Local turkeys give fresh twist on Thanksgiving


Ever wonder where the turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas came from?

Coastal Point • Monica Fleming: Turkeys roam around the farm at T.A. Farms in Wyoming, Del. The farm gets about 3,500 turkeys a year and sells out by the end of the holiday season.Coastal Point • Monica Fleming
Turkeys roam around the farm at T.A. Farms in Wyoming, Del. The farm gets about 3,500 turkeys a year and sells out by the end of the holiday season.

What was its life like? Or its death?

Was it administered antibiotics, or other medications, which are then passed on for human consumption?

Did its whole life consist of being cooped up with an excessive number of other turkeys, not able to exercise its legs or other muscles, just standing around eating, plumping up for the holidays?

Was it then driven in a truck hundreds or thousands of miles for processing and then hundreds more to get to the store?

While vegetarianism at Thanksgiving may not be for everybody, knowing the story behind the bird can be.

This holiday season, how about greening the turkey-purchasing by ordering a locally grown, free-range, all natural bird today, straight from the farm?

T.A. Farms, located in Wyoming, Del., just west of Dover, and operated by Danny Palmer, his wife, Sandy, and their family, has been raising turkey for 30 years now. They started in 1979 with about 50 turkeys and now get about 3,500 each year, almost always selling out by the end of the holiday season.

The Palmers farm, a 1,400-acre plot near Dover, also grows corn, soybeans, wheat and barley. Seasonally, they grow 50,000 wholesale and retail mums; as well as pansies and asters and, in the spring, pansies and Wave petunias.

Usually they get their first batch of turkeys in June, when they are about 24 hours old. They stay indoors for the first few weeks, and when they are bigger and more equipped to handle the weather, they have an option to go outdoors or stay indoors.

Because the Palmers are not continually growing the turkeys year-round, they do not have to administer any antibiotics or medications. And each season, the processing room gets cleaned and disinfected before the new batch arrives.

They butcher and process the birds on farm, at their state-inspected and licensed processing area. Proponents of on-farm processing say that the animals experience less stress when they don’t have to travel for processing at the end of their lives. That, in turn, some proponents say, means less stress for the bird to pass on to the person eating it.

T.A. Farms is licensed for about 10,000 birds but, for now, they process about 3,500 each season. They can process about 500 per 10-hour day, or about 50 an hour.

They sell the turkeys on the farm during Thanksgiving and Christmas and also have retail locations at Willey’s Market upstate, Hill’s Market in central Delaware, All About Plants in Rehoboth Beach and Johnson’s Country Market in Selbyville.
Coastal Point • Monica Fleming: Turkeys roam around the farm at T.A. Farms in Wyoming, Del. The farm gets about 3,500 turkeys a year and sells out by the end of the holiday season.Coastal Point • Monica Fleming
Turkeys roam around the farm at T.A. Farms in Wyoming, Del. The farm gets about 3,500 turkeys a year and sells out by the end of the holiday season.

While not certified organic — which often goes hand-in-hand with green farming practices — the T.A. Farms turkeys are all natural in that they are not administered any antibiotics or medications, and they are free-range in that they have access to both indoor and outdoor shelter and not housed in actual “houses,” with little or no room for movement. The benefit of buying locally-grown food — something consumers cannot get when purchasing food produced in mass quantities — is partly in meeting the farmer face to face. Any questions or concerns they have about how the turkeys live, or die, and how they are treated, and with what, can be answered by a real person. All of those things affect the end product that consumers then put in their bodies. They affect its nutritional value, and its affect on the environment.

Much of the growth in sales of T.A. Farms’ turkeys has been word of mouth, as well as people’s desire to know more about where their food comes from.

“We satisfy our customers the old way,” said Palmer. “It’s mostly word of mouth. They come, and then come back and have told someone else. They are also more conscious of what they are eating. We don’t use any growth stimulants, no medications, and we grow our own corn for their diet.”

In addition to the corn grown on the farm, the turkeys are given a fortified mineral package and eat local soybeans.

Whole, fresh turkeys are available from T.A. Farms in sizes from 14 to 20 pounds. Also available are turkey breasts, legs and thighs, ground turkey in 1-pound packages and turkey sausage in 1-pound packages. The turkey sausage and ground turkey products are available year-round. T.A. Farms also offers an assortment of Amish-made baked good in their bakery.

The farm will be open Nov. 22 to 26 and then will open again for the Christmas holiday. For more information on T.A. Farms, visit www.tafarms.com online or call (302) 492-3030. To order for pick up at Johnson’s Country Market in Selbyville, visit www.johnsonscountrymarket.com.

To learn more about eating locally-produced foods, or to join a locavore group in this area, visit http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/DeLoca.