Local meat, just in time for the holidays

There’s some dispute as to what was served at the first Thanksgiving, but one thing is for certain: the main course, as well as all the fixings, came from nearby. Thanks to the increased availability of farm-fresh meats, you can honor our early settler ancestors by featuring a locally raised turkey, roast, or even a suckling pig on your holiday table.

Local turkeys will be more plentiful this year than ever. The introduction of the Mobile Poultry Processing Trailer a few years back has enabled local farmers to raise, slaughter, and sell their birds without the added expense, inconvenience, and hardship on the animals presented by off-Island processing.

Jefferson Munroe is the Program Coordinator for Island Grown Poultry, a program sponsored by Island Grown Initiative (IGI). He and Richard Andre, who runs Island Grown Meat section of IGI, are cooperatively raising turkeys for the second year in a row. They will process them the week before Thanksgiving so they will be available fresh at the Winter Farmers Market on the Saturday prior to the holiday, and at Cronig’s Market Monday through Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

The breed selected by the two farmers is described by Mr. Munroe as a broad-breasted white turkey. “The breed is very similar to what people are familiar with,” he says. Perhaps so in appearance, but according to Mr. Munroe, “We’re raising them on grass so they have a totally different flavor profile.”

Mr. Munroe, owner of The Good Farm in Vineyard Haven, explains, “Any turkey you buy in the supermarket is probably raised in a huge airplane hangar and fed corn and soy. They are raised on a flat floor with no access to any of the things that turkeys normally eat — grass and bugs and berries.”

He and Mr. Andre, who owns West Tisbury’s Cleveland Farm, are raising their turkeys at the Whiting Farm in West Tisbury where there is plenty of space. “Turkeys need to be segregated from chickens because of the potential for contamination,” Mr. Munroe said. The birds can roam freely and they are moved around every other day so that they have fresh grass, bugs, and clover to forage.

“They’re not identical to wild turkeys by any means,” says Mr. Munroe, “but they talk to them,” he says of their native cousins.

The resulting meat has a lot more flavor according to Mr. Munroe. “It’s not gamey,” he says, searching for a proper description, “but more turkey flavor.”

The FARM Institute (TFI) also raises turkeys. Farm manager Julie Olson explained that their birds are a heritage breed that is very closely related to our wild turkeys. “They are from the original breeds that were domesticated,” she said. “They are very natural birds that can reproduce on their own, forage for their own food, and they can fly.

“As well as that, they have a superior flavor that nature intended. They’re very moist with a closer ratio of white to dark meat.”

TFI birds are raised in their pastures where they feed on grass and clover and also fed specially milled grains from a farm in Taunton, which offers special all-natural blends for the various growth stages.

TFI will process their 145 turkeys during the first three weeks of November to sell frozen. To order a turkey, you can call or email and they will even thaw one out for you ahead of time.

For those who don’t care for turkey, the above mentioned farms will also have broiler chickens available for Thanksgiving, as will Matthew Dix of North Tabor Farm. He is selling fresh organic chickens now and will have both fresh and frozen right up until around Christmas.

Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown, open through December, sells their own chickens, beef, and pork. They will also have fresh turkeys for the holidays from a farm in Duxbury. These must be ordered from the farm in advance.

Hams — and other pork products — can be purchased from a number of local farmers. TFI sells deboned naturally smoked heritage breed hams. They also have pork chops, ribs, tenderloins, pork roasts, ham steaks, all varieties of sausage, and bacon.

Native Earth Teaching Farm in Chilmark has all types of pork products for sale at their farm stand. They will also have a few suckling pigs available for those hosting a large crowd for the holidays (maybe a good New Year’s party option).

Both The Good Farm and Cleveland Farm offer hams and other types of pork. Cleveland Farm also has beef, including roasts for a traditional English Christmas dinner. The Good Farm will have suckling pigs available this year. Mr. Andre and Mr. Munroe will both be at the Winter Farmers Market (held at the Ag Hall in West Tisbury this Saturday, Nov. 3, and every other Saturday until the end of the year) and you can pick up smoked hams there or order other meats from them.

Flat Point Farm in West Tisbury sells all types of beef — frozen roasts, steaks and burger. You can call either 508-693-5685 or 508-693-4343 to place an order. Mermaid Farm on Middle Road in Chilmark will have lamb and beef available by the middle of January. You can buy from them at the Winter Farmers Market or at their farm stand. Blackwater Farm, behind Cottle’s lumberyard on Lambert’s Cove Road in West Tisbury, also sells beef and pork. You can reach them at 508-693-9785.

A rack or leg of lamb makes a nice, elegant change of pace for Christmas dinner. Allen Farm will have all cuts of lamb available by some time in December, in time for the holidays. The store is open Fridays through Sundays 12 noon to 5, or by appointment.

All of the farmers interviewed for this story mentioned how helpful it is for them to get a little extra business this time of year. Winter can be a tough time for local farms.

“Martha’s Vineyard is a really unique location because of the agricultural history that has shaped the Island as we know it,” Mr. Munroe said. “The only way to keep that heritage is if farmers find markets on the Island. Fields are beautiful but working farms are what make the Island what it is.

“I have yet to eat any locally produced food that is not superior to anything trucked onto the Island.”