News and blog
Now that I’m completely stuffed and also staring at many days of delicious soups and sandwiches, it seems a good time to reflect on how that 16.66 pound Standard Bronze heritage breed turkey, got to be so delicious, or, as Jan Burman writes:" It was the juiciest, tastiest bird I have ever tasted. "
Sometime pretty soon I’ll sit with Julie, the Farm Manager, and review how we did this year with our turkeys and what we’ll plan on doing for this coming year. Technically speaking there are 10 heritage breeds we can chose from, but not all of them will be available when we need them delivered. The heritage breeds aren’t simply delicious and good sellers, they’re really fun to watch grow. Compared to commercial breeds they seem to thrive with an outdoor life and are a big attraction for visitors. They live in various locations on our pastures, fenced in with electrified netting. They’re moved to fresh areas frequently as they eat the bugs and plants and worms - and, it is easy to see where they’ve been. The diet of fresh greens and insects and whatnot helps flavor them, but they can’t get much more than about 20% of their daily nutritional needs from their outdoor life, so they’re supplemented with a complete feed.
First, however, we need to order them. We’ll buy more than 100 for 2014, but that’s an easy number to use, so Julie will pick out the breeds she wants, check for availability, and place the order for delivery in the spring, counting back from Thanksgiving and allowing for the time they need to grow. All the heritage breeds are different from each other in expected final weight, rate of gain and even yield. This is a far cry from commercial birds where predictability of final result is an essential part of the breeding program. (Want to know more? Check out George Nicholas, founder of the birds that bear his name and dominate American turkey production. He got started in the 1930’s in Sonoma County, CA)
The prices for 2014 are already posted, and they look to be over $10.25 a poult - a baby turkey - when 20 or more of a ‘straight run’ are purchased. That means we’ll get a mix of males and females -toms and hens - when they arrive. Calling the male a ‘tom’ is supposedly because Ben Franklin was mad at Thomas Jefferson for not naming the turkey the American bird…
So, we’ll invest over $10 a poult plus freight to MV, and hope they all arrive alive. If they don’t we either absorb that loss, raising the price we paid per bird, or a good company will give us credit - on next year’s order. If a poult dies 4 or 5 or more days after arrival, we usually have no recourse - so our price per bird goes up and we have less meat to sell.
The young birds need a constant temperature between 95-100 degrees the first week. We have a special ‘brooder room’ for them with heat lamps, electric heaters, etc. They have multiple waters, feeders, the floor is covered in paper shreds - its a nice place to be a poult! Over about a 4-6 week period the temperature gets lowered in stages until they are feathered and ‘hardened’ to regular temperatures. During this period they have a special ‘starter’ diet high in amino acids, energy density and vitamins and trace minerals. And high in price as well. No antibiotics are used at TFI.
From the brooder room they head outdoors to the pasture. They have a big sheltering roof that moves with them, and they are free to range, roost, forage and make noise - they are really vocal, and have some amazing sounds they make besides ‘gobble gobble.’
While we firmly believe in raising turkeys this way, it adds to the expense in a few different ways. First, since they are no longer in a controlled environment their ability to convert feed to weight changes, almost on a daily basis. Birds raised in confinement barns are in a thermo-neutral environment - it’s always the same temperature, it doesn’t rain, etc. Birds raised that way have predictable results and can convert feed to body weight at about 3 pounds of feed (or less) to 1 pound of gain (‘gain” here isn’t just edible meat, it is the whole bird). For large scale producers that means their feed costs are about 65% of total costs. For heritage breed turkeys, that feed conversion ratio can easily double - meaning twice as much feed for equivalent gain. And, since our birds can run around, they consume more energy just for ‘maintenance’ than caged birds do. In addition, TFI as an educational working farm so another measure of efficiency is impacted - feed wastage. As you can imagine with feed for commercial producers representing 65% of costs, they manage the feed delivery system very tightly - wastage being kept to 2% or less. However, for us feeding the birds is a chore we share with our campers, so we get spills, ripped bags, etc. Since everything is outside, we also get wind and rain loss, as well as treating the occasional sea gull. Best estimate for wastage under these circumstances? 10% or more.
So, more expensive to buy and more expensive to feed. Slower to grow, more labor involved. And, since we do all our own processing, more labor and time and equipment.
Cost of poult, average, delivered: $11
Cost of feed, average, delivered: $.30 per pound
Total feed disappeared, per bird, average: 100 pounds (includes wastage)
Feed cost: $30
Average dressed weight: 12 pounds
Our cost before processing: $40 per bird or an average of $3.33 per pound
And, this is BEFORE any labor charge, equipment charge (on an annual basis we spend about $500 in repairs and maintenance just for the turkeys), or processing charge (we process for three days due to the high volume of turkeys).
Now, to end this I could easily give you the cost comparison for barn-raised conventional turkeys. But, frankly, that’s irrelevant to us as we’re not going to raise birds that way, no matter what. Let’s just say that yep, they sure are cheap, and there’s a reason for that, but that’s another note, for another time. But with the happy Thanksgiving feeling persisting, and the refrigerator promising more, it’s enough to share some information with you about how this all happens. As always, we welcome comments and questions.
Jon Previant, FARM Institute Executive Director
|Eliza recently graduated from Mount Holyoke College, where she earned a degree in Psychology and a minor in Culture, Health, and Science. Eliza remembers her first farming experience as shoveling manure on her family’s llama farm. She has enjoyed teaching children in Honduras and India and has also worked with families as a childbirth educator and doula in the Dominican Republic. Previously, Eliza has worked on the Vineyard as a camp counselor, gallery hostess, and server of pizza made with local ingredients. As an educator, foodie, and health nut, she is eager to explore the relationships between food, farming and health with the children at the Farm. In her free time, Eliza enjoys running, hiking, painting, yoga, and trying not to burn homemade cookies.||Growing up in California, Janice explored as many wild places as possible from the hydrangea bushes in her backyard to the high mountain plateaus in the Sierra Nevada. She spent four years hitting the books and soaking up the salty breeze in southern California while earning her BA in Environmental Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Janice loves to travel and spent time studying and teaching abroad in South Africa and New Zealand. After college Janice became a naturalist at an outdoor school in California's magical redwood forest. She spent the last two years leading 5th and 6th graders on educational hikes; being spontaneous and silly were mandatory job requirements! Janice loves working outdoors and sharing her passion for the natural world with young people. When she’s not working at the Farm, you might find Janice birding, meditating, or exploring the woods.|
|Since graduating from Davidson College in 2012 with a B.A. in English, Katie has lived in Washington, D.C., working at The Atlantic magazine and volunteering with Brainfood, a non-profit youth development organization offering cooking classes to public high school students. This summer, she is excited to combine her love for food with experience gained interning in the education departments of The Smithsonian and the Newseum. Originally from coastal North Carolina, Katie can’t wait to spend the summer in the sun working with children while learning more about life on a farm!||Leah is a graduate of Tufts University with a degree in Child Development and Community Health. Having worked with children and adolescents in school gardens in urban communities surrounding Boston, she is drawn to the academic and social-emotional learning that can result from working with people in dirt. Leah has worked on an organic farm in Kona, Hawaii as well as two summers on Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown. In her free time Leah enjoys experimenting with new recipes, swimming, jogging, yoga, and getting lost in a good book. She is very excited to work as an FBE at The Farm Institute.|
Chris grew up in Wayland Massachusetts, and just graduated from UVM. Chris has always been an outdoor enthusiast, and has spent a great amount of time hiking, camping, fishing, snowboarding, and swimming. Chris has been on MV every year since I was born, but this will be my first full summer here, and I am beyond excited. Chris has never worked full time on a farm before, but has always wanted to. He is excited to teach kids the ins-and-outs of a working farm, and is looking forward to learning a great deal this summer as well.
|Deirdre is a student at Skidmore and will be living in Oak Bluffs this summer. She has a great background in drama and the arts and we're excited to see more dancing, skits, and crafts at the farm! She has made her own clothing using sustainable materials and will be studying in Argentina next Spring. Deirdre is looking forward to meeting her co-workers (that's you all!), becoming part of the community at the farm, and living on the Vineyard all summer.|
Lucie is originally from northern New Hampshire and just graduated in May from the University of New Hampshire with a BS in Environmental Engineering. During her time at UNH she was an active member of the Organic Garden Club, worked for the Agroecology Department, studied abroad in Budapest, Hungary, and built a clean drinking water system for a school in Cumayasa, Dominican Republic. In her free time she enjoys gardening, cooking, rock climbing, yoga, and hammocking! Lucie is looking forward to her first summer on the Vineyard, and meeting so many unique people in such a beautiful place.
|Stacey is a new island resident having just moved to Edgartown from New Jersey where she was working in education and marketing on an organic dairy farm. Stacey brings a ton of experience and energy to the farm this summer and is excited to meet the kids, her co-workers, and start a garden. Back in Jersey, Stacey started an organization with her best friend in college called "Santa Paws" to help bring joy and awareness (plus some treats and food) to homeless animals in NJ. Santa Paws is still going strong 7 years later with our fun addition of our "Adopt A Box" program. Stacey is also a lover of cheese and not only does she enjoy consuming this delectable dairy product, she also loves making it fresh!|
|Emily is returning to the farm for a second summer of FBE fun! She will be graduating from Pitzer College in May and moving to West Tisbury. Emily's energy and enthusiasm will keep us all inspired this summer. She is looking forward to being a college graduate with time to read any book she wants and also is pretty jazzed about the new drawing tool in google docs. Get ready to build because nothing brings Emily more joy than a grand human pyramid and be sure to ask her to sing some Sound of Music - she can do most of the soundtrack in Chinese!||Tim was born and raised in Schenectady, NY and graduated from Union College where he studied english and math. He works as an Outdoor Educator with Nature's Classroom (anyone else go on field trips with them as a kid? I know I did!) and is excited to be back on a farm this summer. He will be living at Norton Farm and islooking forward to being on the beach with new friends and coworkers and listening to some new music.|
|Tama is a graduate of Vassar and is joining us from California where she has been working as a teacher-naturalist. Tama's cat Patty will accompany her on her move to the Vineyard this summer and both Tama and Patty look forward to hitting the trails and hiking on island. Tama also shoots a bow and arrow because she wishes she was more like Katniss Everdeen. She is looking forward to learning more about farming, working with a different age group, and working with her hands in whatever construction type jobs she can.|
A team with the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), an AmeriCorps program, is working with The FARM Institute to improve the capacity of the non-profit’s working farm so as to enable the teaching of more children and adults in sustainable agriculture. For the next four-and-a-half weeks, 8 NCCC members will be working hard building and renovating the farm in order to fulfill its purpose.
From Left to Right: Laura Dennis, Genevieve Shepard, Skylar Larsen, Alexa Naudziunas, Lewis Cuthair, Jeremiah King, Travis Hanes, and Jeremy Flores.
The team, Raven 2, will help accomplish The FARM Institute’s mission, which addresses educating and engaging children and adults in sustainable agriculture through the diverse operations of a 162-acre working farm. During its four-and-a-half-week term here, the team aims to complete the construction of the Elwell Solar Greenhouse attached to the main building, renovate summer classrooms and animal stalls, rebuild animal pens, prepare planting beds, and much more.
The Raven 2 team is based in Perry Point, Md., but consists of members from around the country. In addition to working with The FARM Institute, members of the team will be searching out other volunteer opportunities around Martha’s Vineyard in hopes to further the good its non-profits provide to its island communities.
We couldn't be more thankful for Americorps visit to the FARM Institute and for the work they are doing!
Article provided by Travis Hanes, learn more about Americorps at americorps.gov/nccc and see more pictures from their trip on our facebook!
It was a chilly but sun-filled morning at The FARM at our annual MLK Day of Service. We met at 9 am and broke up into groups for morning livestock chores. My group got to feed the chickens—which happen to be my favorite—who are now nestled into a space in the back of the Back 40. There are two groups of free-roaming layers—the Buff Orpingtons and the Rhode Island Reds. The Buff Orpingtons seem to have found a hideout under the old trailer. It’s like their own secret clubhouse. I wondered if maybe there was a secret password because none of the Rhode Island Reds seemed to be hanging out with them. Our latest flock of birds, the Black Australorps, are still pullets growing up in the nice warmth and safety of the barn. It’s nice to have the animals so close to the barn this time of year. It makes for easier visiting! We then dropped by the piglets and lugged feed out to their feeder bins. They were more curious about us than about their food. Healthy and hardy, they nosed about “talking” with each other seemingly unaware of the big snowstorm coming later that day. All the volunteers got a chance to groom our working steers, Zeus and Apollo, before taking a quick snack break to enjoy some hot tea and scones.
Then it was out to the Back 40 for our clean up project. Our volunteers sorted, hauled, carried, and dragged all sorts of old wood, tires, whose its and what nots into a dump trailer piloted by Zeus and Apollo. Then Johnny Hoy brought his dump truck over and we filled that up too! All of our past treasures were hauled off to the dump and our volunteers enjoyed some more snacks and soup while warming up inside. Rebecca, our Garden Manager, led a busy crew in the Friendship Garden pulling up old sunflower and tomato stalks and a little parsley and celery was even gleaned. How fun to find food still growing in the cold, dark days of January!
What an amazing day of work at The FARM! Thanks to Barbara, Laurie, Kim, Maggie, Sally, Dylan, Helayne, Sammy, Sande, Margaret, Lily, Jeannie, Leo, Johnny, Gus and Otto for all of your help. TFI welcomes volunteers this time of year especially for livestock chores and greenhouse work. Livestock chores happen daily every morning and afternoon. Seeding and planting in the greenhouse will continue through the spring. Volunteering is a great way to stay active and involved during the winter months. Call today or visit our volunteer page on our website. We hope to see you soon down on The FARM. Until then—stay warm.
Well, I don't normally like to toot my own horn, but I've just gotta say it--those heritage breed turkeys were phenomenal. They tasted so turkey-ish that I just couldn't stop eating. And then the next day when I made the soup? Forget about it--half of the leftover turkey went right into my mouth and never made it to the soup pot.
Steve Raichlen seemed impressed as well. Our Executive Director hand delivered a couple birds to the BBQ king himself all the way down to Miami. Talk about a carry on! Read all about it here. http://www.barbecuebible.com/
I'm interested in hearing your favorite turkey stories. How did you prepare it? Brining or not? Glaze? Roasted, deep fried or grilled?
And just in case you missed our birds this year don't worry--we'll have them again for next Thanksgiving. If you can wait that long!
Here is an informative blurb about Heritage turkeys from the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. We thought it might help inspire you to order your Farm Institute raised and processed heritage breed turkey! And help you understand just whats so special about them. In order to sign up for a turkey email email@example.com or call 508-627-7007.
A common question we get at ALBC is “If these animals are endangered, why should I eat them?” Simply put, eating these birds, as well as other endangered livestock and poultry encourages farmers to breed and sell more of them, which ensures the breeds remain an important part of agriculture and their populations do not decline. As long as farmers keep breeding stock around, they will be able to continue to produce more products for consumers, while simultaneously contributing to conservation.
If you are looking to buy a heritage turkey for your holiday meal, consider some of these tips:
- Buy local. Purchase your heritage turkey from a local farmer or farmers’ market. If you order a bird from afar, sticker shock may ensue. Shipping fresh or frozen meats can by upwards of $80-$100.
- Be prepared to pay a bit more. Heritage turkeys are like a fine wine, slow to mature. Commercial turkeys reach market weight in 18 weeks, compared to 24 to 30 weeks for heritage breeds. This slow growth rate means it costs farmers more money to raise these birds. Be ready to pay a premium price of $5.50 to $12 per pound, depending on your location.
- Breast lovers beware; you’ll need to adjust your expectations. Heritage turkeys typically have longer breasts that are less broad than commercial turkeys. (Commercial birds are bred to have abnormally large breasts.) If you’re a thigh guy, you’ll be in luck. Heritage turkeys have longer, meatier legs – meaning more dark meat.When cooking heritage turkeys, low and slow are the words to know. Because of their different biological make-up, heritage turkeys need to be cooked at lower temperatures for longer periods of time. Do not overcook!
- Savor the flavor. Heritage turkeys are rich, moist, and more flavorful than the birds you’ll find in your local supermarket. Don’t over-season them when cooking. You’ll want to be sure you can enjoy the intrinsic flavors of these unique breeds.
- Act fast! Because of the rise in interest in heritage turkeys, many farmers begin taking orders in March. By early November, heritage turkeys will be a hot commodity. If you want one on your Thanksgiving table, make arrangements now! Visit www.rarebreedsearch.com or www.localharvest.com to find a farmer near you.
Wow! The summer is going by so fast! August has been filled with lots of fun here at the FARM.
During the day kids have been running the farm: taking care of animals, mucking, putting up animal fencing, painting, harvesting vegetables and flowers, going to the agriculture fair, and so much more! Our teachers have been doing a great job keeping up with all of the kids, but at the end of the day they are exhausted!
But the fun hasn’t stopped there! We have had a number adult programs running though August as well! We have spun wool into yarn, composted, eaten weeds, dehydrated food and it’s been great! A highlight was defiantly the dehydrating workshop where we made dried tomatoes, bananas and beef jerky! Sheila has been here making pickles and jam for workshops. Those who attended got to taste, make and bring home these AMAZING goods. A huge THANK YOU to Sheila who offered her skills to us. Anyone who hasn’t tried her pickles is missing out big time
While we only have a few weeks left of summer, please don’t forget to sign up for the last program. We will have 1 more week of camp August 27th to the 31st and our LAST workshop will be soap making held on the 28th 6pm to 9pm.
Come by for some great sunsets as well!
In my summer of teaching at The FARM Institute, Iron Chef in the Garden was a precious afternoon activity in which the kids used teamwork and creativity to highlight the fruits of the farm. The activity focused the kids on the land: what food do I have available to me that's growing right now? Anything fresh and available suddenly became a precious asset. Instead of making a shopping list, the kids made harvest lists: we want cucumbers, so we'll go out and pick them. Oh, and let's drop by and see if the hens just laid any eggs.
Schools or summer camps with gardens can use an Iron Chef activity to get kids focused on what's seasonal and local, and make the farm-to-fork connection more tangible than ever.
(I was told by a more TV savvy colleague that this is actually more akin to the show 'Chopped'. Unfortunately I liked the name 'Iron Chef' too much to revise the activity name.)
After the preliminary drum roll, kids were split into five groups of about six children. Age groups were mixed, giving the space for older kids to take on leadership roles.
Iron Chef in the Garden was presented:
"You are all talented chefs working in teams to make the most creative and scrumptious dish possible in two hours. You will be presented with a list of available ingredients, and also a culinary challenge for including certain things in your dish."
The Culinary Challenges
In our Iron Chef in the Garden activity, the five groups were each given a separate culinary challenge. A representative from each team came forth to pull out of a hat one of these cooking stipulations: "Your dish must include..."
1) Eggs cooked two different ways
2) Three herbs from the garden
3) Four vegetables from the garden
4) Three wild edibles
Iron Chef Creative Brainstorming
Next we gave the kids and their teacher a list of the ingredients available to them. At The FARM Institute we have a vegetable garden and several hen houses where the kids could collect fresh eggs for their dishes! In addition they were encouraged to use any wild edibles they may have learned about.
Before even setting foot in the kitchen, it was encouraged that each team pow-wow and brainstorm recipes. Reading through the list of ingredients helped spark some creative ideas! "How about chocolate squash-flower pancakes??"
The Resulting Dishes!
Time's up everyone! Make sure your dishes are cleaned, put away, and bring your Iron Chef entry to the display table.
It was amazing to see what the kids concocted!
- For the eggs cooked two ways group: A tortilla egg sandwich, garnished with fresh summer squash and tomato sauce made from tomatoes and onions in the garden. The eggs were collected from the hen house just hours before going in the frying pan and the pot to be scrambled and hard boiled. The hard boiled egg was peeled and placed in the center of the tortilla sandwich where the kids had cut an artistic "egg-holding hole."
- Flowers group: this became a useful time to teach the kids what flowers in the vegetable garden and fields are edible. The answer: squash and zucchini flowers, chicory, nasturtiums, and purple clover. In the end the group decided to focus on squash flowers. They then learned to only harvest the male flowers, which do not turn into a squash fruit while the female ones do. You can tell which flowers are male because they are only supported by a stem, whereas the female flowers (on the same squash plant) always are attached to a growing squash.
- The wild edibles group found wild garlic, purslane (a common weed), and a stray batch of kale growing wildly. This they turned into a colorful frittata and side salad.
- The three herbs group utilized the peanut butter in the pantry and made a stellar thai peanut wrap with sage, basil, and parsley from the garden.
- Finally, the four vegetables group made a great pasta veggie salad, complete with cucumbers, tomatoes, kale, and squash from the garden!
Teachers stood by while the kids presented their dishes and explained how they met their challenge. Much ooohing and ahhing accompanied.
The Judging: Everyone Wins!
This is where the teachers really had fun hamming it up! Our Director, Sidney, was the head judge. Unlike me, it sounded as though Sidney had watched Iron Chef, as he pulled out culinary terms like "plating," "delectability," and "zingy-ness."
In the end each plate got an award:
The Breakfast I Want to Eat Every Day
Most Delicious Sauce
Most Ingredients Used
Most Likely to be on a French Menu
Eat and Enjoy your Iron Chef in the Garden Dishes
With awards done, there was only one thing left to do: hand out forks to the kids and let them circulate, trying a sample of each! Perhaps this was the most rewarding part of the day, seeing kids eagerly line up for a taste of their friends' dishes and gobble down zucchini and cucumber.
July is almost over! We can hardly believe it here at the FARM. While it is sad that camp is half way over, there is good news! Adult programs will be starting next week and will be running though August!
Classes will be held here at the FARM and have something for everybody! Our classes will vary from fiber, gardening and cooking as well. We will be making yarn, compost, soap, cheese, and jam! Check out our flyer here. Please call to register for these programs.
Don't forget to sign your kids up for camp! Which can be done online or over the phone.
We also have other events going on in August which will be:
- Movie night Tuesday August 2nd-- A Cat in Paris will be playing $10/Family $5/person. Bring a blanket or chair and be ready for a great night!
- Flatbread benefit night August 14th-- eat at Flatbread pizza and a portion of the processed will be donated to the FARM. There will be a raffle and tee shirts for sale!
We look forward to seeing you at the FARM!
Its that time again! Visitors are coming to the farm every day and we want to make sure you all have a great experience while you are here.
Here are some things to know before you come:
-We are not set up like a petting zoo- you may have to walk a bit to see all of the critters! We do currently have calves, lambs, pigs and some chicks close by for you to see.
-If you would like to have a guided tour and get up close and personal with the animals and plants, please call ahead to schedule one. Regular daily tours will begin Monday June 25th at 10am. Tours are $5 per person or $10 per family.
-Please stop at the kiosk located next to the farm stand when you arrive for some helpful information about what to do when you're here and what fences are electric (!)
-Our farm stand isn't open yet, but meat, eggs and merch. are all available from our farm office building. Come on in!
Dont forget to sign up for camp!
Hope to see you all soon!