Organic, Heritage, Sustainable — When Talking Turkey, Does It Matter?
By the NRDC
While some may have friends who shoot and make many delicious meals from one bird during the turkey hunting season, most of us don’t hunt for our Thanksgiving turkey, unless you count the hunt for the perfect bird at a farmers’ market or the grocery store.
Suffice it to say, the Thanksgiving turkey you are likely to track down today in the supermarket is nothing like the wild turkey, and in fact it’s quite different from what your grandparents ate 50 years ago. Ninety-nine percent of all turkeys raised in the United States at the present time are the Broadbreasted White variety (sometimes called the Large White). Raised in confinement in extremely crowded conditions on factory farms (PDF), they are fed a steady diet of grain and supplements like antibiotics, rather than the grubs, bugs and grasses they should eat and could eat if they were allowed outdoors.
As their name implies, Broadbreasted White turkeys are valued for their large, meaty breasts, which breeding has enhanced though the process has rendered them virtually infertile. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, without artificial insemination performed by humans, this variety of bird would become extinct in just one generation.
When shopping for turkey, what should you buy?
There is much to consider when looking for the right type of turkey, or any type of poultry. To make the best choice, follow these three simple steps:
1. Always know where your bird came from.
If the person selling you the turkey is not the farmer, s/he should at least be able to tell you where it came from and how it was raised. To know what to ask and what answers you should be listening for, whether talking with a farmer, butcher or store manager, download Sustainable Table’s terrific question and answer sheets. To learn what different claims really mean and whether you can trust them, check out Labels to Look For When Picking Poultry.
2. Choose a heritage, organic or sustainable turkey.
What’s a heritage turkey?
There is a movement to bring back older varieties of turkeys, many of which originated in the United States. Groups like Slow Food USA and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy are working to reintroduce genetically diversified varieties of animals, including turkeys, that were common decades ago. These animals, often referred to as heritage breeds, are naturally bred and contain no hormones or antibiotics. By promoting genetically diverse turkeys, these groups are working to ensure the survival of the species.
Heritage turkeys are raised outdoors, roam freely on pasture and eat the varied diet nature intended them to eat, unlike most turkeys today. While conventional wisdom would suggest that the heritage turkey might be stringy and the Broadbreasted White juicier, in a blind taste test quite the opposite turned out to be true: Heritage birds—the Midget White and Bourbon Red in particular—proved superior in flavor to factory-farm birds.
Heritage turkeys are more expensive because there is such a small number of them, and in many cases you must order in advance. Many farmers raise only enough turkeys to cover demand, so most consumers order their birds months in advance.
What about organic?
If you aren’t able to get a heritage turkey, another option is to buy an organic and/or sustainable bird. To be certified organic by the USDA, turkeys must be raised with no antibiotics, no growth enhancers and only organic feed, and they must be given access to the outdoors. The animals can be a heritage breed or the more common Broadbreasted White.
Beyond organic, are there other labels to consider?
Organic farming generally falls within the accepted definition of sustainable agriculture. However, it is important to distinguish between the two, since organic products can be unsustainably produced on large industrial farms, and farms that are not certified organic can produce food using methods that will sustain the farm’s productivity for generations. Some organic dairy farms, for example, raise cows in large confinement facilities but are able to meet the bare minimum requirements for organic certification, while a small farm that is not organic-certified might be using organic guidelines and be self-sufficient by recycling all the farm’s waste.
Farmers who raise sustainable turkeys are not overseen by any group or agency and have no legal guidelines to follow, though many actually exceed USDA organic standards. “Sustainable” refers more to a philosophy about agriculture than “organic,” which is bound by its legal definition. “Sustainable” has thus come to describe the practices of farmers who preserve the land, treat their animals and workers humanely and help support the local community. Sustainable turkeys can be a heritage breed or the Broadbreasted White.
Though there is no single set of standards for sustainable agriculture, there are several labels for which high standards have been set, and farms have been third-party-certified for having met them. These include:
Animal Welfare Approved: Sets high standards for health, shelter and handling, including a requirement that animals spend most of their life in pasture. Prohibits growth hormones; allows antibiotics only for sick animals.
Certified Humane: Sets high standards for health, shelter and handling; prohibits growth hormones; allows antibiotics only for sick animals.
Food Alliance Certified: Requires low- or no-pesticide policy; advocates worker welfare, habitat protection, well-managed agriculture and humane care of livestock.
American Grassfed: Requires that animals eat grass only, and if they receive antibiotics due to illness they must be removed from the program. Growth hormones are prohibited.
To learn more about these and other poultry labels, see Smarter Living Label Lookup: Poultry and Eggs.
3. Buy a local bird.
Thanksgiving is a celebration of the local harvest, so whether you are buying a heritage, organic or sustainable turkey, make sure it’s from a local farm. Great directories to local food sources include Local Harvest and the Eat Well Guides.
Celebrate The Farmer
By Mark Bittman
I was at a farm dinner in Maine the other night, a long table of 60 people eating corn, chicken, salad, a spectacular herb sorbet and other goodies. When one of the hosts arose to ask someone to describe the first course on the table – huge marrow bones from the farm’s cattle– she introduced not the chef but the farmers. Similarly, at a fund-raiser on Cape Cod a week or so earlier, the talk was all about the provenance of the produce and meat rather than the cooking technique. The most popular guy was the oyster grower.
This is a fine trend. With all due respect to my chef friends (many of whom will agree with this statement), most cooking is dead-easy and pretty quick: it takes 20 minutes to roast a marrow bone, and an ambitious fifth-grader can get it right on the first try. A more complicated dish, like the seared corn with chorizo that was served a bit later, might consume an hour and require a bit of skill.
But raising and butchering the cows and pigs that produced the marrow bones and meat for the chorizo? Growing the corn? These are tasks that take weeks, if not months, of daily activity and maintenance. Like anything else, you can get good at it, but the challenges that nature (ask the corn farmers of Kansas) and the market (ask Tyson Foods, whose profits just fell 61 percent) throw at you are never even close to being under control in the same way that a cook controls the kitchen.
What a cook doesn’t control is ingredients, and that’s where the debt to farmers comes in. In the last 10 or 15 years, we’ve seen the best New York chefs scouring the Greenmarket weekly and setting up exclusive relationships with farmers throughout the Northeast; that kind of behavior is nationwide. And even before that, Alice Waters hired people full-time to make sure the ingredients her people cooked with were the best.
Since late summer brings more real food to more people than other times, right now the rest of us can eat as well as if we had our own chef. Whether it’s a salad of raw tomatoes, peaches and basil, a dish of roasted eggplant with nothing more than soy sauce, a real chicken smeared with a paste of fresh herbs, it’s all right out there. In much of the country, even some conventional supermarkets purchase from nearby farms. On my recent trip through New England, I saw a bin of corn being filled from burlap sacks by a guy (a farmer, I presume) who’d driven up in a pickup; there was a similar scene involving cucumbers. Big deal, but it shows it can be done.
The cry will ring out: Not everyone can afford fresh fruits and vegetables, especially from farm stands! And, sadly, it’s true. But this is precisely why we need to support a herd of actions that will make it possible for more people to have access to real food:
We need to reduce unemployment and increase the minimum wage (including that for farm and restaurant workers). This (obviously) goes beyond the realm of food, but it’s key to improving the quality of life for many if not most Americans. (Here’s a strong argument for that.)
We need to not cut but raise the amount of support we give to recipients of food stamps. A good example is New York City’s Health Bucks program, where food stamps are worth more at farmers’ markets (which don’t, as a rule, sell sugar-sweetened beverages!).
We need not only to attack the nonsensical and wasteful system that pays for corn and soybeans to be grown to create junk food and ethanol, but to support local and national legislation that encourages the birth of new small-and-medium farms. We need to encourage both new and established farms to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables, to raise animals in sensible ways and, using a combination of modern and time-tested techniques, treat those animals well and use their products sensibly.
In short, we need more real farmers, not businessmen riding on half-million-dollar combines. And if you haven’t seen a real farmer, go visit a one- or two-acre intensive garden; it’s a mind-blowing thing, how much can be grown in a relatively small space. Then imagine thousands of 10-, 20- and 100-acre farms planted similarly: the vegetables sold regionally, the pigs fed from scraps, the compost fertilizing the soil, the cattle at pasture, the milk making cheese ….
The naysayers will yell, “this mode of farming will not produce enough corn and soy to feed our junk food and cheeseburger habit,” and that’s exactly the point. It would produce enough food so that we can all eat well. It’d produce enough food so we can slow the hysteria about our inability to feed the expected 9 billion earthlings. After all, we’re not doing such a great job of feeding the current 7 billion. Why? Largely because too many resources go into producing junk food and animal products.
The Northeast, where everything but dairy farming was left for dead a decade ago, and where many dairy farmers hold on for dear life, was once its own breadbasket; sometimes it feels as if it can become that again. Local food grown by local farmers is a wonderful thing; more food grown by farmers who sell regionally brings a level of practicality to the system. Boats and trains from all over the Northeast once supplied New York City (obviously incapable of producing much in the way of truly “local” food, unless you envision re-converting Westchester, Nassau, Bergen and Fairfield counties to farmland) with food that was picked during the day, shipped at night, and sold the next day. By comparison, the parsley sitting in your supermarket right now is at least a week old and probably older, barring some incredible good fortune.
Real farmers, like gardeners, take pride in every tomato. And while agribusiness continues to try to find a way to produce a decent-tasting tomato (there’s a new scheme now; it won’t work), anyone who wants to can buy tomatoes and other fantastic produce until Thanksgiving, and — in much of the country and without much effort — well into the early winter. The thrill of seasonality — not only real tomatoes but firm eggplants and cucumbers with super flavor and minimal seeds, arugula that demonstrates why it was once called rocket, peaches with loads of fuzz and so on – reminds me why I don’t often buy those things out of season.
But to get these beautiful veggies, we need real farmers who grow real food, and the will to reform a broken food system. And for that, we need not only to celebrate farmers, but also to advocate for them.
Source: The New York Times
Improving the Farmer’s Market Business Model
Because most farmers’ markets are operated by not-for-profits or local government employees, and few have full time staff, there is often not the time, resources or inclination to effect change to the fundamental way markets do business.
Farmers markets exist to bring together farmers and foodmakers with consumers who wish to purchase their products. The market entity arranges the location, attracts vendors who represent a spectrum of local food and produce, publicizes the existence of the market, and sets and polices the rules by which the market operates. These functions take a great deal of time to execute, leaving little, if any, time or resource for making improvements that may be in the interests of the vendors and the consumers who shop the market.
Though the vendors and consumers in the market are captive to the basic way the market operates, they often can, and do, adopt new ways of conducting business that improves the overall experience. The best recent example of this is the increased use of mobile smart phone attachments that enable vendors to accept credit card payments. Not only does this increase vendor sales, but consumers also like the flexibility of paying with credit cards.
Last summer we conducted a survey of 400 farmer’s market shoppers. One of the most surprising results of the survey was that 47 percent of respondents would have liked to pre-order their food and produce online for pick up later at the market. The main reasons for this preference were that (1) shoppers could avoid out-of-stocks on their favorite items, and (2) they would not have to arrive early at the market to get the best produce. (The benefit to vendors would be increased sales and the ability to better plan how much food to bring to each market).
In addition, our survey respondents wanted to hear more from the particular vendors they liked. The farmers and foodmakers who produce the food at the market have a great deal of knowledge to share with consumers but often are not available or accessible at every market.
In response to these customer needs, Fresh Nation developed a simple, free, easy-to-use interface allowing vendors to pre-sell their products online (for later pick-up at the market), and to communicate with their customers about the food they sell. Vendors who utilize these new services can over time experience a substantial rise in their revenues from an increasingly loyal and connected customer base.
In addition, we found that vendors had few opportunities to present their businesses in the most favorable light to attract not only individual customers, but also restaurants and wholesale accounts, so we created a free business Profile for every vendor that requires zero maintenance and can include a wholesale price list. Vendors can add photos and narrative to their Profiles making their products all the more attractive to prospective buyers.
Farmers and foodmakers must begin to take more responsibility for the success of their businesses outside of the traditional farmer’s market, and not leave their success solely in the hands of market operators who can provide only the physical space in which the vendors operate. New methodologies are now available to vendors to increase their revenues and customer retention, and open up new audiences to their products both during the traditional farmer’s market season, and after.
Fresh Food, Fresh Ideas, Fresh Nation
Markets have been part of society since its earliest days. It was not in the too distant past when your grandparents or great-grandparents went to the market several times a week to buy all the food needed to keep their home kitchen stocked and bustling. The food they bought was wholesome, fresh and local.
As society became more efficient and mass production became the norm, we traded some of that wholesomeness, most of the freshness and all of that local for the convenience of one-stop shopping. Not that there is anything wrong with modern conveniences! Knowing that the supermarket will have everything that you are looking for—and several payment options— is something we have become accustomed to. And let’s be honest, the convenience of the supermarket is almost essential since our harried twenty-four- hour day seems so much shorter than the twenty-four hours that our grandparents experienced. And yet with all that, a part of us longs for that old-fashioned, in-person local market experience.
So here we are in the twenty-first century, our craving revived for wholesome, fresh and local food: that craving drives the modern Farmers’ Market movement. Across our Westchester community and across the nation, Farmers’ Markets of all different styles and sizes are dotting the landscape as we rediscover what our grandparents knew. Fresh food, simply, is the best food. Small farms are again basking in the glow of feeding their local communities. As patrons of these local Farmers’ Markets we benefit as we eat healthier, once again connect to friends and neighbors and begin to heal our environment one weekend at a time.
And yet, some of the convenience is missing…..enter Fresh Nation.
Fresh Nation is a regional organization that has the potential to enhance how we shop at our local Farmers’ Market! Their services embrace the convenience of supermarket shopping while, crucially, preserving the local experience that is the soul of Farmers’ Market shopping. What Fresh Nation is attempting to do—and we at Gossett Brothers think they have an excellent shot at achieving this goal—is to give you the consumer the ability to pre-order your favorite items from each vendor and pay for those items on the internet with your credit or debit card. Then, on market day, you simply pick up your special order and enjoy!
So think about this for a moment or two. Imagine being able to pre-order your favorite Farmers’ Market staples from your favorite vendors and having your parcels magically waiting for you on Market day! Imagine being able to pay in advance on a secure site and not having to worry about having enough cash to pay for all your goods! (Most vendors, as you probably know, aren’t yet equipped to accept credit cards.) With Fresh Nation, you still have the fun of going to your local market to see what’s new and exciting, talk to the farmers about what they are growing and connect to friends and neighbors. It’s the best of the world of technology and the best of old-fashioned community.
Our farmers are an amazing group of people. Not only do they work the land, they are also part businesspeople, part transportation company and part salespeople. They have to grow crops and take care of livestock, get up before the sunrise to transport their wares to our neighborhood, share their fresh-picked crops, go back home, do the bookkeeping (hopefully making a bit of a profit) and then do it all over again the following week. Like our business here at Gossett Nursery, our farmers’ business is a seasonal one and subject to uncertainly of weather and other variables that nature throws their way. Farming is demanding; it takes a persevering spirit to create a thriving local business.
BUT, thriving businesses—even time-honored businesses like farming— embrace change and Gossetts’ Farm Market is looking forward to exploring, along with Fresh Nation, new ways to benefit both our market patrons and our farmers. Fresh Nation is a Fresh Idea. So how do you benefit from what Fresh Nation has to offer?
- CLICK HERE to go to the Gossetts’ Farm Market Fresh Nation Page to learn more about this up-and-coming service.
- If you like what you see on the Fresh Nation page, then consider choosing to “favorite” Gossetts’ Farm Market. (By “Favoriting” us, you will receive updates both directly from our vendors and from Gossetts” Farm Market)
- Ask your favorite vendors if they are willing to explore this exciting new opportunity to partner with Fresh Nation so that their products could be available to you for pre-order.
Want to be sure that you come back home with all the fresh foods you need to create your perfect week’s menu? Then start a dialogue this Saturday with all your favorite Gossetts’ Farm Market vendors about Fresh Nation. Starting now you are invited to be part of something wonderful, a conversation that links Fresh Nation, Farmer and you. Let our Gossetts’ Farm Market vendors know that you are willing to make a commitment to their product for the convenience Fresh Nation offers.
The Fresh Nation team is not expecting our farmers and vendors to go it alone. They are behind the scenes helping them along the way until this Fresh Idea becomes the norm. It is going to take lots of work and some time, but the end result will be more of your dollars going directly to the farmer and greater convenience to you. This is a win-win situation that Fresh Nation can make a reality if we all do this together, and doing things together for the greater good is something your grandparents would have understood and what the modern American Farmer’s Market movement is all about.
-Gossett Farmers Market
Am I Right To Feel Bad About McDonald’s?
Each time I drive past a McDonald’s, which happens quite a lot given the ubiquity of their establishments, the following thoughts flash through my mind (read below). And then I feel guilty that I feel so bad about an American institution that has a global presence and employs, directly and indirectly, millions of servers, builders, drivers, farmers, plumbers, electricians, and the like. Am I right to feel this way? You be the judge.
McDonald’s is the leader of an industry we commonly refer to as fast food. In McDonald’s case, the fast food is predominantly hamburger beef and chicken. The company has created such a huge demand for its beef and chicken that it has encouraged the industrial slaughter of cattle and chickens on an unprecedented scale. These animals are bred, raised and slaughtered in conditions that many of us consider inhumane and immoral.
The raising of so many cattle and chickens has given rise to very serious environmental problems, including the injection of vast amounts of methane into the atmosphere and pollutants into our water supply. Moreover, so many antibiotics are used in the production of the meat, that new strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria have emerged as a result.
All that livestock in turn requires large amounts of corn to keep it fed, and so our nation’s farm policy encourages and subsidizes growing corn at the expense of many other crops, fruits, and vegetables. We are drowning in corn, but don’t produce enough fruits and vegetables to satisfy our own “healthy eating” guidelines.
Fast food has been linked to obesity and related disorders like diabetes; it is loaded with fats and sugars, and if consumed regularly, will have a detrimental impact on your health and the health of our nation. The health care costs of treating diabetes have soared in tandem with the growth of fast food.
All this for a hamburger and fries. Am I right to feel bad about McDonalds? What do you think?