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heritage-turkeys

It goes without saying that the star of the Thanksgiving dinner is the turkey. Most of us want to enjoy these traditions, but also want to make the right choices for the environment, and for the sake of healthy. It must start with where you are going to get your bird. Your local big-box grocery store is likely packed to the brim with ready-to-roast turkeys, and of course that seems like the easiest route. It’s not, however, the best choice for planet Earth, and if we are to be thankful this Thanksgiving, let’s start by being grateful for this spinning rock we call home.

The best place to get your turkey is from the turkey farm closest to your home. This way, the turkey hasn’t been shipped hundreds of miles in a gas-guzzling truck, and has gone through less storage and freezing.

Many farmers use organic methods to raise their turkeys. The definition of “organic” is often misused by larger farms and companies, so make sure you do your research. Websites like Local Harvest carefully select farms which raise these birds in a truly organic way, so if you find a farm there you can be assured that the turkeys there that are “certified organic” have been fed organic feed throughout their lives, and have not been treated with antibiotics.

Some turkeys on LocalHarvest are labeled “pastured.” This means that they grew up outside in the sun, and are free to roam the pastures. “Free range” birds are also free of confinement, but may have been kept in a barn, instead of being allowed to run around the outside. There is also a growing interest in Heritage turkeys.

According to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy:
“Heritage turkeys are defined by the historic, range-based production system in which they are raised. Turkeys must meet all of the following criteria to qualify as a Heritage turkey:

1. Naturally mating: the Heritage Turkey must be reproduced and genetically maintained through natural mating, with expected fertility rates of 70-80%. This means that turkeys marketed as “heritage” must be the result of naturally mating pairs of both grandparent and parent stock.

2. Long productive outdoor lifespan: the Heritage Turkey must have a long productive lifespan. Breeding hens are commonly productive for 5-7 years and breeding toms for 3-5 years. The Heritage Turkey must also have a genetic ability to withstand the environmental rigors of outdoor production systems.

3. Slow growth rate: the Heritage Turkey must have a slow to moderate rate of growth. Today’s heritage turkeys reach a marketable weight in about 28 weeks, giving the birds time to develop a strong skeletal structure and healthy organs prior to building muscle mass. This growth rate is identical to that of the commercial varieties of the first half of the 20th century.”

Check out LocalHarvest.org for a full listing of the organic farms that can provide you with a turkey that is truly organic, and will make this Thanksgiving extra sustainable.

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