Food Wise: My Sustainable Thanksgiving Turkey

| 11/10/2008 9:54:13 AM

I already have my Thanksgiving turkey. I have it in my freezer, and it has been there since October 31. It may seem a little early to have it, and for a moment I thought it may have been better to buy a fresh turkey at the grocery store. But this turkey is what farmer John Crisp calls “beyond organic.”

Cooked turkey
Buy an organic turkey for your feast this Thanksgiving. Photo By xybermatthew/Courtesy Flickr

My turkey was raised in a small Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm in Americus, Kansas, about two hours from my home. It was fed fresh grass, bugs, organic grain and kelp daily, and was raised in a 90 square foot field pen with 10 other turkeys. With plenty of space to roam, the pens were moved at least twice daily by John Crisp, owner of Sheppard’s Valley farm, to ensure fresh grass and a clean floor in a practice known as pastured poultry.

With this system John and Ramona Crisp make sure that their investment is safe (coyotes, bobcats and other predators are always happy to feed on birds); at the same time they know they are raising poultry in one of the most sustainable and healthy ways.

“There is no manure ‘buildup’ at all—which practically eliminates any sanitation or disease issues. Mortalities are very low, to almost non-existent,” says John, who explains that it takes him between eight to 12 weeks to get the pens to their original position, plenty of time for manure to compost and fresh grass to grow. Because the pens are always clean, “there is no need for antibiotics to be fed to the birds, in contrast to the standard industry model that feeds antibiotics daily. The birds are happy, healthy, calm and gentle, and have received no vaccinations, no medications, and are given no synthetic chemical inputs.”

Sheppard’s Valley doesn’t have a USDA organic certification, but I know what he tells me is true. I have visited his farm before, and I saw beautiful fields, clean barns and pens and very happy animals. Everything I have eaten from their farm has been amazingly flavorful. I also got to know John and Ramona personally, something almost unthinkable when you buy your foods from a big grocer.