November 2, 2011

Soup to Nuts: Let's talk turkey

When it comes to the Thanksgiving bird, there seem to be more choices than you can shake a wattle at. Here are some things to consider.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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An organic, free-range turkey at Mark and Paula Stotts' Whispering Winds Farm in Mechanic Falls.

Photos by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Paula Stotts and the family dog Jasper mingle with the birds.

Additional Photos Below

Locally grown birds are scarce, but still out there

LOTS OF PEOPLE prefer to buy their Thanksgiving turkey from a local farmer, but even through the holiday is still three weeks away, it may already be too late to order one. Some farms have already sold out. Others have fewer birds to offer this year because the lack of local poultry processing facilities in the state has forced them to cut back on their flocks. Here’s a partial list of Maine farms that still raise turkeys. We included some sold-out farms, because they often have waiting lists for next year.

224 Packard Road, Plymouth;
Sure, Plymouth is east of Pittsfield, quite a haul from Portland. But Portlanders have been known to carpool there to pick up their Thanksgiving turkeys. The farm only raised 40 birds this year, down from 65, but as of last week, there were still six turkeys left. The turkeys are raised grain-fed and free-range, but they are not organic. They cost $3.50 per pound.   
135 Windsor Neck Road, Windsor; 445-2141
Emma’s is one of the very few Maine farms that raises heritage turkeys, and you’re in luck – they still have some available. Their heritage birds cost $5.25 per pound and require a $10 deposit to reserve. The farm also has some Broad-Breasted Whites for sale at $3.80 per pound.

61 Ash Swamp Road, Scarborough; 730-9077,
Daniel Mays raises free-range turkeys on pasture, but they are not certified organic. They sell for $4 per pound. The farm is sold out of turkeys for this year, but still has pastured chicken, whole-hog sausage and smoked bacon for sale for your other holiday needs.

76 Wescott Road, Gorham;
Farmer Carl Anderson says he still has five free-range turkeys left for sale at $3 per pound.

332 Alfred Road, Kennebunk;
Mike and Maureen McEnaney just started raising turkeys this year. Their 20- to-30 pound turkeys are free-range birds that are allowed outside on grass 24 hours a day. They have 25 birds, but are only selling half for Thanksgiving at $3 a pound – the rest will be sold as ground turkey through the winter months. They are sold out for this year, but plan to raise more next year. The McEnaneys begin taking orders in September.

578 Lebanon St., Sanford;
Owner Tom Basinger says he usually raises his own turkeys, but this year he is purchasing them through trusted farmers who use all-natural grains with no fillers or animal by-products. The turkeys are free-range, but not certified organic. Basinger has about 50 turkeys ranging from 18 to 25 pounds available to reserve. They cost $3.75 per pound. Basinger also usually has a few 30- to 35-pound birds for sale.

West Paris; 890-2591,
This farm has about a dozen turkeys that have not yet been spoken for, according to farmer Beverly Hall. The free-range birds have a diet supplemented with grain, and have not been exposed to chemicals. Hall estimates they will range in size from 12 to 20 pounds by Thanksgiving. They are processed at a state-inspected facility. Email above address to order.

209 Mile Hill Road, New Sharon; 778-2889
The Turkey Farm’s birds are free-range, and fed grains that are certified to be free of genetically engineered material. The birds do not receive routine antibiotics, but they are treated if they are sick. The cost is $3.49 per pound.

Sopers Mill Road, Auburn;
320-1969, kath@valleyview
This farm still has “a few” Broad-Breasted White turkeys left, according to farmer Kathy Shaw. The farm also raises heritage turkeys (Bourbon Red, Blue Slate, Royal Palm), but they did not lay well this spring, so there will be none for the holidays. Try again next year.

87 Standpipe Road, Mechanic Falls; 345-9005
This farm raises organic, free-range turkeys who are fed a diet supplemented with organic grain and, at this time of year, also some organic cracked corn. Whispering Winds is sold out for this year, and already has a waiting list for next year.
184 Burnett Road, Freeport;
Wolfes Neck pasture raises Bronze Broad-Breasted turkeys that are sold for $4.50 per pound. You can request a hen for a smaller gathering (13 to 16 pounds of meat) or a tom for larger groups (18 to 26 pounds). You can order one online at for a Nov. 22 pick-up.

— Compiled by Meredith Goad

The 50 organic, free-range turkeys raised at Whispering Winds Farm in Mechanic Falls are "totally free-range," said Paula Stotts, who runs the farm with her husband, Mark.

"If you come to my doorstep, you have a good chance of being met by a turkey this time of year," she said. "We have the advantage of living at a dead-end road and owning the land all around us."

After the farm's gardens are emptied for the year, the turkeys are allowed to graze in those areas. Their diets are supplemented with organic grain and, at this time of year, also some organic cracked corn.

The farm usually raises a couple hundred birds, but has had trouble finding a way to process them. (Food & Dining covered this issue in the Oct. 12 edition.) Organic, free-range birds are in such demand, however, that the Stotts have been sold out of Thanksgiving turkeys since July, and already have a waiting list of 25 for next year.

Stotts is convinced they are popular because the flavor is so much better.

"You'll get new clients who have never had it before, and once they have it, they won't go back," she said. "They say that the store-bought tastes like wet cardboard. I know that there is a difference, in my opinion, in the quality of the meat. And even a larger turkey that's raised this way doesn't take near as long to cook as a conventional and agribusiness-grown turkey."


What's the advantage of buying a kosher turkey?

Kosher turkeys are birds that have been processed under the supervision of a rabbi. These turkeys are salted as part of the kosher processing, which gives a taste and tenderness that has been compared to a brined bird. Some stores are now selling pre-brined turkeys, which makes getting the most flavorful meat even easier.


What's a heritage turkey?

Most of the turkeys you see in the store are Broad-Breasted Whites, the breed commercial turkey growers embraced at the expense of older breeds. Americans like a lot of breast meat on their birds, and Broad-Breasted Whites have been bred to have so much breast meat, they have been known to fall over and be unable to walk well because they are so off-balance.

Heritage turkeys, such as the Bourbon Red or the Narragansett, can breed naturally, and they can fly. They take twice as long to grow as commercial birds, but that just means they have more time to develop a fuller flavor. Their legs are an inch or two longer than commercial birds, and they have a longer body.

"All of them are humanely and healthfully raised," said Roger Mastrude, president of the non-profit Heritage Turkey Foundation in California, which is working to bring back the birds.

Mastrude says demand is continuing to grow for heritage turkeys because they are so flavorful, but demand often outstrips supply.

"There are a lot of logistics problems involved with bringing back heritage turkeys," he said. "I really try to support small farmers, but the commercial reality is, it takes a larger farmer to deal with federal regulation and stuff like that. But even the largest heritage turkey producers in the country are tiny compared to the commercial turkey and poultry industry."

Heritage turkeys are more expensive because it takes so long to raise them, and they tend to be fed organic food. Small farms, if you can find one that's not already sold out, are often the best bet for buying a heritage turkey, because you won't have to pay shipping charges. You can search for a farm in your area by going to (See the list of local turkey farms at right to find heritage birds in Maine.)

You can also buy them online at, but shipping will bring the price of a single turkey to more than $100.


How large a bird should I buy?

Most sources recommend 1 pound of turkey per person, or 1 1/2 pounds if you want enough for seconds and leftovers. Ben Forbes, meat team leader at Whole Foods Market in Portland thinks 1 1/2 to 2 pounds per person is more appropriate, especially if you want lots of leftovers.


Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

Twitter: MeredithGoad


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Additional Photos

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Whispering Winds Farm in Mechanic Falls is sold out of its organic, free-range turkeys for this year, and has a waiting list for next.


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