“Talking Turkey” Down on the Farm
By Ron Eichner
Hey folks, November is an important month for our family farm, and it’s all about the joys brought to the table. November starts with the two-day celebration of the Communion of Saints. All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on the 2nd.
November 6 is when standard time returns, and we fall back one hour. The time changes in the fall and spring, affect not only people but also animals, livestock and pets. I would like to have daylight savings time all year round. November 8 is midterm election day. The cash cow of advertising for the media comes to an end until the next election cycle. Voting is a right that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Fast forwarding past my birthday on November 21, we have Thanksgiving, the last Thursday of November, and this year it is on the November 24. There is much media talk about the increased prices of turkeys this year. That is because the avian flu has reared its ugly head this fall across the United States, and fewer turkeys will be available for the holidays. In addition, higher feed, fuel, electricity, fertilize, and labor costs have driven up the price per pound of turkeys for the holidays.
Most turkeys are raised on large factory farms, which are cheaper for several reasons, most importantly, what they are fed. The federal agriculture programs are heavily subsidizing field corn and soybeans. Our government is scheduled to pay about $134 billion over the next decade to support farmers growing field corn and soybeans. The specialty growers producing fruits and vegetables will only receive $4 billion over the next decade. The federal subsidies are not paid to the small, average family farms but to the large corporate farms and foreign companies owning farms here in the United States and China.
American families eat about 46 million turkeys for Thanksgiving. Getting the turkeys processed and distributed to stores around the country is an operational challenge. Turkeys are raised year-round, processed, frozen and put into storage for mass distribution for the holidays.
For decades, turkeys have been sold by stores at the retail level at cost or at a loss for one reason—to get the customers into their stores with the hope that you will fill your grocery carts with other products. The difference between fresh and never-frozen turkeys can be confusing because fresh turkeys can be stored at 24 degrees below freezing, but the turkeys are not considered frozen. I often think there is a fine line between improving a hit into a flop by overcooking the turkey. Using a meat thermometer is an excellent instrument for several reasons. You want the breast on the white meat to hit 165 degrees and the dark meat to hit 180 degrees. The roasting time is another overlooked factor in producing a juicy turkey. Low temperatures can create a dry turkey, and too high a temperature can incinerate a turkey. Bake a turkey like you are checking on an infant. The number one factor for taste is the feed program.
Brining turkeys is becoming popular. There are a lot of mass-produced, pre-brined turkeys available, but keep in mind you are paying a higher price per pound of water. To bring turkey raising and processing full circle, it all started with my grandpap raising turkeys 80+ years ago for one reason, to offer his year-round customers a fresh turkey for the holidays. As a kid on our farm, I learned valuable lessons, and Grandpap said, “Turkeys are a six-month challenge, and pay attention to what I do cause these are my girls.” As Mother Hen Grandpap did it for 40 years; Dad was a 40-year overlap, and I have been doing it for 21 years. It’s said most turkeys have months of sheer bliss and have one bad day! Processing turkeys takes two days with a team of 18 to 24, with the focus each year on contributing to processing 550 fresh turkeys for our valued year-round customers who support our family farm. Bagging and weighing is the third day, and it is a long day for six people each year.
Our Thanksgiving turkey count has been at 550 for decades, and we could quickly sell 5,000 to 6,000 turkeys, but doubling to over 1,000 turkeys, would mean that I would have no family and no friends, so we would be out of the turkey business.
When people stop in our farm market in October and inquire about ordering a turkey, what can they do? I respond, “Be a year-round customer.” My grandpap’s respect for his valued customers is our current model today. Our family farm is open year-round with a farm market producing fresh eggs, pork products, fresh seasonal vegetables, a bakery, a smokehouse and greenhouses. Our year-round valued customers are the foundation for our family farm. For generations, our family farm has been here to support our community. All we need is community support. We welcome all our family farms to be a year-round destination.
My family and I want to wish you all, family and friends, a blessed and happy Thanksgiving, and always thank God for what we all have. So, if you want to experience what I shared, you are welcome to stop by Eichner’s Whole Farm and Greenhouses at 285 Richard Road, Wexford, and get “the rest of the story.”