Part of the Thanksgiving ritual is shopping for the centerpiece of the big meal: the turkey. But where does that turkey come from? How was it raised? For some, those unknowns drive them to seek locally grown birds from farmers whose practices they trust. In Austin, that quest leads you to Richardson Farms, located less than an hour from Austin outside Rockdale. Richardson Farms is a family-owned farm dedicated to the principles of conservation and providing healthy environments for their animals.
“The best way to get your fresh turkey,” says Kay Richardson, owner, “is to come to our booth at one of the farmer’s markets in Austin and reserve your bird now.” You can find Richardson’s turkeys at the farmer’s markets at Sunset Valley, Barton Creek mall, the Triangle, and Burnet Road. Reservations require a $20 deposit, and you also need to select what kind and size of turkey you’d like. “We have Broad Breasted White turkeys for $4 a pound, “ Richardson explains, “and we have a limited supply of Heritage Bronze.” Broad Breasted Whites make up 99% of all turkeys sold in the US; the difference between the store and Richardson Farms is that Richardson Farms’ turkeys are completely antibiotic free, allowed to forage, and are slaughtered according to demand. The Heritage Bronze (also called Standard Bronze and the bird Benjamin Franklin nominated as our national symbol) is smaller (about 8-14 pounds) and more expensive (about $8 per pound) because they must grow longer before maturation, almost twice as long as Broad Breasted Whites. “Standard” turkeys must be descended from an older, registered variety, and mate naturally; they live a longer life (7-9 years), and have a slow growth rate. Because of these requirements, these birds look, live, and taste more like wild game.
All Richardson Farms animals are pastured, meaning they are “…out on the grass/fields… able to scratch the earth and eat as many bugs and/or grass [as] they can find!” This greatly affects flavor, which is largely determined by four factors: meat quality (determined by genetics, i.e. breed), age (at time of slaughter), how it was raised (whether it exercised or not), and feed (grain versus foraging). Even different grains make meat taste differently. Like all turkeys grown in the US, Richardson Farms turkeys are also free from hormones and antibiotics. While the USDA requires all turkeys be free of hormones and antibiotics, commercial birds may be given antibiotics and then undergo a “detox” period before slaughter, thus they can technically be labeled “antibiotic free.”
If you can’t get to the farmer’s market to order and pick up your turkey, you can arrange for home delivery through Greenling, an Austin-area food delivery service dedicated to local, sustainable agriculture. Greenling began to take orders for Richardson Farms turkeys in early October. Anyone can purchase a bird; no regular membership is required. Greenling packs the birds on ice and delivers them in special coolers to customer’s doorsteps, completely doing away with the crowded holiday grocery store.
Buying your fresh local turkey is a little different from going to the supermarket. You’ll select a size range in pounds, and you will be matched with a bird that best fits your request. All are fresh but, depending on the delivery schedule, some may be frozen for food safety. While you can’t go out to Richardson Farms to handpick your living turkey, reserving your Thanksgiving turkey is just about as close as you can get in Austin.
Note: For those who’d prefer to skip a big bird for a smaller chicken, Richardson Farms also provides larger roaster chickens, which run about 8 pounds in size. If a Thanksgiving ham is on the menu, they have both fresh and cured ham from the farm’s pastured pigs.