As millions of Americans spent their weekend crammed into the grocery store stocking up for Thanksgiving, I was hanging out on a nearby farm for turkey-butchering day. Some people would find that odd, while to others the thought of buying a factory-farmed, hormone-pumped frozen bird wrapped in plastic for $1 a pound – something that doesn’t even resemble the animal it came from – can sound pretty odd. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Every year my extended family has a Thanksgiving meal and often it consists of recently frozen things from a grocery store shelf, dotted here and there with marshmallows and trucked in from hundreds and hundreds of miles away. I love my family though, so I bring a dish to share and try not to think about sustainable food issues when I sit down at the table.

A few years ago, I decided to start my own post-Thanksgiving-Thanksgiving-meal. I would invite over a small group of loved ones and make an amazing meal that all started with some amazing, locally sourced ingredients the day after the holiday. Last year we began with enjoyed a celery bisque followed by orange-glazed carrots, hazelnut-sage stuffing, cranberry relish with apple cider, a layer potato tart, and a free-range, no hormones/antibotiocs turkey. We finished with a frozen pumpkin mousse with a walnut-toffee topping. I gathered my food supplies from my backyard, my root cellar, the farmers market and New Seasons Market, a fabulous locally-owned grocery store chain in Portland that focuses on locally-sourced food. I knew the farm my turkey came from and felt good about eating it.

This year I am a student, preparing for my final project, with no time and no real roots in Eugene to warrant a Thanksgiving meal here. Although I don’t need a turkey this year, I spent my Saturday on a local farm butchering turkeys because I wanted to know more about the process. It was also an opportunity to spend a day with like-minded folks and families, day-dreaming that someday I will be buying a turkey from a place like this.

The farm was Laughing Stock Farm here in Eugene, Oregon, which is run by a guy named Paul Atkinson. He’s not into “technology”, so he doesn’t have a website. He operates around the area selling pork, beef, sometimes poultry, and eggs. Occasionally he’ll sell some produce as well. If you call him advance next year, you can reserve a turkey, but the deal is that you have to drive out to the farm and clean the bird. They can slit the neck for you, but you do everything else.

The process was very similar to chickens and this is where the pictures might start to get somewhat graphic. In case you missed the play-by-play instructions on how to butcher poultry, definitely use this post a resource. For turkeys, the process begins the same way by quickly slitting their necks and letting the blood drain out.

The next phase is de-feathering. The turkeys went into a large stock pot of hot water for a couple minutes, loosening the feathers. Then families would gather round and pluck their Thanksgiving meal.

The turkeys are then plunged into an ice bath to chill for a bit.

Next came the cleaning, which I helped out with. It is really the same process as chickens, it just takes longer. The crops were really huge, so I spent about half my time just trying to pull those out. I set aside the kidneys, heart, liver, neck and feet. Some people don’t use them, but I hear it makes great stock and delicious gravy.

After cleaning, the turkeys went back into an ice bath to cool before they were weighed, collected and sent home to the holiday dinner table.

It was a pretty sweet system and I would love to come back next year when I will actually have a Thanksgiving meal that requires me cooking a turkey. One of the more interesting aspects of the day was watching what customers would bring to trade for their turkey. You can just pay cash, or you can pay a little less cash if you bring something Paul needs. I saw people trading wine, microbrew, fleece jackets, mushrooms, etc. The guy that brought the mushrooms had a big basket of chantrelles and a little jar that stored some truffles.

By the time evening arrived, my jeans were thick with turkey guts and blood splotches. I think I gutted about a dozen birds and my hands were stiff. Paul seemed somewhat confused at the pink-haired chick that spent the day cleaning turkeys but didn’t buy one for herself. Next year I hope to be a customer though and spend another beautiful day with my local farmers.

It you live in the area and are interested in talking with Paul, give him a ring. He is a really nice guy, very passionate about what he does, and has a beautiful farm nestled between the rolling hills of the Eugene countryside. Here is an article written awhile ago that talks more about his farming gig.

Paul Atkinson
83601 Territorial Hwy
Eugene, OR 97405
541-345-2186

Happy Thanksgiving guys! I’ll be back writing next week.

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