Locally raised turkeys find place on Harford's tables

While most people hit their closest supermarket for a Thanksgiving turkey, two Harford County meat providers have recently found success by branching out into selling turkeys raised on small, local farms.

Andy Bachman sold more than 70 Thanksgiving turkeys this year from his Fallston farm, and Alice Schott, manager of Bowman's Butcher Shop near Aberdeen, reported her turkey orders tripling this year to more than 200.

Harford County Executive David Craig bought his Thanksgiving turkey from Bachman Sunday morning.

Craig said via e-mail he has bought his family's turkey there for the last few years. He also gets his eggs from Bachman's farm.

"For me there's no comparison in terms of taste and quality. Plus, you get the satisfaction of supporting the local ag community," Craig wrote. "I know that it's customary for certain elected officials to pardon turkeys, but in my opinion Harford County turkeys are just too delicious to pardon."

Bachman, whose barn along Harford Road sports a big "Support Harford Farms, Buy Local" logo, said the interest in local turkeys is part of a wider trend.

"I think it's just the same thing [as] with buying local produce; they know where it comes from," Bachman said about his customers. "Frankly, it's the same breed that you buy in a grocery store, but they are not kept in a big cage house thing."

Despite the rising demand Bachman is seeing for his birds this year, Harford County is not exactly crawling with turkey producers. The market seems to ebb and flow, as other producers, like Little Creek Meadows in Street and Bill Tharpe in Churchville, said they are no longer selling turkeys.

Bachman, who also sells home raised chickens and eggs, may be the only actual turkey farmer in the county right now.

Nevertheless, with the demand he has seen since entering the turkey business last year, Bachman hopes to offer about 500 turkeys next year.

"We had about 75 turkeys from Thanksgiving and we have four left," he said Tuesday, adding he also has 12 live turkeys still available for Christmas.

"We have had a few people call just out of the blue on the farm and say, 'Oh, do [you] have some turkeys?'" he said. "It's just like, people keep asking for things."

Bachman said customers like having more information about their turkey and where it comes from.

He said he included the story of a turkey's trip to the butcher's on a piece of paper while selling poultry at a farmer's market. One woman said she was going to hang up the story on her refrigerator, so Thanksgiving guests could read it.

"People seem really interested in that," he said. "They like to hear the story behind their food."

Bachman buys his turkeys at six days old and raises them to run around, although he is looking into buying a partly-open shed, similar to the kind used for horses, for the turkeys.

He admitted the cost of a fresh turkey from his farm is not the same as one purchased from a large supermarket.

"It is what it is," he said. "It's just like buying a fresh chicken or anything else locally. It might cost more, but it might be worth it."

Meanwhile, Bowman's Butcher Shop, which has been in business for 70 years, changed management several years ago and decided to sell fresh meat from local farms.

The shop off of Churchville Road sold 50 turkeys last year purchased from Locust Point Farm in Elkton, Cecil County, and sold more than 200 this year.

"In terms of local farms, that's never been a huge focus," manager Schott said. "That's sort of where we are going with it, so that's new."

Schott, who helps run the shop along with butcher Andrew Johnson, said the change in direction seems to be working out for Bowman's.

"To me, what it's saying is people are willing to pay the money for a good product," she said, explaining customers want minimally processed meat.

Schott said she hopes the shop, which butchers cattle, lambs and goats, and also sells poultry, can expand over the next couple of years.

"Eventually we would like this to be really like a local [store] and carry other local products – cheeses, wines," she said.

Her customers tell her the turkey from Bowman's is different than what they get at a grocery store.

"The quality is different, it tastes different, it's cooked different," she said. "We can tell people exactly where it came from, where it was raised, what they fed it."

Schott noted the turkeys available on Tuesday were just slaughtered on Saturday.

She also hopes Christmas turkey sales stay brisk and expects to keep her birds at the same price, $2.29 per pound.

"We want people to be able to come in here and have a better taste of product," she said.

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