Our relationship with the food we eat can be much more profound than how it looks on a plate
Words by Greg Hartt; photos by Leah Stacy
Among pasture-based livestock farmers, turkeys have a reputation: they are a more demanding bird that requires closer observation and consideration than other types of poultry. But for us, this is where the joy of raising pastured turkeys originates.
Imagine a box of 150 day-old poults (baby turkeys) arriving in the mail just for you.
They are the most adorably dopey animals you can imagine, with a constantly confused look on their face. When they finally go out on pasture at about six weeks old, a wave of relief and excitement floods over us: they have made it through the most fragile stage of their lives.
There are many highs as they continue to grow: whistling to the young turkeys for months until I’ve convinced myself that they call back at me, the look of excitement every time the flock moves to fresh pasture, and the sense of pride when a new customer tells us our turkeys were the best they’ve ever eaten.
There are also many lows: the emotional punch-in-the-stomach of culling a sick or injured animal; the feeling of guilt when discovering a predator attack overnight; the tinge of sadness and loneliness in December when there is no longer a noisy, inquisitive flock of turkeys in the field.
As a farmer, these emotions tell me that we are doing something right; that we are treating our livestock with respect, in a way that allows them to be animals, not simply meat-growing machines. We are practicing organic animal husbandry in the truest sense of the words and allowing our land and our animals to inform our stewardship practices.
We follow their cues, understanding the needs of the animals and the land, while also relying on the individual strengths of our pastures and each species we raise in order to create high quality meat from healthy and happy animals.
It is perilous to fall into the trap of thinking about these animals as commodities as many conventional confinement producers do.
We feed our turkeys, water them, move them to fresh pasture, repeat many times, and eventually butcher them. As business owners, we need to be as efficient as possible in order to remain viable.
But in reality, it’s so much more than that.
We are charged with caring for these animals from start to finish. The turkeys gave us our start as farmers and continue to serve as the cornerstone of our farm. There have been plenty of challenges along the way, with many lessons learned and many more to come. We are thankful each and every day for what these birds give us.
Hopefully this Thanksgiving, you will thank your turkey for its own greatest gift to you and remember that our relationship with the food we eat can be much more profound than how it looks on the plates in front of us.
Greg Hartt, 30, obtained his PhD in chemistry from UC Irvine and returned to a career in organic farming after relocating to the Rochester area in 2013.
He and his wife have made a home for Stonecrop Farm on 56 acres of mixed fields and forest in Henrietta, and raise certified organic pastured pigs, poultry, and specialty produce.