Thanksgiving 2020 will look much different than years past due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but small-scale farmers are making sure that families have the healthiest, best-tasting turkeys available for the dinner table.
According to Laura Reiley, food business reporter for The Washington Post, the coronavirus pandemic will interrupt 50 years of steadily increasing turkey consumption in the United States, the world leader in production. Because of social distancing and decreased travel, smaller holiday gatherings are leading to demand for smaller home-cooked turkeys.
Grass Roots, which is supported by Heifer USA, is uniquely situated to meet this demand. The cooperative is composed of about 40 small-scale farms mostly in Arkansas, Missouri and Mississippi, and it sells meat to its consumers online. As The New York Times noted, “Because [Grass Roots] sells directly to families and isn’t locked into a supermarket chain’s schedule, farmers have been able to move processing timelines in an attempt to produce smaller birds … The co-op is also planning to sell more turkey wings and breasts.”
The nimbleness of the cooperative isn’t the only benefit of opting out of a grocery store turkey according to Cody Hopkins, farmer and CEO of Grass Roots. “Most turkeys that you buy in the grocery are raised in large confinement farm operations,” he said. “Imagine a house the size of a football field crammed with tens of thousands of turkeys that never see the light of day. A Grass Roots turkey is outside on pasture their entire lives. They spend their days ranging around, eating clover, crickets, really expressing the turkey nature they have.”
Hopkins says that the way the animals are raised and how they are treated ultimately impacts the way they taste. “Grass Roots turkey tastes remarkably better than anything you can buy in the grocery store,” he said.
In The Washington Post piece on the turkey industry, Reiley, who will join a Heifer live chat on December 4, wrote that “Processing plant operators, contending with a shorter harvest window and greater handwork in the slaughterhouse, are trying to reduce their workers’ vulnerability to the COVID-19 outbreaks that have ravaged poultry and beef processing plants.”
Grass Roots has an advantage there, too, as they own and operate their own small-scale processing facilities so they can humanely harvest their animals. Since the facilities are smaller and count fewer employees, hygiene and health safety protocols become much easier to control. The bottom line is buying from Grass Roots comes with a host of benefits.
“When you are buying a Grass Roots turkey, you’re supporting small family farms,” said Hopkins. “So when you buy a Grass Roots turkey, not only do you feel good about the quality of the product, the way the animals are raised, the way the environment’s treated, but you can also feel good about helping farmers make a living wage.”
This year, as a way of giving thanks, Grass Roots is also partnering with Heifer USA to donate a portion of all turkeys sold to help take hunger off the menu for the millions of people who go hungry every day.
HOW TO ORDER A TURKEY RAISED BY SMALL-SCALE FAMILY FARMERS ONLINE
If you’re interested in ordering a pasture-raised Thanksgiving turkey from Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative, visit their website. Since the turkeys are raised in small batches, availability runs out quickly. Orders ship the week of November 16. If whole turkeys are sold out, or you would prefer smaller servings, you can order turkey breast or wings for Thanksgiving or any occasion year round.
You can also support small-scale family farmers by purchasing a turkey from:
- Belcampo, a group of farms in California. Belcampo is also committed to humane animal management and climate-positive, regenerative agriculture. Their pasture-raised, organic turkeys ship on November 23 with an estimated arrival of November 24.
- Joyce Farms in North Carolina sells heritage black turkeys and promotes environmental stewardship, animal welfare and strict adherence to food safety standards.