Good Life

Well-seasoned | Be thankful for locally raised turkeys

The venerable Centre Region Council of Governments may be considering permitting chickens to be raised in several of the surrounding townships, but there is no way that it would ever extend those rights to all poultry.

A recent jaunt to Amish farms in Big Valley to track down birds destined for tables in Centre County proved why we don’t have any turkey growers close to town, where the market for table-ready birds is approximately 50,000 households.

Those birds are noisy!

At Hostetler Farm near Milroy, a flock of about 10 hens strutted around the front yard, intent on rooting out insects from what was left of the green lawn and busily pecking through the gravel near the barn. They couldn’t care less about the dried corn that Rodney Briggs threw in their direction to lure them in for a close-up photo.

“These birds aren’t interested,” said Briggs, the father of Nature’s Pantry owner Michele Briggs and designated hunter-gatherer for the local clearing house of Central Pennsylvania foodstuff. “They want to find their own food.”

The sociable animals scooted across the yard, herding each other and dodging the corn kernels.

Deeper into Big Valley, behind the town of Milroy, another Amish farm had a pen in the front yard filled with turkeys. While Briggs negotiated eggs for the store, I leaned against their fence and whistled to them, drawing them to the sound. I am a bad whistler, but I seemed to be speaking their language because they all came over and honk-squawked back at me, peering through the grate, curious and attentive.

These local turkeys from Amish farms are available for $4 per pound through pre-order at Nature’s Pantry. Place an order with a $20 deposit through Friday with pickup the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

Local turkeys are living the good life in central Pennsylvania, at least for another 10 days. They are enjoying the sunshine and fresh air and consuming foods that they find themselves to convert into tasty meat.

The birds raised by Lyn Garling at Over the Moon Farm in Rebersburg have it even better. Garling has rigged up a playground of sorts, with CDs on a line that blow in the wind for the birds’ entertainment. Her 100 turkeys designated for Thanksgiving all are sold by pre-order and will be distributed at Tait Farm the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, though Garling grows some extra for selling after the holiday as well.

Bill Callahan of Cow-a-Hen Farm in Mifflinburg is raising 100 turkeys to grace Thanksgiving tables in central Pennsylvania this month, and they are all reserved. That number is down from his previous record high of 300 birds. He has been selling Thanksgiving turkeys for 15 years and has the veteran’s perspective.

“I’m pretty tired of the turkeys by Thanksgiving week,” admitted the meat farmer who sells at the Boalsburg market every Tuesday. “They require a lot of handling. We’ll be having goose on Thanksgiving.”

Callahan recently has added guinea hens to his product line and will carry them throughout the winter. The flavor is comparable to pheasant, with darker meat and more flavor than chicken.

There are still 30 local free-range broad-breasted white turkeys available at Village Acres Farm in Mifflintown that are in the 20-pound range and sell for $3 per pound.

Heritage Narragansetts also are available, and they retail for $5 per pound. Typically, heritage birds have darker meat and excellent flavor, worthy of the premium price.

Debra Brubaker from Village Acres will be delivering pre-ordered turkeys to the Friends Meetinghouse on Prospect Avenue on Nov. 26, and there is a $6 processing fee for each bird. It is necessary to pre-order the turkeys at the Village Acres website prior to pick up.

Local turkeys will be sold by the Penn State Poultry Science Club in a fundraiser for the club that takes place at the Poultry Education and Research Center at the end of North University Drive. The dates of the sale are from noon to 6 p.m. Nov. 25 and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 26, if any birds are still available. Hen turkeys weighing between 18 and 24 pounds will be sold for $1.50 per pound.

Count your blessings this Thanksgiving. Supporting local farmers that give the birds a good life, raise them without antibiotics, and help maintain diversity in our livestock gives us all another reason to be thankful.