Saturday, November 17, 2007

Thanksgiving madness

It's that time of year again -- the time when I start thinking that we really should not be selling our meat. If you've been reading this blog in past Novembers, you might remember that I get a little crazy this time of year. The insanity is contagious and is transmitted through emails and phone calls. The disease starts with the turkey customers, and after a few emails and phone calls, I start to lose it and swear never again to sell turkeys for Thanksgiving.

The emails started last week -- people who wanted to make sure their turkey was still coming next week. It's not so bad when the emails are from people who actually sent in their deposit and reservation form, but one particular man had not done that. Let's call him Homer. He's been a thorn in my side for two or three years now. He's a Chicago lawyer, and if I had to guess, I'd assume he's the ambulance-chasing variety, rather than the honorable type. Homer sends me an email asking when his turkey would be delivered. I email him back saying that we don't have a reservation or deposit from him. He emails me saying that he is certain he reserved a turkey last year right after Thanksgiving. I check my email log, and sure enough, there is an email from Homer saying how great the turkey was, and he'd be getting another one next year. I email him back to say, "Sorry but we can't hold turkeys based on such emails. We need the reservation form and the deposit." I also explain about how we've only got a couple turkeys left, but apparently I wasn't clear on the fact that they would be small. He writes back thanking me for squeezing him in and telling me that 13 pounds would be perfect. [cue primal scream]

It's interesting how people want humanely-raised meat from small, local farms, but they don't want to deal with the reality of that choice. They are seriously stuck in the supermarket mindset. "Yes, I'd like a 14.5 pound turkey." We can't do that! I wrote Homer another email being as blunt as I possibly could. We have only 27 turkeys, and they only grow as big as they grow. Their weights fit a bell curve perfectly, and we take reservations based on that. Most people want big turkeys, so if you contact me in November, you're getting something small -- if anything at all. We can't "squeeze in" another order. I can't make a 13-pound turkey appear out of nowhere!

Monday is D-day for the turkeys. I'll be getting up before dawn to make the drive to the turkey processor. In spite of the early rising, it is usually a fun day for me. The processor is in Amish country, so I spend the day visiting the Amish shops and eating at Amish restaurants. It's a long day though, and we don't get home until after dark. Then I have to write down the weights of all the turkeys and match them to the reservations, essentially putting a customer's name to every turkey. Then I email everyone with the exact weight of their turkey, balance due, and the time my husband will be delivering the turkeys. It winds up being an 18-20 hour day. If that is followed by angry or hysterical phone calls from people who are upset that their turkey isn't big enough, well ... you can see where I start to go into hermit mode and declare that we'll just be raising turkeys for ourselves in the future.

On the other hand, when I read books like Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle or Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, it reminds me that we are doing something important. Still, I feel like people should be more involved in where their food comes from. Every now and then I get these crazy ideas -- like only selling to people who have actually come out here and spent a day on the farm, seeing what we do and maybe even helping us for the day. I can hear the screams now, "But I don't have time!" The average American watches 28 hours of television a week, yet they don't have time to plant a garden, shop at a farmer's market, or visit a local farm to see how their food is grown. More than 60% of Americans are overweight, but they'd rather go to a gym to work out so they can continue watching television and eating processed foods.

I suppose some people might think we're just trying to get free labor, but having a green city slicker out here would not be beneficial to us, since we'd spend more time explaining how to do something than they would actually spend working. There are farms where they actually charge people for such an experience. As for me, I just want people to understand where their food comes from. I want them to understand that we can't grow a turkey to an exact size. We can't always stop the coyotes from coming into our pasture and eating our lambs or chickens. When you want animals naturally grown, you cannot control everything. We do not grow animals under scientifically-controlled conditions, which means everything -- weather, predators, parasites -- can affect them. Is this so crazy?


melanie said...


melanie said...

Just want to also add that I just recently found your blog, and really enjoy the reading...I have been going back and enjoying old posts very much.

BTW- just curious - what type of turkeys do you raise? We have recently acquired a Narragansett tom and some Bourbon red hens. Everyone tells us the Bourbon Reds are very tasty...

Deborah said...

We've raised just about every heritage breed over the past six Thanksgivings -- bourbon reds, royal palms, slates, and blacks. They all taste about the same. I like the appearance of the slate, both when they're alive and when they're on the platter.

We also raise some broad-breasted bronze for people who wants humanely raised larger turkeys. We've never had a heritage turkey get larger than 18 pounds, and we've only had one of those. A realistic size for heritage is 15-16 pounds, but only the top 10-15% of them will get that big.

As for the broad-breasted bronze -- if you let them grow 6-7 months like you do the heritage turkeys, they will taste just as good. The only problem is that you'll wind up with BIG birds! Last year we had one that was 43 pounds and another that was 38 pounds. But I've heard a lot of people say that you need age to develop flavor, which is why I think the supermarket birds (one reason) they have no flavor -- they're very young!

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

No, you're not crazy, and I think requiring people to actually visit the farm before they can reserve a turkey is a novel -- and very good -- idea. Perhaps you could "grandfather in" the regular customers who have never EVER given you flack, happily taking whatever you provide. The rest better get out the car keys!

Nancy K. said...

What a great post! I've never given the producer's side of growing turkeys any thought. You should submit your post to your local newspaper's "Opinion Page"!

Deborah said...

The opinion page of the newspaper sounds like a great idea, Nancy! And the more I think about this idea, the more I like it.


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