Why You Won't Be Eating a Turkey From a Small Farm This Thanksgiving

They're sold out. At least that's the short answer for Spokane area folks this year. Rocky Ridge Ranch is sold out. The Hutterites (no web site for obvious reasons) are sold out. And I don't know of any other small farms in the area that are selling processed turkeys this year. You might try Wishbroke Farm in Reardan (picture of heritage turkey is from their site) If someone has a supply of locally raised turkeys to sell this Thanksgiving I'd be glad to get the word out, just let me know.

I just got off the phone with Gary Angel from Rocky Ridge and he said he's been shocked by the number of phone calls he's gotten this year for turkeys. He said he could have sold 100 turkeys if he had raised that many. But almost in the same breath he explained that they're thinking of getting out of the poultry meat business. He explained that it's just not profitable for a small farmer. The cost of the feed and the labor involved with pasture raised birds is such that you have to charge a very high price just to break even. You end up with farmers not making money and customers wondering why it costs so much more than the ones at Albertsons.

Gary explained that several years ago Stevens County received a grant for a mobile poultry processing facility. They held seminars to get small farmers in the area interested and according to Gary there were about a dozen that tried their hand at raising poultry for meat as part of the program. A couple of years later most of them have dropped out and Gary's not sure if the Mobile processing unit is in much demand.

The lesson here could be that given the demand and lack of supply, there might be a real opportunity for someone to raise a bunch of turkeys next year to meet demand for locally grown birds. More likely, the lesson is that even with high demand, the economic fundamentals are just not there to support local poultry farming, mostly because industrial poultry is so cheap. The economies of scale in processing and the confinement practices that limit the labor involved in raising them are tough to compete with.

Dare I suggest that the thing to do would be to eat something other than a turkey for Thanksgiving. Maybe a hearty lentil stew with Berkshire pig bacon from Rocky Ridge Ranch? Lentils are available in abundance this time of year in Spokane.

Gary will be one of the panelists at the Food and Faith Forum this coming Saturday.