Green Right Now Reports

People who do not want to support the cruel and dangerous conditions of industrial meat production, but aren’t necessarily looking to slice meat out of their diet, can find many sources for a better-raised turkey — or ham — this holiday.

Bronze breasted Organic, pastured, heritage turkey from the Elmwood Stock Farm in Kentucky.

Farmer’s Markets and the online seller Local Harvest feature dozens of producers with home-grown flocks that were raised on pasture and treated humanely. These smaller-scale farms can verify that they have not packed turkeys into giant sheds where they were deprived of sunlight and space to move around, as has become the norm in industrial production. (See our story on CAFO: The tragedy of industrial animal factories.)

The very fact that Americans now have so many descriptors for these farm-raised birds — Organic, heritage, pastured, humanely raised, vegetarian-fed — demonstrates how far industrial meat production has veered from its agricultural past. Once raising poultry in outdoor spaces, and letting them eat grass and vegetarian food, was standard operating procedure. Now, you’d best read the labels.

Your typical turkey comes from a large, no, mammoth operation, which has been effective at driving down costs. Not to get lost in that discussion, but this downward pressure on prices has had consequences. It’s resulted in an increasingly tight confinement of animals, ever-cheaper sources of food for them (the result being that animal byproducts are fed back to animals) and what animal

Heritage turkeys roam the Ayrshire Farm near Middleburg, Va.

advocates see as travesties of nature, like genetically breeding poultry to produce an abundance of breast meat, even though this immobilizes them. It’s also resulted in a new set of ills, such as the problems with meat contamination with E coli, salmonella and other bacteria. Those can happen in farm situations as well, but animal advocates blame the unsanitary, overcrowded conditions of mainstream livestock production for spinning up increasingly virulent strains of bacteria.

In a nutshell, these issues have driven up demand for alternatives; for meat from turkeys (and chickens, cows and pigs) raised in better conditions.

A recent USDA report on organics notes that “demand for organic meats is outpacing supply, causing global supply to tighten. A number of regions are reporting an undersupply because organic meat production is not keeping pace. As demand strengthens, organic meat supply shortages are expected to continue.”

The higher price of Organic foods remains an inhibitor in the market, according to the USDA, particularly in the current downturn. One work-around the higher prices is to buy directly from producers. The increase in U.S. farmer’s markets in recent years is additional evidence that consumers are seeking better food, at reasonable prices.

Back to the holiday at hand: You will, indeed, pay more for a farm-fresh, pastured, Organic turkey, maybe several dollars per pound.

However, you’ll get a turkey that’s most likely been freshly harvested and is rich in Omega oils, the result of pasturing. (Of course, any food can have issues — KNOW your farmer.)  Perhaps, this season, a heritage bird is a gourmet treat you cannot afford.

It you do decide to dive in, you must hurry. Many foodies reserve their heritage fowl months in advance. Today, there are still a few left for sale at the heritage turkey and the Organic and pastured turkey sections of Local Harvest, and with luck, at your local farmer’s market.

Gobble, gobble. The clock is ticking.