Families flock to local farms for fresh holiday fowl

By Jacqueline G. Goodwin, Ed.D. 

Every Thanksgiving, turkey buyers are faced with a handful of options: Go for the local, organic, heritage breed? Stick with the mom-and-pop-raised, free-range turkey? Or just buy the cheapest bird on the shelf? So many decisions.

Local turkey farmers say their business is booming as families flock to fill their tables for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

Dale Rudolph, owner of York Springs Turkey Farms in New Oxford, says his turkey business has really grown since he started it eight years ago. “Every single year, it gets bigger and bigger,” says Rudolph. “I started with about 3,500 turkeys the first year. And it looks as though I’ll dress about 20,000 broad breasted white turkeys this year.”

When he isn’t raising turkeys, Rudolph farms his 250 acres, planting his vast fields with corn, soy beans and pumpkins. Rudolph says he feeds his birds a healthy vegetable diet of corn and soy beans. “My turkeys weigh between 10 to 30 lbs. on average,” he says. “And I raise them for the flavor.”

Rudolph raises his turkeys in a natural, drug-free, stress-free manner, providing a safe, clean, healthy growing environment in open-air buildings. Rudolph says his buildings provide his birds with shelter from weather extremes, protection from diseases that wild fowl carry, and easy access to fresh feed and water on demand.

“My birds are hormone and antibiotic free,” says Rudolph.

Rudolph employs about 20 people to help with the processing of his turkeys during the three week period leading up to Thanksgiving.

“There’s a lot of hard work on this end of the process to make sure that folks have a fresh grown turkey for their special meal,” he says.

While Rudolph sells the majority of his birds to Plainville Farms, he also supplies retailers in the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, Shady Maple Farm Market, Landis Supermarket, and the Amish Farmers Market in Hanover, plus local retail stores such as Oak Grove Farms located in Mechanicsburg and Glen Miller’s Meats in Lemoyne. “I also sell my turkeys in other parts of the state including Erie and Pittsburgh,” he adds.

“For example, Oak Grove Farms takes its customers’ orders and then I deliver the dressed birds to the store for pickup,” says Rudolph. “Customers usually start ordering the turkeys in mid-October and pick up their birds the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Friday, Saturday and Monday before Christmas.”

Rudolph also has a loyal customer base who order their fresh turkeys directly from him year after year. “I probably sell about 100 turkeys here at the farm,” says Rudolph.

“One thing is clear in our local turkey scene folks are becoming increasingly interested in flavor, quality and ethics,” says Rudolph, who is optimistic that his six children will one day run the business.

“Turkey farms seem to run in the family,” says Rudolph. “My twin brother Dennis is also a turkey farmer as are my two younger brothers.”

Despite the challenges of running and owning a turkey farm, Rudolph is confident that his turkeys are superior to birds from industrial farms when it comes to flavor and tenderness.

“Some people want a cheaper turkey, but the feedback I get says mine is better. I have customers who like my turkeys best and consistently come back and order theirs for their holiday feasts,” says Rudolph.

While some people seek out organic turkeys, for most, the organic price-point is perceived to be too high. Thus, most turkey localists seek out sustainably-raised birds, like those Rudolph raises.

“I give thanks to God every day of the year that I am able to provide turkeys so that folks will have a wonderful and memorable holiday dinner,” says Rudolph.

If you want a fresh turkey for your Thanksgiving Day table, better make your order soon. Sure, you can buy a frozen or fresh bird from the local supermarket. And many of them do sell natural and organic varieties. But if you’re looking for a special bird, the place to go is one of the local farms like Rudolph’s or markets like Oak Grove Farms. Retailers in the West Shore Market in Lemoyne and the Broad Street Market in Harrisburg are also good places to check out the availability of fresh birds.  Many also sell free-range, organic and heritage birds but they tend to fly pretty quickly as they are in limited supply.

Here’s a short list of places taking orders for fresh dressed turkeys in the area:

  • York Springs Turkey Farm

555 5 Points Road, New Oxford, PA

717-624-2320

 

  • Warrington Farm Meats

156  Old Cabin Hollow Rd, Dillsburg, PA

717-502-6804

 

  • Oak Grove Farms, Inc.

846 Fisher Road, Mechanicsburg, PA

717-766-2216

 

  • Sensenig Poultry

West Shore Farmer’s Market

900 Market St., Lemoyne, PA

717-898-3540

 

  • Shaffer’s Quality Meats

West Shore Farmer’s Market

900 Market St., Lemoyne, PA

717-737-5713

 

  • R.G. Hummer Meat & Cheese

Broad Street Market

1233 North Third Street, Harrisburg, PA

717-232-4150

 

  • S. Clyde Weaver Smoked Meats and Cheese

West Shore Farmer’s Market

900 Market St., Lemoyne, PA

717-569-0812

 

  • Green Ridge Acres

Broad Street Market

1233 North Third Street, Harrisburg, PA

717-920-6611