HNG Pastured Turkeys Inspire Widening Gratitude for Community this Thanksgiving

Beginning in early September, I can drive down the two-lane towards Hickory Nut Gap Farm and see the turkeys. It’s as profound a reminder of the season as the leaves falling, and the broad white birds against the green of the pasture, surrounded by the autumn hues of red and yellow trees will make any passer-by look twice. I tell my kids how lucky we are, that we know exactly where our Thanksgiving turkey comes from. When we talk about our gratitude during the holiday season, we don’t just include our family, our friends, or our health in the time of a pandemic, but we also include the farmers in our little valley that feed us vibrant food from healthy soils.

The young turkeys start out inside of a moveable house, right in the field, during their brood phase. This is when they need extra warmth, and are most vulnerable to predators. They stay inside for three weeks, and when you drive by in the early morning you see the glow from their heat lamp. When they’re old enough to come out, the farm puts up moveable nets to keep the birds safe from predators, and lets the turkeys out into the field. Farm Director Asher Wright tells me that their pasture is 2.5 acres. With the farm raising 450 birds this year, that means each bird will have plenty of space to roam freely, moving to new ground as often as three times per day as Thanksgiving approaches. 

Asher tells me that the turkeys represent community in even deeper ways than I realized. “Compared to our beef and pork sales, for example, the turkeys are a hyper local enterprise.” In other words, this is meat raised expressly for local residents, and not the entire network of customers that HNG typically feeds. The turkeys are different— a main line of business for the farm here in Fairview, NC. This farm started the entire Hickory Nut Gap Meats brand, which now includes 80 other farms. “Turkeys are one thing that keep our Fairview Farm thriving. With the community purchasing turkeys direct from us for their Thanksgiving meals, our own neighbors are ensuring that we can maintain the farm into the next growing season.” Apparently, the gratitude goes both ways. Now, buying my family’s turkey from my HNG neighbors isn’t just about us having the best possible meat from healthy pastures, it’s also assurance that I can continue having access to a whole animal butcher shop, and have the option to buy a share in the pastured meats CSA.

The turkeys are getting pretty big. I drove past yesterday after the first frost, just as the sun found its way into the pasture. When the time comes to harvest the birds in a few short weeks, another layer of community will be inspired, as HNG welcomes Warren Wilson students and loyal neighbors to the farm for a community turkey processing, training the next generation of farmers, and ensuring that the turkey I pick up for cooking is fresh, and never frozen. 

With just a few weeks to go, HNG has more than half of the turkeys sold. If you’d like to join me in strengthening community supported farming, you can reserve your turkey online. You’ll select a weight class (from 14-19 pounds or 20-25 pounds) and then place a $20 deposit to secure your bird. While you’re at it, you can make a donation to MANNA food bank, as they work to keep food in people’s pantries throughout this holiday season. Together, our local community has already donated over $11,000 in HNG product to MANNA this season, over and above the $100K that Hickory Nut Gap Farm has donated to hunger relief in 2020. 

In a year of pandemic, I can’t think of a story of community resilience that would be better to tell over my Thanksgiving table. A story like this is what Thanksgiving is supposed to be about.

About the Author

Over the past 20 years, Meredith has worked as a farmer, butcher, chef, teacher, non-profit executive director, and writer, all in pursuit of good food. She is the author of  The Ethical Meat Handbook: A Complete Guide to Home Butchery, Charcuterie, and Cooking for the Conscious Omnivore, and Pure Charcuterie: The Craft & Poetry of Curing Meats at Home. Meredith travels teaching charcuterie and food production and processing, consulting for farmer and food businesses, editing, and providing marketing assistance for values-driven business. She lives with her partner and four children in Asheville, NC. Learn more about Meredith Leigh.