick and I have both left the farm together since we moved to Vermont. Our friend Sarah is taking care of the sheep, the cows, the milking, the chickens, and the pigs. A very good friend. The cats are on their own with a mountain of food and water. Rudy is coming with.

I hope you all have some form of yellow-bus-adventure of your own this weekend. See you on the other side. In time for the superstorm.


Wendell Berry for your morning cup

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry, from New Collected Poems


vangogh goes for a bath

Wednesday and Thursday were those two-in-a-million days that give so much light and warmth and happiness that your mind almost falls for the same trick your half-naked body has already fallen for. I gave in yesterday, in the garden, in shorts and and un-shod white feet. I allowed myself the momentary confusion to believe we were on the other side of winter, headed for even warmer days, headed for summer.

But of course, it is winter we are headed for. And this morning the gods resumed their nasty autumnal pleasure of a cold, incessant rain.

We've been going ten million miles an hour through the fall and I think we are just nearly approaching a tapering point. I keep saying that, but we must be slowing down. The cows and pigs are moving ever closer to their winter quarters. The barnyard is littered with hay. We are already nervously counting bales and mouths, mouths and bales. Squinting in our calculations, hoping the two add up. The garden is officially closed. The winter rye was sown to cover the ground. The Aged Ps are visiting and yesterday they planted 500 cloves of garlic with me well past the sun's set. The older laying hens are molting.

The cold rain makes my body ache for the sun of the two days before. But, I suppose its like enjoying a ripe tomato from the garden. I can't have the warmth of the sun all year round or I wouldn't love it so stupidly and fully as I do.

Hoping for a couple more of those sun-days peppered through this fall, but over all, trying to be as accepting as I am able of this rain.


Vermont in Brooklyn

Good Friday to any of you New Yorkers. I am writing to tell you that our friends and neighbors Sam and Makenna of Poorfarm Farm are having their annual pumpkin, syrup, and garlic sale in Brooklyn tomorrow.

I always thought Vermonters were blowing smoke up their own bums when they said they could taste the difference in syrup from one sugar bush to the next. Maybe they are. But, there are most certainly some syrups that are better than others. Poorfarm Farm's syrup is literally the most delicious syrup I have ever tasted. I take sips from the jug in our fridge and cut out any middle man of yogurt or granola or pancakes.

So, if you are in need of a hit of Vermont autumn and are in the big fancy city, head over to see them outside the Brooklyn Commune.

601 Greenwood Ave, Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, NY

Saturday (tomorrow) Oct. 13th 10-5pm. I'd get there on the early side. I hear they have quite the reputation in Brooklyn and may sell out early.

all photos generously borrowed from poor farm farm


three bags full

The lambs have been sheared for the first time in their little wooly lives. Ayana and I were planning on watching many youtube videos and then going for it on our own, but several kind and concerned women thought that could be rather dangerous for my sheep. So, I stuffed away my pride,  relented, and hired a shearer. I am so glad I did. She was strong and fast, professional and kind. She showed us the very basics of the job, making it look viciously easy in only the paradoxical way things that are extraordinarily difficult can appear. 

Now I have this wool. Something to consume myself with this winter when we are more confined to the indoors than we would like. It hasn't snowed yet. And, I won't be starting this until it does. But once the snow falls, I must skirt the fleece. Then scour it. Then card and comb it. Then spin it. Then weave it. I have the vainglorious aim of weaving a proper rug out of it all. Who knows? Though, I must say, I am rather excited about this very small but very new chapter of farming that I am adding to our mix. Handwoven Icelandic wool rugs from Vermont. That's something I could someday sell to you city folk, yes?


mellow yellow

Today is the first sunny day in seven. They are threatening snow flurries for Sunday and tomorrow doesn't look so great either, so we must revel in the yellow today. 

Ayana and I made a honey custard ice cream last night with honey comb candy, and, it being vastly inappropriate ice cream weather I thought I would share the recipe. 

The following is adapted from Andrea Reusing's Cooking in the Moment

For the ice cream custard :
make at least 3 hours and up to 24 hours before serving
makes 1 quart

4 farm fresh orange egg yolks
3 c. whole milk, or preferably full cream milk
2/3 c. honey
1/8 t. salt
an ice cream maker, a whisk, a thermometer and a stovetop

Whisk together honey, egg yolks, and salt and set aside. Heat milk in saucepan on medium heat stirring frequently until a steady simmer. Remove milk from heat and add (SLOWLY and while whisking) the hot milk to egg/honey mixture. Careful not to scramble the eggs, hence slow and whisking. Return mixture to the sauce pan, and on medium low heat, stirring constantly, bring mixture to 175°F. Remove from heat and pour into a clean bowl. Allow for the steam to settle off the custard and then place in the fridge for at least 3 hrs of chilling.  Once chilled put through your ice cream maker per their instructions. 

Sprinkle the honeycomb candy on top for ultimate un-fall enjoyment. 

For the honeycomb candy: 
needs at least 20 minutes to chill in the freezer

2 T water
2 T honey
1 1/2 t baking soda (twice sifted)
3/4 c. sugar
a candy thermometer, saucepan, whisk, and a greased cookie sheet

Pour water into saucepan, then sugar, then honey. Don't mix the ingredients in, just allow the heat to take over. On medium high heat allow the mixture to reach 300°F (candy thermometer). Remove immediately from heat and sprinkle in baking soda. Quickly combine with a whisk in several strokes and pour the now ever expanding mixture (thanks to the baking soda) onto the cookie sheet. 

Allow it to cool in the freezer and then break into shards to serve over honey ice cream. 


fiddlehead and sabia and the want of horse

Fiddlehead and I want a lot of things. We want an indoor toilet. We want those insulated rubber Muck boots. We want the chickens to not wake up so early. We want the grey cat who lives in our barn to let us love her and pet her. We want land we can call our own, with an old farmhouse and a post & beam barn. We want a cafĂ© to open up on our dirt road and we want the New York Times to be sold at our gas station. But, most of all, we want a horse. I want a horse. I need a horse. Fiddlehead could probably, in actuality care less for having a horse. He doesn't seem to be too thrilled when we make him sit atop Sabia, our landlord's aging buckskin. But I am consumed with the thought. Of riding my horse over the hill to see the neighbors, or corralling the cows with him or packing a picnic in his saddle bags and taking Nick and I to the top of the mountain for lunch. I want to get a small cart to have him pull fencing materials across the farm and feed for the chickens and hay for the cows. Someday I want to get two bigger, draft horses, and name them California and Davy Crockett (long, childhood imaginary friend story) and have them pull a plow and a cultivator and a sleigh in the winter.

Someday soon, when we buy our own land, we will get a horse. Or three. Right now we have a self-imposed moratorium on new animals. Let's wait to see how winter plays out. 
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