“Gobble gobble” isn’t just a turkey vocalization – it’s an action customers are making to gobble up their Thanksgiving centerpiece from local farms.

There has been a consistent trend by consumers to buy local for the Thanksgiving table, especially in pursuit of turkeys. Whether they come from a barn, a pasture or a hybrid system, customers are quite willing to shell out $2.50 to $8 a pound for that special gobbler that will adorn the platter for the traditional family meal.

Consumer preferences have driven local sales well suited to New York’s smaller diversified farms. Purchasers are increasingly interested in free-ranging turkeys and knowing where their food comes from and how animals were raised. They are active participants in creating their unique family meal.

Turkey sales on the farm also stimulate people to ask “What else can I buy today for my holiday meal?” Perhaps a fine butternut squash or carrots drizzled with farm-produced maple syrup?

James and Ada Yoder from Local Roots Farm in Cazenovia, NY, know this trend quite well and say, “The birds sell themselves as people see them grazing on the pastures and stop to take pictures and converse with them in gobble. They are very sociable; that’s why we like raising them.

“Customers tell us the meat has more flavor from being in their natural environment, socializing and scouring the land for forage and insects,” said James. Their 100 birds are mostly grown for repeat customers and their own large family. The freshly processed 18- to 22-pound turkeys are a prized, seasonal favorite which adds diversity to their grass-based and vegetable operation.

Over at Cobblestone Valley Farm in Homer, NY, the Knapp family have been providing certified organic fresh turkeys to holiday customers for two decades. Their iconic white, glowing birds against the green grass provide a beautiful vista for drivers on Route 81.

“It’s a great marketing billboard for us,” said Maureen Knapp. As seasoned marketers, they provide the story right up front and update often.

Customers gobble up local turkey

Izzie Armentrout and Casey and Blaise Knapp getting social with the turkeys at Cobblestone Valley Farm. Photo by Troy Bishopp

According to their website, “The poults (baby turkeys) are started indoors for four to five weeks, then graduate to bottomless cages on pasture. After being acclimated to the outdoors (and know enough to come in from the rain!) they graduate again to a moveable shelter that is surrounded by electric netting. The netting provides a much larger area for them to roam, as well as protection from any predators that might be in the area.

“Turkeys are aggressive foragers, packing in the green stuff with great gusto and joyful noise! The pasture diet is supplemented with certified organic grains and minerals. The result is a juicy, chlorophyll-packed, incredible tasting bird for you and your family to enjoy.”

They raise around 170 16- to 18-pound birds per year which adds to the diversification of their organic dairy operation. “Customers tell us it’s the flavor of the meat that keeps them coming back,” said Knapp. “They also want to support small farms and like the way the birds are treated in their natural environment.”

Down the road at Black Willow Pond Farm in Cobleskill, NY, Dan, Carrie and the boys move their “turkey taxi” twice a day to fresh pasture, ensuring a signature eating experience for their loyal customers throughout the Southern Tier. The farm typically raises 100 to 150 pre-sold birds – and that’s on purpose.

“The biggest obstacle for us is labor and the amount of pasture that a flock of turkeys can consume daily,” said Dan Zeh. “With our diversified operation, marketing and workload schedules, this scale is all we can handle right now.

“We’re also able to help customers with other protein options for their holiday gathering if they decide on something else,” he continued. “Being able to sell lamb, prime rib, pork loin and pastured chicken have been good options for us.”

Dan shared that raising turkeys outside can be management-intensive, especially when dealing with environmental conditions. “This rainy season has been tough on weight gain and birds are a bit smaller than usual … However, it’s a labor of love because the turkey is the most animated creature on the farm. You talk to them and they talk back,” he said. “We think this joyful mood makes for a happy bird, and a tasty one, even though they have one bad day.”

With countless small farms providing sustenance to their local communities for the Thanksgiving holiday, local turkeys can and should be on the menu. Gobble up the value by supporting local agriculture.

by Troy Bishopp