Buying local for Thanksgiving

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Preparing for the perfect Thanksgiving starts months in advance for Whiffletree Farm in Warrenton. Throughout the year, farmers Jesse Straight and Jonathan Elliott raise cows, pigs and chickens, but the 700 Thanksgiving birds are a different type of challenge, which all comes to a head around Turkey Day.

“Between taking orders, caring for the turkeys, delivering them, making freezer space — it’s a sprint for us,” he said. The turkey is the centerpiece of a family's feast, so “you have to get it just right,” said Straight, a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist Church in Warrenton. 

The white-feathered birds spend their days at Whiffletree grazing in a rotating portion of fenced-in pasture. Moving the animals to fresher fields is Straight's favorite part of being a farmer.

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Jesse Straight's children pet a turkey on Whiffletree Farm. ZOEY MARAIST  |  CATHOLIC HERALD 

“When you open that fence, their heads are down, pecking away at the green, lush grass,” said Straight. The turkeys make a gentle trilling noise, and a little bit of gobbling. “That’s their happy noise,” said Straight. It’s healthy for the animals, but also for the land and humans, he said.

Forty percent of a turkey’s diet is drawn from the grass and bugs, said Elliott, who is also a member of St. John. “From a nutritional standpoint, the more the animals are drawing their diet off the pasture, the more nutrient-dense that meat is,” he said. The turkeys also are fed a combination of corn and soy feed grown by Virginia farmers. The animals do not receive antibiotics.

Many Whiffletree customers buy from the farm because they want meat raised a certain way. But it’s especially gratifying to the farmers when they win someone over who’s not on the bandwagon, someone without a “Buy Fresh Buy Local” bumper sticker, joked Elliott. “When you blow them away just on the taste, that’s really satisfying,” said Straight. 

The Whiffletree farm store sells its own meat and eggs as well as lamb, organic baked goods, raw honey and kombucha — products in line with their mission and produced by nearby friends.

Involving other local producers and the community is a large part of their farming philosophy, said Straight. “We encourage people to visit the farm, to see the animals,” he said. “We think the closer the connection between eaters and farmers, the better. The more people know and understand how farming really happens, the more they’ll care about it and appreciate and understand the best ways to do it.

“Part of the benefit of the local farm is transparency,” he said. “You go into Whole Foods and it's really hard to know that you’re getting what you think you’re getting. If we had more farms like ours, it’d be really hard for (farmers) not to be transparent.”

Family farms such as Whiffletree are becoming less common in this part of Virginia, but the benefits are numerous, said Elliott. “By supporting local family farms, you’re helping rural America thrive,” he said. 

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

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