Thanksgiving is just around the corner and for millions of American families that means it’s time to talk turkey.
Forrest Pritchard, an organic farmer and author of the farm-to-table cookbook “Growing Tomorrow,” recognizes that for many consumers, a heritage bird may be too expensive but says there’s immeasurable value in knowing where your food is coming from.
When you buy a heritage turkey, you’re “investing in local farms,” says Pritchard. “There’s a greater community aspect of saying 'I’m connected to the land, I’m connected to the farm and I’m connected to the food that nourishing my family'.”
Unlike traditionally raised turkeys—which account for the majority of turkeys raised and sold in the U.S.-- heritage birds are raised outdoors, roam freely on pasture and eat the varied diet including bugs and grass and contain no hormones or antibiotics. Most turkeys raised on large scale factory farms have been bred for specific characteristics but, as the name heritage implies, these breeds have descended from wild species, therefore promoting genetically diverse birds.
Some specialty turkeys can go for up to $10 a pound compared to the “Large White” or "Broad Breasted White" breed-- which account for about 99 percent of turkeys on the market—and usually go for about $2 a pound.
If you can’t get to the local farmer’s market, Pritchard says going organic is the next best thing. Organic birds may be a conventional Large White breed but they have been raised with hormones or antibiotics. Look for a USDA certified organic label on your poultry and produce.
“It’s 2015 and there are more options than ever,” says Pritchard. “Whole Foods and a lot of your grocery stores will have these birds. But there’s always a great place to go—your local farmer’s market.”
But if you want a specialty bird from a local market, Pritchard says don’t wait because with such a small supply, they’re usually in high demand. The farm-to-table advocate also thinks there's an important historic aspect to preserving older breeds.
"By buying these free range turkeys, for example, that's just a little way that we can kindof redirect our personal energy to recapture some of our food heritage in this country."