HOLMES COUNTY, Ohio (WJW) – In the rolling hills of Holmes County, just over and hour away from downtown Cleveland, there’s a farm that looks so idyllic, it could be right out of a picture book.
It’s at Wholesome Valley Farm in Wilmot that part of America’s culinary heritage is being preserved by the raising of heritage turkeys — just in time for Thanksgiving.
Trevor Clatterbuck is the owner of Wholesome Valley Farm where he and a dedicated team sustainably produce organic vegetables and pasture-raised beef, pork and poultry, including the rare Standard Bronze Heritage Turkey.
“It’s a breed that’s been the same for the last 100 years, it tastes better, it’s more like a wild turkey, you can see they look very much like the Eastern Wild Turkey,” Clatterbuck said.
One of the breed’s most distinctive characteristics is its ability to mate and reproduce naturally, unlike turkeys bred industrially, which can’t reproduce without the help of scientists and artificial insemination.
You won’t find heritage turkeys on many farms because they take an extreme investment of time, effort and money on the part of the farmer, and they don’t produce the profits most would like.
“I would guess there’s somewhere around 500 in the Northeast Ohio area,” Clatterbuck said. “And there’s 275 right here,” he continued, pointing to the heritage turkeys in their pasture.
Clatterbuck himself says he’s considered stopping his heritage turkey program, but he’s committed to what it represents in farming and knows customers all across Northeast Ohio wouldn’t let him.
“It’s a lot of work and not big numbers, but they sell out every year. Customers come looking for them, we’ve always got a wait list,” he said.
Like other pasture-raised poultry, heritage turkeys need a lot of space.
At Wholesome Valley Farm all the turkeys have free reign of 10 to 15 acres of land, which gives them a much different life than the typical Thanksgiving bird.
“The trade-off for us is they take twice as long as one of the traditional hybrid or market turkeys, but the flavor, the additional fat, which is also flavor and moisture and the culinary heritage are all important to us,” Clatterbuck explained.
And what about the flavor? How is it different? Heritage turkeys have smaller but more flavorful breast meat. They also have more dark meat, which Clatterbuck describes as having a gamey and rich flavor.
Wholesome Valley Farm starts their heritage birds in January and takes them from mating and reproduction to the egg, through incubation and hatching.
“We keep them very warm about 99.5 degrees, they’re very, very picky. After about two weeks they start to get hardier,” Clatterbuck said. Eventually, the turkeys are brought outside to fresh air where they roam the pastures, corn fields and even wooded areas of the farm.
The turkeys grow and mature over 28-30 weeks before being harvested, which is about double the time of turkeys raised in an industrial setting.
Clatterbuck faithfully monitors the turkeys’ activity levels and checks for illnesses on a daily basis. Every day they are moved to fresh pasture so they have lush green grass full of nutrients right under their beaks.
The turkeys also eat a combination of corn, smashed pumpkins, grasses, bugs and kitchen scraps.
“It’s more of a foraging diet that imitates what a turkey in the wild would have,” Clatterbuck said.
Clatterbuck explains pumpkin seeds have natural antimicrobial properties and act almost as an antiviral medicine when the turkeys ingest them.
The foraging diet results in a flavorful, juicier and richer-tasting bird that grows at a slower and more natural rate, the way nature intended.
“The birds themselves actually have more fat, which I find amazing,” Clatterbuck said.
An estimated 45 million turkeys are eaten on Thanksgiving every year. Here’s hoping none of us dry ours out, but what we know for sure is that only a very small percentage of those turkeys carry on America’s culinary heritage.
“If we can have a bird that tastes better and that happens to be from food the way it was done years ago, that’s all we’re after,” Clatterbuck said.