Published November 24th, 2021 at 6:00 AM
Last year, Fran Burnett only bought a turkey breast from her local meat farmer, Farrar Family Farm, for Thanksgiving. The ongoing pandemic meant her holiday meal included only the Burnett family of three.
This year the gathering is a bit bigger, but Burnett didn’t snag a whole turkey in time. By the time she went to order one from Farrar Family Farm’s website, the small and medium birds were gone.
Like last year, most people are looking for a smaller bird.
John Bryan, the director of operations for the Missouri branch of the Poultry Foundation, said almost no one wants the big, 20-pound birds this year.
“This year, specifically, because it’s COVID … the small turkeys are the ones that everybody’s buying,” Bryan said.
This could be because of the mounting cost of, well, everything, but turkeys in particular.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, turkey prices per pound are almost 20% higher this year than they were last year at this time.
Katie and Gabe Farrar of Farrar Family Farm had to raise their prices this year too in order to keep up with processing costs.
But for customers of the Farrars the extra pennies per pound weren’t of much concern.
Burnett said she budgets to spend the extra money on the Farrars’ pasture-raised meats. A whole Turkey from Farrar Family Farm is about $4.75 per pound, while the national average for store-bought turkeys is around $1.30 per pound.
For her family, it’s worth the extra cost.
“Seriously, by far the best turkey I’ve ever had in my life,” Burnett said. “My husband was (from) a ham family growing up for all the big events, so he’s not a huge fan. But even he was basically falling out of his chair because it was so good last year.”
And besides the taste, Burnett said she feels comfortable knowing where her meat came from, and that it’s safe to consume.
“I’ve just been really impressed with Katie and Gabe’s commitment to ethically raising animals and providing them a really happy animal life,” Burnett said. “I think that’s definitely one of the things that contributes to the quality and safety, and taste, of their products.”
It makes sense customers have that feedback. After all, Katie and Gabe Farrar started the farm eight years ago with exactly those goals in mind.
When they started, it was just some chickens on the unused acreage of his parent’s land in Adrian, Missouri. The young couple wanted to be more conscious of the meat they were consuming.
Then friends and family started buying birds from them, and the business grew into what it is today. Farrar Family Farm is a small, but mighty, family farm that sells over 200 pasture-raised turkeys every year, along with chickens, pork, beef and lamb.
“We started off small with just some poultry and a few cows and year after year it’s just grown,” Gabe Farrar said.
When people started buying their birds, Katie Farrar said it was fueled by the desire to buy locally rather than from a big corporation. But after they tasted the pasture-raised poultry, customers were hooked.
“I usually get a follow up email from (new customers) saying ‘I was really pumped to just get something local raised by a real person’ … But then the flavor is what hooks them,” Katie Farrar said.
The Farrars raise the same breed of turkey produced at most large turkey facilities, the white broad breasted turkey. But theirs, she said, just have so much more flavor.
“It’s actually the same birds that big corporate farms raise in their barns and everything, but just the way that you raise it, the quality is just even better, even though it’s the same bird,” Gabe Farrar said.
“You are what you eat,” Katie Farrar injected with a laugh.
The couple is busier now than when they first started the farm, but they have continued to employ the same practices.
All of their meat is pasture raised and pasture finished. For the chickens and turkeys, that means going out each day and moving the enclosures to a new patch of grass.
It’s a long and labor-intensive process, which accounts for the extra cost.
It also takes longer for a pasture-raised (as opposed to grain-fed) bird to reach maturity. So while most people don’t start thinking about their Thanksgiving centerpiece until they’re raking leaves, the Farrars are hatching Thanksgiving poults (baby turkeys) in June.
“Your Thanksgiving turkeys get hatched in June,” Katie Farrar laughed. “No one’s even thinking about Thanksgiving in the heat of summer.”
While the whole-turkey industry saw a downturn last year as the pandemic caused people to gather in smaller groups, Farrar Family Farm has been in a period of growth.
Katie Farrar said they were already expanding the farm when COVID hit, and then meat shortages around the nation made their product even more popular.
When it comes to turkeys, they raise more each year, and sell out each year. This year, the Farrars did 100 turkeys for parts (breasts, legs, ground meat) and 100 as whole birds for Thanksgiving.
Their operation might be small, but Missouri is one of the top producers of turkey in the country.
Last year, the state raised and slaughtered around 17 million turkeys. Most of those come from big, corporate-funded farms in the state producing birds for Butterball, Cargill and Tyson.
Comparatively, the Farrars’ production of just 200 turkeys seems paltry.
The Farrars said the slow-grown, pasture-raised birds are special, and plenty to keep the two-person farm busy.
Within 10 days of listing their availability on the farm’s website, Katie Farrar said she only had a few Thanksgiving turkeys left.
“We thought based on last year, how quickly we sold our whole birds for Thanksgiving, we better raise more just because we had a growing customer base. But then that coincided with COVID and the meat madness, so we still don’t have enough basically,” Katie Farrar said.
With how quickly the turkeys sell out each year, Katie Farrar said most of her customers were just happy when they were able to snag one. Size was of less importance.
“People are just freaking out and they’re just like, ‘As long as I can get one they really don’t care what size it is,’ ” Katie Farrar said.
When availability of the birds went live on the Farrars’ website, Annette Choti rushed to pick out her medium (14-18 pound) bird.
She’s only feeding her family of three this Thanksgiving, but the turkey is so good she’s happy to have extras.
“Our family gathering is going to be very small this year,” Choti said. “So we got the medium-size turkey because we want to have a lot of leftovers.”
Just as Burnett said, the higher price isn’t a turnoff for Choti.
Choti said she’s fortunate enough to spend a little extra to get high quality meat that she knows is going right back into a family farm.
“We choose to spend money on food that we know is healthy,” Choti said. “Consistently healthy, consistently, you know, great quality, and that also we’re supporting another family.”
She met the Farrars at her hometown farmer’s market in Lee’s Summit. Knowing the people that grow her meat adds even more to it’s quality.
“This is kind of a reminder of, you know, the land and (where) all of our food comes from,” Choti said. “It’s just a reminder of what is really important.”
Cami Koons covers rural affairs for Kansas City PBS in cooperation with Report for America. The work of our Report for America corps members is made possible, in part, through the generous support of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.