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Last year, the organic turkey I was supposed to pick up at my local health food store the Monday before Thanksgiving stood me up. The explanation had to do with a truck not making it from Pennsylvania, but whatever. There were no organic or pastured turkeys to be found within 100 miles.
Don't let this happen to you! Supplies of the best quality birds are already selling out, so if you plan to buy one at the store, do it soon. Or maybe you'll have luck finding one through a local producer (search by ZIP code at Local Harvest). If you live out in the country, call around. Most folks who keep small flocks grow a few extra birds in addition to those ordered by customers in spring. Others keep a waiting list for cancelled orders.
In Wisconsin, Good Earth Farm, a 5-farm cooperative that raised 750 pastured turkeys this year, expects them all to be sold before Thanksgiving week. Good Earth sells their turkeys throughout Wisconsin in health food stores, and throughout North America with their mail order business. Good Earth's Mike Hansen says that in addition to turkeys, he sees many more customers adding other pastured meats to their Thanksgiving orders.
With feed prices rising from $325 to $900 a ton this year, and turkeys being sensitive, somewhat goofy animals to handle, turkey should not be cheap. Right now, frozen organic turkeys from Whole Foods and similar chains range from $1.99 per pound doorbuster specials to more typical $3.49 per pound pricing.
Reminder: this is factory-farmed albeit "organic" poultry, which is not necessarily pastured. These animals were fed organic food, but were probably raised in tight quarters with very limited exposure to fresh air and sunshine. In comparison, pastured turkeys are allowed to move about freely outdoors during the day and confined at night. Whether or not the turkeys eat organic feed is up to the grower.
This year, local small-farm prices range from $2.50 to $5 per pound for pastured birds (that's cleaned, in-the-bag weight). You get the lowest prices by picking up at the farm on a specified day (bring your cooler). Heritage breeds cost more, as do turkeys kept frozen until you're ready to bring them home.
This year I am rich in turkey, thanks to the three birds that were running around the turkey yard of Larry and Debby Bright on the morning of October 25, and in my freezer by sundown. And while I'm happy to have primo turkey, there is an important benefit if you opt for a meatless Thanksgiving dinner — that second piece of pumpkin pie.