This year was our first year offering holiday turkeys to our customers. Steve and I raised those turkeys from day old poults. Turkeys take a long time to grow out, so we spent over four months getting to know each and every one of those big- personality critters. Like all of the livestock at Happy Earth Farm, our Broad Breasted White Turkeys were treated with love and respect each and every day. When the day came to butcher these fine creatures, I felt a sense of pride that we were providing a wholesome, healthy and humanely raised alternative to store bought birds.
I enjoyed raising turkeys and how it felt to care for them, but farming can be tricky emotionally. I never considered how intimate it is to provide the very thing that brings families together during the holiday season. We began taking reservations for our turkeys in July and we were sold out by September. Every week at the farmer’s market customers would inquire about their holiday bird and I would enthusiastically reach for my phone to show them current pictures and videos. It didn’t occur to me at first that we were becoming a part of their family traditions. I was not prepared for how entangled we would be by Thanksgiving.
It started the Tuesday prior to Thanksgiving as customers arrived to pick up their prized bird. Entire families arrived with children scattering to visit the chickens while their parents and grandparents stood back watching them. A toddler waddled off to chase guineas while our barn cat tucked under the rocking chair to watch the spectacle. I went through several bags of ground vegetables because every child wanted to feed the chickens and every parent couldn’t resist the photo op! It became a party of sorts. We heard about who was arriving when and what sides would accompany their beautifully prepared turkey. We learned secret recipes and family gossip. They shared whether they stuff or don’t stuff, whether they fry, roast or smoke, and whether they prefer dark meat to white meat.
I believe what tipped me over the edge emotionally was when the pictures began arriving on Thanksgiving. It was a direct strike to my heart. My brain meshed the stories they shared with the pictures they sent. I imagined their families standing around the kitchen with a drink in hand while the children raced around in a game of tag. I could almost smell their turkey roasting in the oven and I could taste their mouth-watering side dishes, lovingly prepared by their grandmother’s hands. I felt a surge of emotion because I had been privy to their stories. I felt a pang of sadness knowing that one family would be without their grandfather for the first time.
I felt humbled that we were given a glimpse into their lives and that we played a role in the new memories created that day. I imagined all these families sitting down to a noisy feast of laughter and love and I found myself tearing up.
I realized on that day that farming isn’t just about what we do, but more about what we provide and the traditions that are reinforced through our efforts. We are enriched by one another as we share our intimate moments.