Look for CSAs.
An excellent way to know exactly where your food comes from is to join a CSA (community supported agriculture). You buy shares of what a farm produces. Generally, each "shareholder" (member) gets a box of farm products each week, which members pick up at a certain spot. Many CSAs encourage their shareholders to visit the farms for themselves, so they can really know where their food is coming from and how it was raised. When they first started, most CSAs were just doing produce. But in recent years, I've spoken with people from all over the country that are doing CSAs that include turkeys and other animal-based foods. CSAs can be found by searching
Eat Well Guide
Many smaller farms and ranches sell directly to consumers with a website. The other day, for example, I was speaking at a Sierra Club conference in Kentucky and met a local farmer who's raising Bourbon Red heritage turkeys. She told me she says most of her birds through her online store. An excellent online source of good turkeys is
Heritage Foods USA
. Be sure the Web site provides plenty of photos and information about how they raise their animals. If it's just showing photos of the food products, that's a bad sign.
Seek chefs committed to sustainable sourcing.
It can be especially hard to trace the origins of your food when dining out. If you're planning to have Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner at a restaurant, look for chefs dedicated to sourcing from sustainable farms and ranches. Then they can do the work for you. Fortunately, the number of such restaurants is growing. Here are just a few of my favorites: Lumiere, near Boston; Blue Hill, Savoy, and Green Table in New York City; White Dog CafÃ©, in Philadelphia; Lantern, in Chapel Hill, NC, North Pond, in Chicago; Zingerman's Roadhouse, in Ann Arbor, MI; Highlands Bar and Grill, in Birmingham, AL; Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, CA; Frantoio, in Mill Valley, CA, and Oliveto, in Oakland, CA. An organization that promotes sustainable sourcing to chefs (and on whose board I sit), Chefs Collaborative, has a
Web site listing
of participating restaurants throughout the country that buy all or some of their ingredients from sustainable farms. Another good way to find such restaurants is through
Eat Well Guide
What to look for:
I am generally skeptical about claims--like "organic"--on food imported from foreign countries. We always try to buy domestically, both because we want to feel confident about how food was produced and because we want to help build tdemand for domestic traditionally farmed foods.
Pasture-raised: the gold standard.
All animals, not just grazing animals, benefit tremendously from being outdoors daily on natural vegetation such as grass and clover. They exercise, lie in the sun, breath fresh air, and generally live much happier, healthier, more natural lives. Turkeys love to fly, roost in trees, and perch on fences; they are omnivores, and spend their hours outdoors grazing on vegetation and foraging for bugs and seeds. Although (in contrast to cattle) they cannot live on grass alone, they gain valuable minerals and fiber from their grazing. Winter weather makes year-round access to pasture difficult in some parts of the United States, but turkeys can and should have access to grass for most days of the year. If you're buying directly from a farmer or rancher, ask if the animals were on pasture. If you're buying from a store, read the labels or ask. If it doesn't say the animals had pasture access, assume they did not.