I’ve seen plenty of wild turkeys in my day, but I’d never been around farm turkeys much until I wrote “Farm Fresh North Carolina.” When I was researching the book, in 2008, regular folks getting farm-raised turkeys for their Thanksgiving feasts was a rarity. These days it’s practically de rigueur among certain foodie tribes. Here in central NC, there are now plenty of sustainable farms that raise the birds.
What I learned by visiting farms that had turkeys is that they’re just dang cute. Beautiful, really. They’re curious and very social, with each other and humans. At night, they keep away from predators by roosting in trees. Both their feathers and crazy colorful neck waddles are lovely. (Now if only human “turkey necks” were so attractive…)
Turkeys flocked around me when I visited Indigo Farms in Calabash, N.C., which is near the coast and the South Carolina state line. Owner Sam Bellamy gave me a tour of his organic family farm, which includes a small flock of heritage turkeys. Heritage breeds are old-time ones that are threatened because of factory farming standardization.
Sam had two breeds, Bourbon Reds, turkeys named for Bourbon County in Kentucky’s Bluegrass region where they originated in the late 1800s, and Narragansett turkeys, named for Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, where the variety was developed. Those descend from a cross between native Eastern Wild turkeys and the domestic turkeys brought to America by English and European colonists beginning in the 1600s. Now that’s what you’d call a blue-blood turkey. Sam says turkeys have the best hearing and eyesight of all farm animals, but I can’t vouch for that.
Now is a good time to tout the wonderful advocacy and education group Farm Sanctuary, which “opposes the slaughter, consumption and commodification of farm animals.” They have an Adopt-a-Turkey program that promotes raising money for saving turkeys instead of spending money on eating them.
Whether you admire the turkey from afar or on your dinner plate (I’m not judging), Happy Thanksgiving!