Sustainably raised (pastured) turkey worth effort to get

I thought a lot about local food last night as I made the 28-mile (roundtrip) journey to get the turkey I'll roast for my family's Christmas dinner. Does it make a lot of sense, I wondered, for one person (me) to use over a gallon of gas to pick up one turkey?

I have to conclude that it probably does not, and yet the drive was worthwhile, even though I really don't like to drive, especially at night and especially when the car windows aren't particularly clean, which mine weren't. The drive nevertheless led me to ponder geography and culture and agriculture as I passed through town and then alongside the Haskell Indian Nations University, an institution originally created as a boarding school to train native children in the Euro-American trades and home crafts. I passed the Baker wetlands, whose welfare is threatened by a planned roadway despite more than 15 years' worth of protests and delays, and I passed by miles of farmland, with more and more of it cut into oversize lots for people with more dollars than sense (to borrow my mother's phrase) and a romantic notion of "living in the country."

I am reminded that living in harmony with the land hasn't really been a hallmark of these United States.

Meanwhile, I was driving into the dark because the real country people, including the farmers who raised the pastured turkey I was going to collect, often aren't on the farm in the daytime, having to earn a living in town, just like most farmers. (Read about off-farm income (PDF) in Table 4 of this USDA document, which shows the proportion of farms that depend on it. Links to the whole report can be found here.)

At last I reached the dirt road that goes past Vesecky Family Farms. Two big dogs met me. (A Great Dane? A Newfoundland?) John Vesecky fetched my frozen turkey, a Broad-Breasted White that I may well have seen in the pasture during a farm tour in the early fall. As with grass-fed beef, pastured turkeys — even the Broad-Breasted, bred for its ability to get big-chested fast — cost more because they take longer to get to market weight. (He also has heritage turkeys, but I just couldn't spend the $3.75 a pound for them.) Vesecky's son and grandson fiddled with bicycles nearby. I made small talk with the grandson, who said they got 6 inches of snow, compared with the 2 1/2 inches we got in Lawrence last week. Our snow was gone, but they still had a little of it left after a couple of 50-degree days.

Label on pastured turkeyThe transaction completed, I headed down the hill and around the bend with my turkey sliding around on the floor beside me. I feel good about having that turkey, even with the drive. (And don't most Americans drive to the grocery store, after all?) The vaunted efficiencies of the big producers affect the land and the diners in ways I don't like. The drive reminded me that the price for a healthy main course that keeps this farm a little healthier really isn't too high.

The centerpiece of my Christmas dinner will be that bird. The milk and butter will be local, too. The potatoes and sweet potatoes will have traveled from Colorado, the cranberries a good distance more. It won't be a local meal, but it will feel a lot closer to home and a lot closer to living in harmony with the land than the alternative.

4 Responsesto “Sustainably raised (pastured) turkey worth effort to get”

  1. valereee says:

    Maybe once you describe how the bird tastes, next year someone else near you will share the drive with you! I recently picked up a lot of produce from a farm thirty miles out of my way, but as someone else I know also needed produce I brought hers back, too. So it's more like fifteen miles each! If I could pick up food for four families, it would be no more wasteful than the average trip to the grocery.

  2. Tim says:

    Janet,

    I'm glad you have a great bird for Christmas. IMO, I think it's worth way more than a 28 mile drive for naturally raised food. Another way of thinking about it is that had you taken the short trip to the store, you would have picked up a bird that likely traveled at least 1,500 miles to grace your table. Granted, the ideal solution is for the supermarkets to start carrying local food so we can put an end to this nonsense, but until that VERY distant day, we need to start the wave by doing what you just did; going out of our way to support naturally raised food from local farmers.

    Thanks for doing your part, and Merry Christmas!

    Tim
    Nature's Harmony Farm

  3. Janet says:

    Hey, thanks, Valeree and Tim. I feel affirmed. :) This is the first time I've worried much about roasting a turkey because I want it to be so wonderful that my relatives notice and I can pass the word without being preachy that it isn't merely delicious but it's good, sustainably raised food.

  4. valereee says:

    Janet, if you're at all concerned, brine it! Guaranteed way to produce the best possible bird. Here's my brine: 4 qts stock, 1 T each allspice berries and peppercorns, a bay leaf or two, a bit of grated ginger, several mashed garlic cloves. Bring to a boil. Add 1 cup each of salt and honey, stirring to dissolve salt completely. Allow to cool to room temperature.

    In a container large enough to submerse the bird (I use a cooler or 5-gallon bucket): Place the bird breast-down. Pour brine over. Add ice and water to cover completely, stirring a bit to distribute brine evenly through the water. Leave 12 hours. Drain and prepare bird as usual.