by Lisa Moody Breslin | photography by Phil Grout
Some say it is the wholesome taste.
Others say it is the tenderness.
And most people who purchase a farm-fresh turkey as the highlight for their Thanksgiving meal also say it’s because they love knowing how and where their turkey was raised.
Unlike commercially raised birds, farm-raised turkeys have a quality life, and they feast on grass and insects galore. No injected water, no hormones or food supplements, explains Meredith Pridham, who runs Rambling River Pastured in Biglerville with her husband, Darin, and other family members.
One thing to know about fresh turkeys raised in the open air on a farm with plenty of fresh grass: They sell out quickly. Pre-orders are often a must.
This year, Rambling River has about 110 turkeys; last year, the farm sold the 400 it had available.
Fresh turkeys from local farms cost between $6 and $10 per pound, a price that fans of fresh turkey say is well worth it — and reasonable, considering the time, money and expertise required to farm-raise the turkeys.
For the last eight years, Steve and Gladys Henschke of Littlestown have been the first on the pre-order list at Rambling River.
Nutritional value lures them to a fresh turkey as much as its wholesome taste.
“We appreciate knowing that we are getting a free-range turkey that is getting all the right food and fresh air it is supposed to get,” said Gladys. “We have noticed that you don’t have to gorge yourself to feel full. Our daughter-in-law, Sue Henschke, swears that her children don’t get so tired after eating … probably because of the lack of hormones pumped in.”
Selecting a turkey from a farm is not as precise as reading the label on packaged turkey from the store.
When they are young, “turkeys all look the same, and one is going to be as good as another,” Gladys said. “We just trust Meredith and ask her to try and sell us on that is relatively small, as close to 15 pounds as possible.”
While farms may boast of open air, rolling fields of fresh grass for their turkeys, the best way to confirm fact from fiction is to do a flyover. No need for a plane.
“Ask for the farm’s address and then look at satellite imagery on your phone,” says Meredith. “Be wary of one large building or a series of buildings. If you Google Earth our address, you will see pens and trails from turkey movement; you’ll see denuded areas from turkey time in a pen for one day.”
Meredith also recommends “ground cruising.”
“Go to the farm and look at the ground,” she says. “There are a number of ways to describe how livestock is grown, but there is nothing as foolproof as taking a snapshot to get the truth about someone’s methodology.”
Be wary of cement and scarce acreage.
There are many farms in the area that offer fresh turkeys. While looking for the ideal farm for the ideal turkey, take some time to listen to the farmers’ personal and professional experiences that inspired them to go into the business.
Many of the farmers wanted the same turkey qualities their customers wanted.
Some farmers left, or balance other, professions. Meredith Pridham was a veterinarian; Darin balances farming with his responsibilities as university development counselor — military at Grand Canyon University in Harrisburg.
Homer Walden and his wife, Dru Peters, operate the 12.75-acre Sunnyside Farm in Dover. They chose the profession after being “horrified” by how turkeys (and other poultry, beef, and pork) were raised.
Walden worked at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab and brings his knowledge of how things work to make the tractorless farm work. Peters, who worked for Disney and Prentice Hall, and takes care of the business side.
Their daughter, Claire O’Brien, recently joined her parents full time on Sunnyside Farm. With a background in GIS and a talent for programming, she runs Sunnyside Flowers.
Suzanne Goldberg typically enjoys a plant-based diet, with the exception of “critters” a hunter offers her when he hunts on her family’s 42-acre farm. “Meredith’s turkeys” are also exceptions to her traditional diet.
For five years, Bill and Suzanne Goldberg have journeyed to Rambling River. For this husband and wife team, it’s not just that the farm-to-table-turkey “cooks more quickly, is more flavorful and is juicier than what is offered at grocery stores,” Suzanne explains. “It’s Meredith.”
“It means a lot to us to know the grower, to know that she is a former veterinarian and that she can explain how she raises her turkeys,” Suzanne continues.
Last year, the Goldbergs purchased a 30-pound turkey for $120, and it was worth every penny, they said.
“We had leftovers for so many people and so many meals from that turkey,” Suzanne says.
“Best turkey I’ve ever had,” Bill Goldberg adds.
Local Turkey Farms
Here is a selection of some of the farms that sell fresh turkey in our area. Some community supported agriculture (CSA) farms may also include fresh turkey occasionally in their food shares.
Hillside Turkey Farms Inc.
30 Elm Street, Thurmont, Md
12025 Susquehanna Trail S., Glen Rock, Pa
Rambling River Pastured
2575 Chambersburg Rd, Biglerville, Pa
1865 York Road, Dover, Pa
Whispering Pines Turkey Farm
13631 Glissans Mill Rd, Mount Airy, Md