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At these farms, turkeys are free-range and organic, providing a better taste at the holidays.
By Kerri Shadid
Published November/December 2012
A Narragansett turkey with marbled black and white feathers ambles through the grass, pecking the ground. It is joined by a few Bourbon Reds, a breed with feathers the color of rust and cream, and some stockier Broad Breasted Whites, the typical Thanksgiving turkey. These one hundred animals roam free across the roughly four hundred-acre expanse of Greenwood Farms in Big Cabin.
Cooking a Thanksgiving turkey is a long-standing American tradition, and for customers concerned about the taste, quality, and environmental ramifications of their meal, several Oklahoma farmers offer humane and organic alternatives to the usual supermarket bird.
Greenwood Farms is owned by Gary and Cindy Greenwood, who also own Four-State Meat Processing, a U.S. Humane-Certified meat processing facility. All of their animals, from poultry to cattle, are raised on open pastures.
“These turkeys can go to Tulsa if they want to,” Greenwood says. “There’s nothing stopping them.”
Unlike factory farms, Greenwood protects his animals from harmful chemicals.
“The turkeys are out on an all-natural pasture, where there’s no fertilizer,” he says. “The good Lord can put more good stuff in grass than we can put in any kind of feed.”
Another Oklahoma farm raising free-range turkeys is American Heritage Family Farm in Ponca City. Tera Biaggi, who owns the farm with her husband, Gary Moyer, hopes to increase Oklahomans’ access to and awareness of quality organic food. Their farm offers beef, chicken, and lamb in addition to turkeys, and all are raised using organic practices.
“When I was younger, I was basically a vegetarian,” Biaggi says. “I didn’t want to kill animals to eat. But then I saw what it’s like to raise animals the way we do, in a humane way, giving them a good life on the farm.”
While turkeys comprise a small part of the operations at Greenwood Farms and American Heritage Family Farm, they are the entire operation at Walters Hatchery in Stilwell. While the rest of the nation is raising Broad Breasted Whites, Arlus Walters is restoring two breeds that have nearly disappeared in the United States: the Chocolate and the Buff.
Walters has been breeding New Jersey Buff turkeys back to their original traits for four years and now has a dark brown bird that looks more wild than domestic. He has morphed the New Jersey Buff into reasonable facsimiles of the long-extinct original Buff, which died out in the 1870s.
“In one or two years, I hope I will have a completely brown bird,” he says.
But Walters, who is retired, refers to his turkey farm as his “hobby.”
“I like something that’s old, and I enjoy getting back those old breeds of turkey,” he says. “It’s something for me to play with.”
In a 2008 taste test, Cook’s Illustrated magazine highly recommended the turkey from Walters Hatchery. The taste comes from the fact that his breeds don’t put on as much fat as factory birds, which is a result of the way they are raised, with plenty of room to roam and high-quality grain. All three farms have noticed a growing and intense customer loyalty for the taste of their organic and free-range turkeys.
“A guy from Muskogee drove down and wanted two more big turkeys. He said, ‘That was the best dang turkey I’ve ever had in my life,’” says Greenwood. “We have lots of repeat customers.”
But free-range turkey farming is no way to get rich. The costs of raising turkeys on a small scale are exorbitant—the trip to the processor alone can cost in excess of fifteen dollars per bird. Walters says his feed, which is made for him in Kansas to his exacting specifications, costs around $30,000 each year. Even with a guard llama named Ben and two mules to chase away the coyotes, Greenwood, like Biaggi and Walters, loses some turkeys to predators.
Yet for all three farmers, the benefits of raising their turkeys on open pastures outweigh the obstacles they encounter. Each says that providing a better product is worth the challenge.
“This is not a money-making proposition for us,” Biaggi says. “We have a mission—we want to educate people about what a healthier lifestyle is.”
Get There: Greenwood Farms’ turkeys sell for $4.25 per pound. 32755 South 4360 Road in Big Cabin, (918) 783-5647 or greenwoodfarmspasturedmeat.com. American Heritage Family Farm, 11605 South Q Street in Ponca City. (580) 716-4787 or americanheritagefamilyfarm.locallygrown.net. Walters Hatchery’s turkeys sell for $5.99 per pound and are available at Forward Foods in Oklahoma City, 5123 North Western Avenue. (405) 879-9937 or forwardfoods.com. Walters Hatchery, (918) 696-0464. All three—as well as additional free-range turkey farms—offer their birds through the Oklahoma Food Cooperative, (405) 605-8088 or oklahomafood.coop.