License issues lead local farm to give up the gobble this year
Heirloom or other locally raised turkeys can be hard to find in Central Texas, and orders are generally placed in early November to have birds on reserve for the Thanksgiving Day feast. But this year, people who prefer the local birds over store-bought will have one less spot to buy from this year.
Kim Alexander, owner of Alexander Farms, said he and his wife have decided to not sell turkeys on their Del Valle farm this year. In addition to tending to his ailing mother in Iowa, Alexander said his battle with Texas Department of State Health Services led him and his wife to decide to forgo selling the Thanksgiving bird. The farm has been cited for processing poultry without a license, and is facing a $22,000 fine. The state and the farm are still waiting on a ruling in the case, which was heard by a judge in September.
"My wife is running the farm while I've been going back and forth, and because of the threat of Big Brother, she ultimately decided that we weren't going to sell them this year," Kim said. "It's all because we are unlicensed; it's an issue of control."
Alexander says that he refuses to seek government licensing for poultry processing because he believes it is counterproductive and oftentimes turns out an inferior product. Usually selling hundreds of birds this time of year, the farm has proven a popular source for folks looking for fully pastured birds, either for ethical reason or the fuller flavor that comes from turkeys eating a more varied diet. The farm is also not selling its chickens, broilers, turkeys or other poultry pending the outcome of the hearing. However, the farm is still selling eggs and beef.
"There have never been allegations of inferior quality, cleanliness or complaining customers," Alexander said. "We have been farming for 20 years and never had a problem."
Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the state health department, said that it doesn't take a complaint to be in violation. She said the farm must have a license to process poultry, otherwise it is in violation.
"Basically if you are a poultry processor, you have to have one of two things. You have to have either a grant of poultry exemption, or grant of poultry inspection. This farm has neither of those from us. We have been trying to work with them. (They) need a two-page application, develop a sanitation plan, and meet a minimum sanitation standard to meet the grant, and they have not done that."
Williams said this isn't an issue of government targeting or controlling small businesses. It's about the safety of the consumers who buy Alexander's products.
"We want food to be safe. Small family businesses have meet standards just like big businesses," Williams said. "We don't look the other way just because someone is operating a small family business. People who buy from small businesses deserve to be safe too. These could be Thanksgiving turkeys fed to families with young children."
Looking for other local birds?
• Lee Dexter at White Egret Farm sells three varieties of turkeys ranging from 10 pounds to 32 pounds for $4 a pound, including Bourbon Red heritage birds. Order at 512-300-3584 for pickup at the farm (15704 Webberville Road, about 12 miles east of downtown Austin) on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving, starting at 1 p.m. each day.
• Sebastien Bonneu of Countryside Farm doesn't raise turkeys, but he's made a name with another big holiday bird: the goose. "Geese are smarter," he said. "They're easier to raise.' Bonneu also likes the bird's versatility. "You can roast the whole thing, turn it into a confit; there's quite a bit of meat on it."An 8- to 13-pound English goose costs $9 a pound and can be ordered only at the Countryside Farm booth at the downtown farmers' market (Fourth and Lavaca streets) on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Bonneu also sells ducks, chickens and guinea fowl.
• Richardson Farms in Rockdale is known for pork, but they also sell turkeys. The bad news is that most of the birds are already sold, according to owners Jim and Kay Richardson. But as Thanksgiving draws closer, it's possible a few turkeys will become available, Jim Richardson said. The best way to check is by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, he said. The farm has been selling Broad-breasted White turkeys (10 pounds to 25 pounds, $4 per pound) and heritage Bourbon Reds (8 pounds to 14 pounds, $8 per pound).
• Greenling, an online organic grocer that delivers locally, is offering Richardson Farms turkeys at $89.95 for a 16-pound bird. Ordering details at 440-8449, www.greenling.com .
• Fresh Pastures Farm in Taylor, northeast of Austin, has already sold out of Broad-breasted Bronze and Bourbon Red turkeys, but is taking standby orders in case other orders fall through, said owner Brie Rabon. Call 512-966-3326. There's a bright side: The farm has two more processing days for heritage chickens before Christmas: Nov. 27 and Dec. 11. Freedom Rangers are $3.99 a pound, and Cou-Nus are $4.49 a pound. The more familiar Cornish Cross birds are $3.49. The Rabon family started Fresh Pastures (1301 County Road 448, Taylor) in June `with the idea of raising clean food for our family,' Rabon said. The farm also sells pork and grass-fed beef.
- Mike Sutter