November 15, 2014

Portland Thanksgiving Turkey Options

Ah, meat. The epicenter of the local food dilemma. On one side, you could argue that meat should not be cheap. On the other side, you have your desire to serve a huge, perfectly-roasted, glistening bird that will satisfy all of your guests, with plenty of leftovers for the next day. Somewhere lost in all of that is the financial reality that locally-raised or organic meat simply costs more than the unethical alternative. 

But float the idea that people should buy a $150+ turkey for one meal, and some will level charges of elitism, losing touch with reality/the working man, or just straight-up snobbery. To that, I say, do we really want to be eating $.99/pound meat? If we're really going to go on a guilt trip, I could ask is that really how we want to spend our holiday dedicated to gratitude, friends and family - eating inexpensive, inhumanely-raised animals?

Now that I've placed all my biases on the harvest table, let's break down your options for a Thanksgiving turkey in the greater Portland area. We'll see if we can find something that satisfies our desire to treat the animals we raise for food humanely, while not ruining our monthly dining budget simply to alleviate our carnivore's guilt. 

Wolfe's Neck Farm free-range turkeys

As I detailed in my recent Portland Phoenix column, Let's talk turkey, the turkeys from area farms live the best life - free-range, plenty of space, and fed Maine-grown, GMO-free, and/or organic feed. They live their short little turkey lives on a nice farm, pecking at bugs, and free from any worries about predators or crowded conditions. 

Wolfe's Neck Farm's turkeys (pictured above) are free range, meaning they have access to the outdoors, and they're fed GMO-free, Maine grains. The turkeys are $5 per pound (available in 15-20 lbs. and 20+ lbs.) and need to be preordered. Visit their website to pre-order turkeys, and if you're going this route, do it soon, since they will sell out. 

Other farms in the area that offer Thanksgiving turkeys are Frith Farm in Scarborough (organic, $5/lb.), Serendipity Acres (organic, $4.99/lb.), and Mainely Poultry ($4.29/lb). The latter two are sold at Rosemont Market on Commercial Street and need to be ordered by 11/20. A $10 deposit is required at the time of order and the turkeys are available for pick-up on 11/25 and 11/26. 

Chefs at LeRoux Kitchen on Commercial Street will be preparing turkeys from Rosemont Market for sampling today from 1-4pm, so stop in to see if the free-range, local turkeys taste is worth the added expense. They will also be pouring wines that pair well with Thanksgiving foods. 

Turkeys now available at Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's turkeys are available today until the holiday (the store will be closed on Thanksgiving). As usual, TJ's has two options for turkeys: "all-natural," brined at $1.99/lb. (available in 12-22 lbs.) and Kosher at $2.49/lb. (also available in 12-22 lbs.). 

The turkeys at Trader Joe's are sold fresh, not frozen, and are marketed as "all-natural," which according to the grocer means they are high-quality hens fed a vegetarian diet, and never given antibiotics or added growth hormones (the USDA prohibits the use of growth hormones in turkeys anyway). 

The turkeys are raised on farms in California, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania, but without any traceability provided to the consumer to verify the animals' living conditions. I've always been wary of Trader Joe's meat, because of lack of info surrounding their sources and at times, the too-good-to-be-true prices. But this is a good option if you are concerned about price and want antibiotic-free meat. 

At Shaw's, there are two options: Shady Brook Farms at $.49/lb. and Butterball at $1.29/lb. The turkeys range in size from 10-24 lbs. Despite the bucolic name, the Shady Brook Farms brand is owned by Cargill, the privately-held company that produces 22% of America's meat. The turkeys are raised all over the country, fed a vegetarian diet, and not given any hormones (USDA prohibited) or growth-promoting antibiotics (a new thing for this brand!). 

Frozen turkey landscape at Shaw's, Falmouth

Hannaford offered 4 turkeys at the time of publication, more may arrive by the holiday.
  • Marval (Cargill brand) at $1.49/lb.
  • Hannaford brand at $1.59/lb.
  • Butterball at $1.69/lb.
  • Nature's Place at $2.49/lb. ("all natural," i.e. no artificial ingredients are added)
Whole Foods Market offers a happy middle ground between locally-raised turkeys and affordable, yet mysteriously-sourced supermarket brands. Their store brand is from Jaindl Farms in Pennsylvania, which is the farm that raises the White House turkey. Multiple butchers recommended the Whole Foods turkey to me; it comes in plain ($2.49/lb.), brined (2.99/lb.), and organic ($3.99/lb.). All Jaindl Farm turkeys are free-range, fed vegetarian feed, and never given antibiotics. 

Whole Foods uses the independent, non-profit Global Animal Partnership's 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards. This rating indicates to consumers the conditions in which the animals are raised, with a 5 being the highest rating. Most of Whole Foods' turkeys are rated at Step 1, which means the animals are not raised in crowded conditions, no cages, and a myriad other requirements that pertain to the treatment of the animals, employee training, medicine, euthanasia, and on and on. You can read the requirements for each level. The Jaindl Farms organic turkeys are rated Step 3, which means they are also provided 2 different kinds of enrichment in their pen (turkey toys?). 

Also available are a heritage breed ($3.99/lb.), a farm-raised turkey from Misty Knoll in Vermont ($4.99/lb.), Kosher turkeys ($2.99/lb.), free-range birds from Plainville ($2.99/lb.), and run-of-the-mill Rancher ($1.89/lb.). All of the turkeys offered here are fed vegetarian feed and never given antibiotics or hormones (USDA prohibited). They are all also frozen and come in a wide range of sizes. 

Turkeys chillin' at Whole Foods, Portland
I called Sam's Club in Scarborough and they are selling their store brand frozen turkeys for $.99/lb. A membership is required to shop. (I called BJ's Wholesale Club, but no one answered.)

In the name of getting this post up, I am going to stop here, but I have a few more sources coming and will update this post. Please share in the comments if you know of other deals or local farms offering turkeys. Happy holidays!

Turkeys priced highest to lowest:

  1. Wolfe's Neck Farm, $5/lb. - order by phone or online
  2. Frith Farm organic, $5/lb. - order by phone or online
  3. Serendipity Acres, $4.99/lb. - order through Rosemont Market
  4. Misty Knoll Farms, $4.99/lb. - available at Whole Foods Market 
  5. Valley View Farm, $4.50/lb. - available at the Falmouth/Cumberland Farmers' Market
  6. Mainely Poultry, $4.29/lb. - available at Rosemont Market or $4.50/lb. through K.Horton's
  7. Koch's Turkey Farm heirloom variety, $3.99/lb. - available at Whole Foods Market
  8. Jaindl Farms organic, $3.99/lb. - available at Whole Foods Market 
  9. Plainview Farms, $2.99/lb. - available at Whole Foods Market 
  10. Jaindl Farms brined, $2.99/lb. - available at Whole Foods Market
  11. Jaindl Farms, $2.49/lb. - available at Whole Foods Market
  12. Nature's Place at $2.49/lb. - available at Hannaford
  13. Trader Joe's store brand Kosher, $2.49/lb. 
  14. Trader Joe's store brand brined, $1.99/lb. 
  15. Butterball, $1.69/lb. - available at Hannaford and Shaw's ($1.29/lb.)
  16. Hannaford brand, $1.59/lb.
  17. Marval, $1.49/lb. - available at Hannaford 
  18. Sam's Club brand, $.99/lb.
  19. Shady Brook Farms, $.49/lb. - available at Shaw's