In the U.S., Thanksgiving Day means plates full of turkey and all the fixings. It’s a traditional celebration, but on many tables one thing is changing: the bird. Americans increasingly are choosing turkeys raised naturally on local farms over frozen turkeys from commercial ones.
Sales of organic meat, poultry and fish have risen around 10 percent annually in recent years. We spoke to C.J. Isbell, who runs his family’s natural meat and specialty grain farm, about Americans’ appetite for naturally raised meat and what it means for the livestock industry.
Why are Americans buying more grass-fed, free-range meat today?
I think people are becoming more aware of the health, environmental and animal-welfare benefits of pastured meats. And, of course, how good they taste.
Is this just a passing trend?
Not at all — it goes a lot deeper. It’s a resurgence of the historical roots of American society in agriculture. A reconnection of people and their foods, if you will.
How has the local food movement changed since you became a farmer?
At the start of the movement, most of our customers were families with higher-than-average disposable incomes. But in recent years, our primary customer base has shifted toward families of average income that are now choosing to take a greater interest in their food and where it comes from.
How are those changes affecting the broader agricultural industry?
We are starting to see more existing farms and new small ones move toward direct farm-to-consumer sales. This is the true revolution, and it’s driven by the consumer. It gives more power to the farmers and, in turn, to the customers by allowing them more ways to choose where they obtain their food.
Are there practices pioneered by farms like yours that you’re seeing adopted by more conventional farms?
For sure. Intensive use of cover crops and a focus on soil health, for example, which were widespread in the past, but fell out of common practice with the growth of chemical fertilizers over the past 40 years. So in a sense, farming is coming around full circle.
What makes U.S. meat so delicious?
The American terroir — the concept that foods take on unique flavor characteristics from the environment in which they are produced.
What is your favorite Thanksgiving dish?
Pasture-raised turkey, deep-fried. The best part: cold turkey sandwiches the day after.