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Organic Turkey Sales Gaining Traction In State College

by on November 27, 2013 11:10 AM

Though most people will be running to their local grocery store to buy frozen turkeys, there is a growing contingent of people who go out of their way to buy locally-grown, organic birds for Thanksgiving.

Each year, State College residents Jan and Tom Medill buy their Thanksgiving turkey from Over the Moon Farm, a grass-based organic farm in Redersburg. For Jan, there are a multitude of reasons to pick an organically-raised turkey over a factory farm raised bird.

Jan says one of the major reasons she buys organic is to avoid turkeys that have been exposed to a lot of pesticides and artificial hormones. 

"We want to have animals that were raised in their natural environment," Jan says.

Turkeys raised at Over the Moon Farm are allowed to roam free and live more stress free lives, farm owner Lyn Garling says.

"Our turkeys are fed organic feed with no antibiotics from day one," Garling says. "The organic feed has no [genetically modified organisms] or food additives. Some poultry feed has growth enhancers. Our food is just regular grain."

Garling's turkeys are allowed to roam outside during the day a couple of weeks after they are born, enabling them to also eat grass and insects. Garling says the feed they buy the turkeys is more expensive but worth it.

Jan thinks the slightly more expensive price is worth not only the health benefits, but also the taste.

"[organic turkeys] just taste better," Jan says. "They definitely more tender and more juicy."

But still for Jan and her family, the decision to eat organic came from a need to eat healthier. She has been eating organic since about 2000.

"It made sense for health reasons to avoid all these chemicals and enjoy good food now to avoid doctors bills later," Jan says.

Bill Callahan of Cow-A-Hen Farm in Mifflinburg also says that the market in State College for locally raised organic turkeys is extremely strong for the area. 60 percent of his birds are sold at the farmer's market in Boalsburg.

"There's a trust people have in us," Callahan says. "Most people who buy here have been buying off us for several years. They know what the product is."

Garling says her customers think her turkeys are some of the best they have ever had, but she has never really had much to compare her turkeys too, as she has been eating organic for so long.

Over the Moon Farm sold 140 turkeys this year. In fact the farm sold out about mid-October, just as it does mostly every year.

"The big industries, they know in advance how many turkeys people are going to want," Garling says. "We kinda decide how many we can handle -- it's a scale issue."

Garling says in recent years, demand for locally-raised farm animals has increased dramatically.

"I can't tell you how many people I've had to pass on," Garling says. "I've been doing turkeys for over ten years and every year there is more demand."

Garling typically sells her turkeys directly to people and slaughters them in the days right before Thanksgiving so they are as fresh as possible.

Callahan says people can come and pick out the bird at his farm if they want, to get a little more confidence in the bird they are eating. He says his birds have a nicer texture because they are able to roam free during the day, and that many people prefer that to the store bought turkeys.

"That whole movement of buying organically has grown tremendously in the past five years," Callahan says. "People are becoming a little more educated on food issues."

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Adam Lidgett is a freelance reporter who has covered news and feature stories in State College and Centre County.
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