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Giving Thanks for Locally-Raised Turkey

by on November 26, 2014 6:00 AM

My family and I are eating Thanksgiving dinner at 11:30. In the morning.

You see, we're headed to my grandparents' senior-living community for our turkey dinner.

With low expectations for our meal (I fully expect to see Mrs. Dash at the table), my husband asked me to make a pre-Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday. I eagerly obliged.

Since we're always traveling to other people's homes for Thanksgiving, I've never cooked a turkey. As someone who takes a serious interest in food, that seems wrong. I felt like I was missing out on one of the most meaningful local-food transactions during the most important food holiday: buying and cooking a locally-raised turkey to share with your family on Thanksgiving.

Finally, I could order a bird from one of my favorite local farms, Over the Moon, a small, organic farm in Rebersburg.

Naively, I waited until late October to place my order. "When are you taking orders for Thanksgiving?" I wrote to Lyn Garling, who owns and manages Over the Moon Farm. Her response, "We've been taking orders since July, so good you wrote now."

Over the Moon raises about 100 turkeys annually. The farm sells out every year, typically about three weeks to one month in advance. Those turkeys are generally the same breed as the ones you'll find in the store. But that's where the similarities end.

Over the Moon turkeys are pasture-raised, and eat a healthier diet than some humans. In addition to plenty of grass and clover, they nosh on non-GMO corn, non-GMO soybean, oats, vitamins and minerals — no antibiotics or non-food additives. During the last three weeks of their lives (they live for 16-20 weeks), they're treated to 100 percent organic feed. Why not feed them 100 percent organic from the beginning? Because, just like us, animal farmers can't afford organic all the time.

Another prime difference from their grocery-store cousins -- these birds are fresh. Just 26-30 hours pass from the time at which an Over the Moon turkey is butchered and when it's delivered, fully-chilled, to the consumer. So the bird that will feed my family on Wednesday may still be munching on that organic feed as I type this article on Monday morning. "Most 'fresh' store birds have been frozen at some point and thawed to be 'fresh' for Thanksgiving," explains Garling.

For me, buying a locally raised bird is a choice -- not to mention a privilege. I'm fortunate to live in Central Pennsylvania, what a friend calls "agricultural paradise," and I can afford — once a year — to spend $47.50 on a 10-pound, locally-raised turkey. That's $4.75/pound. (By comparison, Trader Joe's charges $1.99/pound for its turkeys.) I've eaten and enjoyed the store-bought version, and I know The Food Bank of State College will be distributing plenty of them to families in need.

But from both a consumer-consciousness and culinary perspective, the locally-raised turkey is a far superior bird. My $47.50 isn't just supporting a local farmer; it's supporting a local food system. "Local farmers grow the feed; local mills grind, mix, bag and deliver the feed; local farmers deal with all the details of raising a healthy, outdoor bird and getting it ready for you; local haulers move the birds; local butchers process your birds separate from all the rest," says Garling. "Your dollars support all this activity."

And while I haven't cooked my bird yet, I have seriously high expectations. I've heard plenty about Over the Moon turkeys from other local food lovers, including those who have shared rave reviews on the Over the Moon website. One of my favorite comments:

"I'm 65 and have cooked more than 40 Thanksgiving turkeys. This year (2102) we got 2 of yours...They both were by far the best birdies I ever cooked. I will never buy a turkey anywhere else."

This may be the start of our own tradition: the pre-Thanksgiving, locally-raised turkey — perfect for leftovers on the drive to Grandma's for Thanksgiving a.m. dinner.


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Michele Marchetti is a freelance writer and the former managing editor of Prior to moving to State College, she spent more than 10 years writing for national magazines. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Fortune, Fortune Small Business, Glamour, U.S. News & World Report, Runner's World, Good Housekeeping, Working Mother, Yoga Life and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Follow her on Twitter at or contact her at [email protected]
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