Ninety dollars for a turkey. Are you kidding me??? When I agreed to take the extra bird off the farmer’s hands, I assumed it might cost about half that. At the time I was working for minimum wage as a part-time farmhand at the Food Farm, an organic farm located in Wrenshall. I traded nearly two days of work for this bird, and probably half that in bike time just to get to and from the farm. Was the tremendous cost in blood, sweat, and tears, worth it? The story that follows was originally printed right here.
This just might be the very bird that grew into dozens of satisfying meals, along with farmer and son…
Lunch has been extra-special lately. Sacred even. I look forward to that short break on the farm owner’s porch for hours. When the moment arrives, I nestle into a chair on the cool, shaded porch, remove my confining work boots, and savor every bite of the meal that follows.
My nourishment is the fruit of last year’s labor, cost me dearly, and is worth every ounce of sweat equity that went into it. Who knew a simple sandwich could be so satisfying?
It’s all in the turkey. The price tag on this bird was $90. My cost was even higher, though. Twelve hours of hard labor at the Food Farm comprised my part of the deal. This time was passed—joyfully, mostly—while toiling under blistering sun, persevering relentless wind, and while enduring rain and cold. Lets just say that it wasn’t like trading a dozen hours of Netflix binge-watching. I earned it.
Was 12 hours a fair exchange for a pasture-raised bird that now resides, mostly, in my freezer? This turkey lived a full 22 weeks on pasture, foraging on healthy grass, upon which I have walked. Farmers manually moved their portable pens to fresh grass every day. There are no automatic feeders out there on pasture, so these must be monitored twice each day.
And, holy cow, is their feed ever expensive. Janaki Fisher-Merrit, owner of the Food Farm, pays more than twice the rate per pound for his organically grown grain than what you’ll pay for a 50-pound sack of conventional feed at the local feed store, even though he hauls in a thousand pounds at a time! Kelp and minerals are also added to it. Janaki says, “Stuff like that gives the meat more of the “good fats” and less of the bad, and also makes for a healthier bird that can handle being out in the elements and staying alive for a longer period of time.”
Raising turkeys outside on pasture for 154 days requires a significant investment of time, money, and energy, on the part of the farmer. It simply costs more to raise a bird traditionally on a family farm than to employ the “efficiencies” of a factory farm, where the animals are de-beaked and pumped full of antibiotics simply so they may survive, never see the light of day, and as seen in numerous undercover videos, routinely endure shocking abuse.
If $90 still seems outrageous, consider the life of the turkey. What’s that worth? I think of Laura, one of the farm’s interns from last year, who felt grateful to be with the turkeys in their pen during their final moments. One by one they were selected for processing, and as their numbers dwindled, she wept.
(Here are the birds in their final portable pen as the end draweth nigh. Young Truman, the farmer’s son, keeps watch.)
I might talk big about my 12 hours of hard labor, but does this even compare to the turkey’s level of sacrifice? That animal, quite literally, laid down it’s life so that I might live. We should never be glib about such a thing. Frankly, it is only right that such sacrifice would cost us dearly. And we should be thankful. Every day, on that cool porch on the farm, I feel tremendous gratitude for the life of my turkey. A life that was spent living as a turkey should, expressing its innate turkeyness, until its dying breath.
These animals are raised to be the centerpiece of a family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Would anything less befit an annual celebration that purports to be a celebration of all that the Maker has provided? On this of all days, it behooves us to source food grown in a manner in which it was designed to be grown.
I’m glad it took me over six months to finally cook up this enormous 26-pound bird. Having spent more time farming since then, I find myself appreciating both the farmer’s labor in producing such high-quality food AND the life that was sacrificed for me.
Every day is an opportunity to express thanksgiving for the blessings showered down upon us from above. Begrimed in sweat and dirt from working down in the earth each day, I am filled with gratitude for every mouthful. This is worth $3.50/pound.
Here you can take a gander at what is considered more normal and conventional. To loosely quote Joel Salatin, this is the intersection of pure capitalism, amoral science, and a complete lack of foresight. Is this a more fitting centerpiece for your Thanksgiving table this year? Conditions like these create the need for overdosing our food supply with antibiotics, and also the rise of superbugs that may soon result in the end of the antibiotic era.
I realize that most of us cannot regularly afford a pastured turkey like this. Amazingly, the going rate in many other markets is about double the cost. With a little planning, however, and perhaps through sharing the cost with others, you might be able to have a more meaningful Thanksgiving this November. Go visit the farm that is raising your turkey. Meet your farmers. Then, when you gather with loved ones later this year to celebrate this season’s bounty, give thanks for both.
FYI, I’ll soon be raising chickens on pasture in a similar manner. These will be available to you in September. Stay tuned!