Living The Turkey’s Dream

I got up early, dressed in several layers of clothes and gathered my large cooler, homemade ice and large baggies before heading out to the LTD Farm. I gave myself plenty of time to get there on the icy roads. I drove east on 94 to Baldwin, WI and took a left. After making several left and right hand turns on a dozen slippery and hilly dirt roads I found myself in front of a home being greeted by a dog. Parking in a very small driveway I got out on the foreign soil of a Wisconsin farm. Khaiti came out of her house. Seeing her photograph several times reassured me I was at the right place.

We made introductions and Khaiti brought me out back where I met Andrew who was hard at work. She gave me a quick overview of the farm and brought me over to meet the turkeys I have been watching grow on facebook. The turkeys were broad breasted white turkeys, a common domesticated turkey grown for Thanksgiving.

Khaiti and I talked about their 39 acre farm, while Andrew fought with the water hose in 20 degree weather. I wanted to take in as much in as I could, asking questions about what the animals ate and how the harvesting process worked. I knew how the basics worked. I saw an awesome video of turkey harvesting at LTD Farm done by The Perennial Plate in 2010. The way things went that day was very similar to the video.

I was able to choose a turkey, I got one of the black ones and it was a boy. Khaiti covered the bird with a heavy paper bag that had a small hole cut at the bottom so the head could stick out. She walked it over to a small patch of hay started to lay the turkey down, calming it. She didn’t give me a choice in cutting the turkeys neck and I didn’t ask to do it. I was able to hold the turkey. Khaiti held the turkey’s head and very calmly and respectfully cut its neck. Khaiti continued to hold the turkey’s head and I held the very powerful bird until all the life went from its body.

Andrew then brought the turkey over to a small building and hung the turkey up by its feet so we could all pluck the feathers. I was the only customer there the whole time, which was such a treat. I was able to ask questions and get to know the couple a little bit. I let them know I’d love to have a small farm like what they had; they were very encouraging. Plucking the feathers was a long process. By the end we were standing in a large pile of the dark feathers.

Andrew then took the bird down so they could gut it. They asked if I wanted to, and I hesitantly said sure. They were ready to go, having done this several times. I quickly said they could do it and they got to work, showing me what was what in the turkey. Khaiti pulled the heart out in about two seconds and put it in a bowl. Andrew took off the head, leaving the neck. Khaiti then pulled out the liver showing me how healthy it was from the vegetables and organic feed the turkey ate.

I helped wash off the turkey and put it in a cooler to lower its temperature. I grabbed my good innards and put them in a baggie along with the turkey’s feet for stock.

While the turkey cooled down Khaiti took me to see the rest of their animals. They have goats for milk, ducks for eggs, pigs for meat and the turkeys. I have rarely been on a farm and it was nice for me to watch the animals. I couldn’t help but to smile when Khaiti and I walked up to the pigs and they got really excited to see her. The pigs were pretty young and the looked really cute and cuddly. The pig’s ‘pen’ was very clean and littered with large holes the pigs were taking turns digging.

Khaiti and Andrew are trying to be as self sufficient as they can be. They have vegetables and perennial plants they give to their CSA share holders. What they don’t use themselves goes to the animals. Then the entire farm’s waste is composted and put back into the soil. All their animals looked very happy and had plenty of room to be animals.

Khaiti and Andrew are a young couple living the dream. They are both hardworking and they have a passion for what they do. They have a respect for their land and a love for their animals. It was an absolute pleasure to be able to see their farm.

Khaiti helped me load my turkey into my car. I shook both of their hands when I said goodbye and left the farm with a very quiet spirit.

On the way to the farm I couldn’t stop questioning our culture’s view on food. On the way home my questions were silenced. I felt at peace. I understood that what I have been longing for is a connection with ethical small businesses. I have been fighting the Monsanto’s and the Purdue’s in my head. It was time for me to see people live my ideals I only hope to achieve someday.

McMe

A video of animal cruelty popped up on my facebook feed today, three times! Here it is. It shows a factory farm where McDonald’s gets their eggs. A lot of the comments on the post have been anti-McDonald’s, some of the have been pro-vegan.

I am not pro-McDonald’s, but they are not the problem, I am; Most of us are. All restaurants that sell animal products, unless you know they buy from sustainable and ethical farms, treat their animals like products and not animals. I don’t buy ALL my animal products from local farms. Because of that I am indirectly promoting the abuse of these animals by buying that Egg McMuffin, or that fancy breakfast at the upscale place in my town.

Do I like the abuse of animals? Of course not. But it’s not that big of a priority of mine when I am hungry or when I want to have a nice sit-down meal with my family. It’s easy to turn my head to the treatment of animals because I don’t see it.

By not buying my animal products at a farm where I have a relationship with the farmers and where I am able to go see the farm, I am lowering the animals worth. I am not viewing the animal as a gift, but as a right. I am not thinking of the animal’s sacrifice, I am thinking how cheap I can get my meal.

I have killed two animals in my life, both chickens. One of them went to the farm where I went through the chicken processing class and one, from that same class, has been in my freezer for months. I am still too emotional to eat it.

I am scheduled to harvest my Thanksgiving turkey this Sunday at a small, sustainable and ethical farm. I have been thinking about cutting that cute little animal’s neck for the past six months. I absolutely do not want to drive one hour to Wisconsin to kill a turkey with a knife in 20 degree weather early in the morning. But it is not a choice of mine. I have eaten meat guilt free for 32 years. That turkey deserves my respect. I will look it in the eye and give it my absolute thanks for giving my family a very special meal before I take its life. It is a huge gift for this small farm to open its doors and have their customers help harvest animals.

I haven’t seen that many suggestions for preventing the abuse of animals. McDonald’s said they are not buying eggs from this farm anymore. But where are they going? How many eggs does McDonald’s sell a day? Will the farm they are going to, be able to keep up with the demand for eggs without lowering the animals worth? And if they are able to keep up with the demand, that means they are a large scale farm that is already selling to large companies. So is the animal an animal, or a means to make a product? And, where are the beef cows, dairy cows, broiler chickens, fish and pigs in all this?

Can our culture not eat as much meat, and spend more money on the meat we buy? I can buy a whole broiler chicken for less than $7.00. That’s crazy! How can farmers make a profit? Can we give up multinational companies that treat animals like products and support small businesses that have soul? Can we be accountable for gathering a portion of our own meat; hunting and/or raising and harvesting?

I eat meat and it is hard to transfer to eating locally, sustainably and ethically. I need to eat less meat. I need to cook more and I need support. I want you to come out to a farm to help me harvest a chicken or a turkey. I don’t want to feel weird telling people, “I am killing my own Thanksgiving turkey this year!” Can we form a supportive community that loves our land, animals and culture?

Thanksgiving Turkey

It’s four months to Thanksgiving but I know where my turkey is being raised; LTD Farm. When I visited Callister Farm they said all their Thanksgiving turkeys were all sold for this year. I assumed that was the case for other farms too. I saw a facebook post from LTD Farms that they had turkeys for this year and jump at the opportunity to get one. Not only are you getting a local turkey that is raised on a good farm, but LTD allows you to come pick it up and help process it, if you like.

I am sure I could get a good turkey from the co-op or farmers market, but for me it means a lot to be able to go out to the farm. Being able to help process the turkey is wonderful. I feel a responsibility for the killing and butchering of the meat I eat. I want to be reminded my turkey leg helped carry a 30 pound bird.

The Perennial Plate an awesome job last year of documenting some of that days events at the LTD Farm.

Chicken Processing Class


One day I did a search on YouTube for local food. I came across a video of a discussion lead by Russ Henry about breaking gardening rules. One of the attendees said there was a farm that taught how to process chickens. I did a Google search on Callister Farm and found they were offering a processing class the next weekend. Without a second thought I called and put my name on the list.
I love to eat meat. I have enjoyed eating meat my whole life. Fried chicken, steak, ribs, bacon, hamburgers… juicy, sweet meat! I have hardly thought that I am eating an animal. I even when I did, the thought would pass when I got hungry or I would look for a way to detach myself from the animal.
Here is the truth- I AM A WUSS! I have never hunted. I can’t stand fishing or eating fish. I have a hard time buying whole chickens at the store and cutting them up to fry them. The whole chickens feel like babies. They have skin and bones and arms and legs and blood… I bought a good chicken at the co-op months ago and I have not taken it out of the freezer because I know I will have to run my knife through its little body.
With wanting to be an urban farmer I knew I had to learn how to process an animal. A chicken was a good animal to start with. I couldn’t imagine how to kill a goat. I felt a responsibility to kill and clean animals. This would be a small class on a good farm taught by farmers. I didn’t have a choice, I needed to go!
I found myself on a chicken farm/processing Plant in West Concord, MN. Lori and Alan Callister gave me and two other young guys a tour of their place. They have: laying hens, free range birds, free range geese, and birds in coops that are naturally raised. They are one of three processing farms in Minnesota that are not fully automated. The process looks very similar to how Joel Salatin from Polyface Farm processes chickens.
At this point I was very anxious. I had been thinking about this class almost nonstop since I signed up for the class four days before. I knew I was going to have to cut a birds neck. I tried calming myself by listening to “A Country Boy Can Survive,” thinking of how farmers have done this for centuries and thinking of urban farmers like Novella Carpenter learning to do this before me. I felt mildly nauseous and didn’t look like I wanted to pick up a knife.
We got all suited up in knee high boots and water proof aprons. Lori walked us to the processing room than the kill room. Lori and Alan talked us through the killing process and Alan demonstrated. The two other guys were planning on processing thirty of their own chickens the next week and they jumped right in. Both of the other guys looked like hacks compared to Alan who has done this thousands of times.
By the time the knife was passed to me we had three chickens silently flopping around in upside-down traffic cone with the tops cut off. It took the chicken about one minute to fully die. I was told they lose conciseness when their jugular is cut. They bleed a lot less then I thought, far less than one pint.
I took the knife in my hand and tried to grab the chicken head. I tried to grab it in the wrong spot a few times and the chicken got away from me pulling its head into the cone like a turtle. I asked Alan how to grab it and he showed me. I got a hold of it this time and without a second thought I stretched its neck out. I put the knife ½” behind the birds ear and doubled checked with Alan that it was the right spot. He gave me the ok and I made a cut. I cut down to the bone and flipped the neck over and made a second cut. It wasn’t as clean as I wanted, but it was done.
The birds head flopped down and I stood back. We still had one more chicken to kill and I was holding the knife. I looked at the other two guys and to my surprise asked if I could kill the last one. I confidentially grabbed its head and made a cut- and another cut on the same side- and another cut on the same side. It wasn’t as smooth as the first bird but I got it. I flipped the neck over and cut the other side. When I cut its vain a surge of warm blood soaked my hand… I was a chicken killer.
From this point on it was easy work. Almost like working in a kitchen. We soaked the birds in 145 degree water and put them in a defeathering machine. After that we cut off their feet and heads. Taking them to the processing room we gutted the birds and put them in ice water.
The birds needed to get to 40 degrees before we packaged them. To pass time we went and sat down with Alan and Lori and they talked about selling their birds at the Saint Paul Farmers Market and the co-ops in the city. The two guys were together and told us how they we getting a pig this week. I was the only one from the city.
Thirty minutes after we put the chickens in the ice bath we went back to package and label the birds. Lori gave us a “Poultry Head Dispatcher” certificate. I expressed my sincere appreciation to the Callister’s and was on my way. I made the hour drive back home feeling more experienced and connected with people who have done this before me.
By the time I got home I knew I was going to suck down a high fructose sweetened pop and eat a cheap pizza that night. There was no way I would have been able to eat anything resembling meat the rest of the day. I got home and had Kristina take a picture of me with the bird I killed and cleaned. Then I hoped in the shower to sanitize myself. I could taste the farm in my mouth and smell it in my nose; I did not want to get use to that smell.
I plan on making a special meal with my bird. I am going to pan fry it. I left it whole so I will have to cut it up in pieces before I cook it. I know it is dead and not a small child. I will have more confidence in cutting chickens up and a deeper appreciation for meat. I am very appreciative of the Callister’s class and their farm. They have the free range eggs and meat I want to buy at the store. For them to open up their business and show us how they process chickens was priceless.

A Simple Step

By January 2010 I was exposed to the Whole Foods Diet and I appreciated the simplicity of it. That is having a diet that would be more similar to someone who lived 150 years ago versus today. A diet with food from a sustainable farm: fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meats, herbs and medicinal plants. All organic, homemade, grass-fed, free range and humanely treated. A process of a living farm that took knowledge and love to run.

As I got further into the diet I started to realize how I was romancing this image and how much different it is in our culture today. I have been challenged by lots of questions and issues ranging from: industrial organic farms, cage free chickens, medicinal plants, seed saving, food foraging, guerrilla gardening, dumpster diving, Monsanto, cannabis, food market co-ops, local food, supermarkets, animal slaughtering, cultural respect, urban farms, convenient foods, restaurants, raw food and seasonal eating… The list is very long! What I eat is something I am thinking about several times a day. It has been challenging to my values and challenging the reasons I have been eating the traditional American diet.

This is a blog to let out some of that frustration and to help keep me accountable to myself. I am the stereotypical overweight American. With a standard American diet, I will continue to gain weight, gain more heath problems, continue to dislike my weight and I will eventually be overtaken by heart failure. I am looking to take a stand against that part of our culture and to enjoy a long healthy life with my family. I am looking for support and for people to let me know I am not alone.

For the name Rubus-Raspberry, that is what was available from this site. One of my favorite experiences from 2010 was picking raspberries. We have several raspberry plants in our yard I got fruit from. I decided to make a simple jam with the fruit and turbinado sugar but I came up several cups short from what I needed. My oldest daughter and I went to a park here in Saint Paul and foraged several pints of wild black raspberries. We came home and made a large batch of jam, we saved a few jars but we gave most of the jam to our friends and neighbors. It was a learning experience I was privileged to share with my daughter.