Birdland: An abundance of local turkey options for the holiday table

015-web.jpg

Story by Lauren Mandel, Photos by Emily Wren

Every Thanksgiving, turkey buyers are faced with a handful of options: Do you save up for the local, organic, heritage breed? Stick with the mom-and-pop-raised, free-range turkey? Or do you just go for the cheapest bird on the shelf? So many choices.

004-web.jpg

One thing is clear in our local turkey scene: Philadelphians are becoming increasingly interested in flavor, quality and ethics. I spoke with Bob and Glady Esbenshade — owners of America’s oldest continuously operated turkey farm, Esbenshade in Paradise, PA — to hear what their customers want. “Most of our turkeys are 10-30 lbs,” explains Glady. “They have better flavor [than younger turkeys]. Most companies don’t raise them like that because they feel it’s not cost-effective. We raise them for the flavor, which costs us a little more.” The farm raises and dresses about 9,000 hormone- and antibiotic-free turkeys per year, 7,000 for Thanksgiving alone. The farm has been in the Esbenshade family since 1858, and Glady hopes her son and eventually granddaughter will one day run the business. 

041-web.jpg

Bob & Glady EsbenshadeWhat do retailers think about locally-raised holiday turkeys? “The Thanksgiving turkey business is the hardest season of the year,” says Charles Giunta, owner of Giunta’s Prime Shop in the Reading Terminal Market, who typically sells 500-600 Thanksgiving birds. 

Norman Weiss, purchasing manager at Weavers Way Co-op, agrees. “You’re matching up the [turkey] sizes with the customers’ demand. The main challenge is logistical — selling that many turkeys, we have to rent a refrigerated trailer for each location to store the turkeys.” 

Despite the challenges for retailers and growers, Glady Esbenshade is confident that her turkeys are superior to birds from industrial farms when it comes to flavor and tenderness. “Some people want a cheaper turkey, but [our customers tell us] ours are better… We have customers from way back who like our turkeys best and have come back for years and years.” Weavers Way Co-op and Creekside Co-op customers enjoy Esbenshade turkeys in part because each purchase supports the local economy and food system. The Esbenshades are mom and pop; buying from them means you’re supporting an irreplaceable agrarian lifestyle. 

Most turkey localists seek out sustainably-raised birds, but not organic. Whole Foods Market sees the highest demand for organic turkeys within the city. “During the 2012 Thanksgiving season, one in seven customers bought an organic turkey,” says Matt Rosen, meat team leader at Whole Foods’ Callowhill location. But for most customers at Giunta’s and Weavers Way, the organic price-point is perceived to be too high.

If you want to start a tradition you can feel good about, here’s a list of local and sustainable turkey farms, and retailers that carry their product.  

017-web.jpg

In the Know: 

Local Turkey Farms

Bell & Evans 

Fredericksberg, PA

Family owned and operated since the 1890s; hormone- and antibiotic-free

Find them at: 

Whole Foods Market

Esbenshade Turkey Farm

Paradise, PA

Family owned and operated since 1858; hormone- and antibiotic-free

Find them at: Weavers Way Co-op, Creekside Co-op

062-web.jpg

Griggstown Quail Farm

Princeton, NJ

Pasture-raised white turkeys and heritage breed Red Bourbons

Find them at: 

Fair Food Farmstand

, Reading Terminal Market (RTM)

Howe Farm

Downingtown, PA

Second-generation, hormone- and antibiotic-free, Broad-Breasted Natural Whites, processed on-site

Find them at:

Fair Food Farmstand

 (RTM),

Swarthmore Co-op

Jaindl Farm 

Orefield, PA 

Organic free-range and antibiotic-free available

Find them at: 

Weavers Way Co-op

Koch’s Turkey Farm

Tamaqua, PA

Family owned and operated since 1953; Certified Humane® antibiotic-free, free-range; organic turkeys available 

Find them at:

Fair Food Farmstand

 (RTM),

Mariposa Food Co-op

Whole Foods Market

,

Swarthmore Co-op

Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative

Leola, PA 

Pasture-raised, organic, biodynamically-raised 

Find them at:

Fair Food Farmstand

 (RTM)

Sensenig Turkey Farm

Lititz, PA

Amish-owned and operated

Find them at: 

Giunta's Prime Shop

(RTM),

Martin's Quality Meats & Sausage

(RTM) 

Weaver’s Turkey Farm 

Leola, PA

Hormone- and antibiotic-free

Find them at: 

Giunta's Prime Shop

 (RTM),

L. Halteman Family

(RTM), 

Martin's Quality Meats & Sausage

 (RTM)

York Springs Turkey Farm 

New Oxford, PA

Amish-owned and operated; hormone- and antibiotic-free 

Find them at:

Giunta's Prime Shop

 (RTM), 

Martin's Quality Meats & Sausage

 (RTM)