- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Talking turkey with Ed Kramer is exactly that.
You talk turkey.
The standard bronze, that’s a heritage bird, the Bourbon red, another heritage breed and the broad breasted bronze, that one is not a heritage bird but grows really big, said Kramer pointing out the different types of turkeys he raises on Fisher Farm in La Plata.
He became a turkey farmer three years ago after his wife refused his request to raise another animal.
“My wife said I couldn’t have chickens, so I got turkeys,” joked Kramer, who retired from the federal government. “I had to learn a lot. There’s a lot of moving parts. It’s not rocket science, but it’s a lot to learn.”
Growing up farming in New Hampshire before joining the U.S. Marine Corps, Kramer came into the game with a bit of knowledge about tending crops and livestock, but he still hit the Internet and books to research raising turkeys.
His birds, 100 altogether, have free range of the farm’s grounds, including the fruit orchard where the turkeys roam around while they are poults (baby turkeys) in spring and summer sometimes underfoot of people who come to pick their own raspberries, apples and peaches.
The birds are raised antibiotic- and pesticide-free and, along with the occasional treat of fruit, are fed grass and a grain-based diet.
The farm has been humming along to its big day — Thanksgiving — since late May when the poults were incubated and hatched.
Trafficking in turkeys can be a bit quiet at times.
From May to September, the business line rarely rings.
There are no orders coming in. No one is thinking of sweet potatoes and crescent rolls in July.
Maybe this is the year that no one will want a turkey for Thanksgiving, Kramer said he finds himself wondering.
Around October, there may be an order here or there, but come November customers are all but throwing money at him.
Kramer has sold out for Thanksgiving with 70 birds destined to be the centerpiece of the annual feast.
The other 30 turkeys will be sold for Christmas dinners.
Heritage breeds are becoming more popular, Kramer said.
To be a heritage breed, the birds must be naturally mating, have a slow growth rate and able to have a long life outdoors.
Kramer’s turkeys have a lifespan of about six months.
“Thanksgiving gets in the way of a turkey’s longevity,” he said.
The standard bronze can weigh between 12 and 19 pounds, while the Bourbon red reaches about 8 to 15 pounds, Kramer said.
People looking for more poundage from their Thanksgiving turkey opt for the broad breasted bronze that can top out at about 25 pounds. That the birds are farm raised and not factory raised such as those found frozen in supermarket cases, makes a difference, Kramer said.
“They taste better,” he said. “They just taste better.”
When it comes to customers — many come from Southern Maryland while others travel from Northern Virginia and the Washington, D.C.-area — Fisher Farm is open to anyone who wants to see sustainable agriculture practices in action.
Just call ahead to make sure the farmer and farm hands aren’t too busy.
“I want to be able to show people this is where your food comes from,” Kramer said.
He also invites visitors to roam around among the birds.
“Collectively [turkeys] are curious, gregarious,” he said. “People ask, ‘Do they bite?’ Well, they don’t have teeth. They’re turkeys, not tigers.”
Susan McQuilkin, marketing executive for the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission, has been buying farm-raised turkeys since she has lived in the area for 27 years.
“It’s a great excuse to have turkey twice a year,” said McQuilkin, a native of the United Kingdom. In England, turkey is served at Christmas dinner, but it’s the star of the show during Thanksgiving, she said.
“Its a tradition of mine to drive down to find a turkey farmer,” said McQuilkin, who lives in St. Mary’s County. “The difference is fantastic,” compared to factory-raised poultry. “The texture of the meat. It’s quicker to cook and succulent. And you have the pleasure of knowing the farmer down the road grew it for you.”
Kramer, along with the help of farm hands, including family friend, Kiley Grogard, prepare the birds for customers about a week before Thanksgiving, dressing them and storing them in a walk-in freezer.
Fisher Farm is a certified poultry producer through the Maryland Department of Agriculture and is licensed to sell turkey parts to some stores including Country Nutrition in Waldorf and the Spider Hill Farm store in Prince Frederick.
Farming offers Kramer so much more than income.
“I come out here to relax,” he said. “The sun is shining. The turkeys are gobbling. This is how I relax.”
Buying from local farmers has a ripple effect in the community, McQuilkin said.
“Farms thrive in a community that thrives,” she said.
Customers are not only supporting farmers but the businesses those farmers support.
“It keeps our pastures green and the views beautiful,” McQuilkin said. “And when looking for things for our festive meals, why not buy local?”