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This year, the Willy Street Co-op will be offering holiday turkeys from Eberly Poultry, Organic Prairie and Bell & Evans. If you haven’t yet decided which bird to select, we’ve compiled the following information about each one. If turkey isn’t your thing, check out the Community Room class listings this month and Deb Bachmann’s (co-founder of Bountiful Bean) Tofu Turkey Making Class. Orif even faux-turkey’s not your thing, check out Neeta Saluja’s Indian Cooking class for even more variety around your holiday table this season. Whatever you’ll be eating, we’d like to wish everyone in our Co-op, in our community and our growers an enormous “Thanks” for another year of supporting bountiful harvests and good eating.

Eberly Poultry: Poultry as nature intended

Though the Eberly family has been raising poultry since the 1940s, it wasn’t until 1984 that they made the official commitment to do it under only “natural” conditions. Even before the USDA’s organic standards were finalized in 2002, Eberly Poultry was supplying organic poultry for several companies including Walnut Acres, D’Artagnan and even Bell & Evans. That decision, thought to be highly controversial in the early ’80s, has catapulted this company from a small family business into an 80-person family operation. Eberly Poultry is credited with converting several farms, including many Amish and Mennonite farms, into certified organic operations in and around the areas of Lancaster, Lebanon and Brook Counties of Pennsylvania. Eberly Poultry is certified organic through Northeast Organic Farmers Association (NOFA) and Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO). They are active members of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.

Thomas Mikus of Eberly Poultry Farms talked about Eberly’s commitment to organic standards and their additional emphasis on raising humanely by saying, “One of the things we’re really proud of is we have a third-party audit done on all of our farms on how the animals are being treated. Inspectors watch as chickens are loaded onto the truck from the coops and witness that the welfare of the turkeys is not endangered, and we’ve passed that with flying colors every year. As far as animal welfare, we’re beyond the curve.”

Eberly Poultry’s philosophy that free-range practices produce healthier, meatier birds with more muscle and less fat is a sentiment echoed frequently by growers of all free-range animals. Animals foraging for their food develop muscle on all of Eberly Poultry’s farms. They are backed by an organically-grown diet, rich in protein and nutrients. Eberly Poultry processes all of its own U.S.-grown feed in its two granaries and that feed is trucked directly to its farms. Thomas also confirmed that Eberly’s turkeys are only ever confined to a minimum of at least four-and-a-half feet per turkey on one floor and are allowed to roam freely during the day into outdoor paddocks on each side of the turkey houses.

If you’re ordering an Eberly Poultry turkey, remember that these birds are shipped fresh to the store and will be stored in our coolers until you pick them up. You may want to time your pick up to occur as close to the time that you’ll be cooking the bird as possible if you don’t have enough refrigerator space to store the bird.

Organic Prairie: Family of farms

Organic Prairie, a division of the same cooperative that grows and markets Organic Valley products, raises their turkeys in accordance with the USDA’s National Organic Program on family farms of the Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools (CROPP) members. Since 1996, Organic Prairie has followed a mission to provide the healthiest, most wholesome meat raised humanely in accordance with organic principles and practices that respect the dignity and interdependence of human, animal, plant, soil and global life.

According to the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education Program findings, turkeys routinely provided access to the outdoors have 21 percent less total fat, 28 percent fewer calories, 50 percent more vitamin A and 100 percent more omega-3 fatty acid than turkeys not allowed outdoor access. All Organic Prairie growers allow their birds to have regular access to the outdoors where they can express their natural behaviors and can scratch and hunt for bugs.

All Organic Prairie Fresh Young Turkeys are packaged and frozen before being trucked to stores, so be sure to allow plenty of time to thaw your turkey if you’re choosing an Organic Prairie bird.

Bell & Evans: America’s oldest branded poultry

Like their chickens, Bell & Evans holds their fresh turkey production to the same high raising, processing and taste standards. Started in the late 1890s, this Pennsylvania-based company continues to be family-owned and operated and is part of an even larger network of family-owned feed producers, hatchery operators and growers.

As of 2006, the company employs a network of over 700 employees and 90 farm families within a 100-mile radius of Fredricksburg, Pennsylvania.

Special care is taken to ensure that their birds are fed only a natural blend of locally grown corn and hexane-free soy meal, free of any animal byproducts or antibiotics. Additional vitamins and minerals are supplemented in the all-vegetarian feed.

To protect the birds from opportunist infections and predators, Bell & Evans turkeys are not raised “free range” but “free to roam” in open-sided pole barns measuring 300 feet long by 60 feet wide. The barns allow the turkeys plenty ofopportunity to roam and feed at their leisure. Several health protocols are followed to prevent cross-contamination from opportunistic viruses or flus. One measure includes leaving all bird enclosures empty for a two-week period after a flock is removed to disinfect and break any virus cycles.

Equal care is taken in the processing of these turkeys as was provided in raising them. In fact, each bird is hand-selected to eliminate bruising, missing parts, etc. and they come sealed in a clear cryovac (vacuum-packed) bag that allows the customers to see about 95 percent of the bird. Each fresh (not frozen) Bell & Evans turkey has a specially designed pop-up timer inserted to assist with cooking.