Serious local food enthusiasts started thinking about today’s big meal sometime in May, according to Carol Clement.
“We’re taking pre-orders before the turkeys hatch,” she said. “You need to get on it early.”
Clement runs Heather Ridge Farms in southern Schoharie County. She and her husband raise organic, grass-fed beef, pork and poultry — including the centerpiece of all traditional Thanksgiving tables, the turkey.
Their regular clientele is largely made up of “locavores,” many of whom try to eat organic food produced within 100 miles of their home. She said it’s a growing, rather intellectual subculture — one that seems to expand into the general population around Thanksgiving.
“It’s once a year,” she said, “so people want a really good bird.”
But gathering everything for a full local Thanksgiving dinner has some inherent problems. Most local, free-range turkey is raised by pre-order, so those who didn’t plan their locally sourced Thanksgiving months in advance are basically out of luck.
Even the side dishes take a little extra work to line up.
“You can get everything, but you might have to go out of your comfort zone to find it,” said Nate Darrow, a self-professed local food snob and owner of Saratoga Apple orchard and farm stand.
He and his family follow the 100-mile diet all year. Generally, he said that involves eating whatever is in season. Around the holidays, when certain foods are mandated by tradition, things get more complicated.
Sweet potatoes, for example, aren’t as common in the area. Darrow said those people digging into a local sweet potato today had to search through farmers markets to get it. When all else fails, there’s always winter squash and pumpkins.
“Some things you’re just not going to get locally, like olive oil, but we’re actually really lucky here,” he said.
All things considered, Darrow said, a 100-mile food radius in upstate New York is better than most other places. There are plenty of farms and farmers markets across the area. Around Thanksgiving, he said, more people than usual take note of the regional bounty.
“We always have a nice bump in apple sales before Thanksgiving,” he said.
Much of that increase comes down to pie-making demands, but he said the holiday brings out the locavore in people who might shop at regular supermarkets the rest of the year.
Heather Ridge Farm sold 92 turkeys this year, many of them to people Clement didn’t see the rest of the year. She said supermarket shoppers start thinking about free-range turkey around the holidays.
The weeks leading up to today’s mass turkey consumption were some of the busiest of the year for Clement, but she said the trend isn’t driven by any potential savings.
“Our turkey is pretty dear,” she said.
Heather Ridge turkey costs $5 a pound, many times the cost of a supermarket bird, but she said her customers all feel it’s worth the price.
All 92 birds lived their short lives in a fresh, healthy pasture. Clement said their happiness is noticeable in the flavor of each animal.
“People are shocked,” she said. “Our birds actually taste like turkey. A lot of people have never actually tasted that before.”
She said it’s largely her turkeys’ good diet and antibiotic-free lives that make the meat taste so good, but Mohawk Harvest co-op operator Chris Curro had a different idea.
He spent Tuesday driving from the Gloversville shop to Glen to beg an Amish farmer to sell him more turkeys.
“The way I see it,” he said, “in order to feed your family a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner, you should first feed the farmer.”
The co-op provided local potatoes, squash and turkey, as well as some organic cranberries shipped in for the occasion. Curro said all that food will be enjoyed all the more with the knowledge a person was intimately involved in its production.