This holiday season, the people of Mahoning Valley are gobbling up locally raised turkeys for all-natural Thanksgiving feasts.
"We sell about 1,300 all-natural turkeys and about 250 all-natural fresh turkey breasts around Thanksgiving," says Danny Catullo, owner of Catullo Prime Meats in Poland.
So what makes a turkey all-natural?
Special to the Tribune Chronicle / Jennifer Shima
These turkeys, bound for holiday dinner tables, are raised naturally at Meadowhawk Farms in Champion.
"Natural turkeys are raised with no antibiotics or hormones and they have no injections, so you don't have to worry about something being injected, like a sodium broth solution or antibiotics pumped into the bird to protect it," says Catullo.
Likewise, Ferenc DeSzalay, owner of Meadowhawk Farms in Champion, started raising all-natural turkeys eight years ago. "When I started raising them, I raised just four turkeys for my family and gradually increased each year," says DeSzalay.
Of the 60 turkeys on his farm, all but three were sold by the beginning of November.
"Every year we've sold out," says DeSzalay.
DeSzalay raises two relatively uncommon turkey varieties, the Heritage and the Broad Breasted Bronze. "They are not being raised by large-scale commercial operations because they're not cost-effective," says DeSzalay. "They grow a lot slower than the breeds that you see on a commercial scale today."
According to DeSzalay, it takes six months for Heritage turkeys to complete the necessary growth cycle, whereas the turkeys you find in the freezer section at your grocery store are grown for only three and a half months.
"The advantage is that ... they have a lot more time to build a much more complex flavor," says DeSzalay. "They're feeding on natural grass and seeds and bugs and worms and whatever else they find in the pasture. So they have a much more pronounced flavor than commercial turkeys which eat nothing but feed every day of their life."
"There are a lot of chefs and food critics who talk about how great these types of turkeys are and how hard they are to find," he adds.
"To me, when it comes to all types of meat, the fresher the better. It seems like the more naturally that you raise the animal, not only is it better for ethical reasons, but also it's going to taste better too. We feel there's a difference in the taste," says Catullo.
These turkeys may have better flavor than large-scale commercially produced turkeys, but it's the many advantages of buying local birds that will leave a good taste in your mouth.
"Freezer turkeys are factory-raised or bought in bulk," says Catullo. "You pay for what you get with turkeys. A lot of times when there are deals on turkeys, they could be from last year. They buy them in January and hold onto them until next Thanksgiving."
"There are a lot of issues with commercially raised meat (including) problems with contamination. Most commercial turkeys are raised with antibiotics in their diet because if you have ten thousand turkeys in a barn, you can't afford to have any of them get sick because you could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars. I don't raise mine with antibiotics at all. Instead, I spend more time moving them around so they're not exposed to the same parasites and diseases that they would be if they stayed in the same barn their entire life," says DeSzalay.
Another advantage of buying local birds, according to DeSzalay, is purely economical.
"These turkeys are being raised here and my income tax goes to pay for the local school district, it doesn't go to pay taxes in Kentucky or Georgia; it's a local product so the money stays here," says DeSzalay.
"We always talk about a triple bottom line," says Christina Perry, brand coordinator for the 30 Mile Meal, a nonprofit group that supports local farms. "There was a study done in 2010 on Northeast Ohio that said if we could ramp up local food production just 25 percent to meet already existing demand, the region would gain over 27,000 new jobs and millions in increased wages and tax collection and billions more in economic output. Buying local food just keeps more dollars here that can be spent in the region."
"We do our best to buy from our local farm group to make sure (our turkeys) are the best we can buy," says Catullo. "The more local that you can get, and the more you can buy directly from the farmer, the better."