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Fresh farm holiday turkeys gobbled up

The Thanksgiving turkeys have already been dispatched, but a new batch of holiday birds - these are about 20-weeks old - are getting fat for Christmas tables at Out Post Farm in Holliston. The Thanksgiving turkeys have already been dispatched, but a new batch of holiday birds - these are about 20-weeks old - are getting fat for Christmas tables at Out Post Farm in Holliston. (Suzanne Kreiter/ Globe Staff)
By L. Finch
Globe Correspondent / November 23, 2010

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Despite the economic downturn, Massachusetts families are flocking to buy farm-raised turkeys for Thanksgiving.

As the traditional feast draws near, several turkey farmers across the state said yesterday that sales of the holiday bird have remained steady or have edged up, buoyed by the growing interest among many residents in buying local, even though fresh turkeys tend to cost more than frozen ones at the grocery store.

Some customers, undeterred by high gas prices, are driving across the state and across state lines to buy from their favorite turkey farm, such as at Out Post Farm in Holliston, where business was busy yesterday, said co-owner Adrian Collins.

“I think at Thanksgiving, even in a tight economy, you still want to have a fresh, farm-raised bird, and you might splurge a little bit and cut back in another part of the season,’’ Collins said. The farm sells three-quarters of its turkey population, which numbers in the thousands, during the holiday season.

“I was thinking, ‘Things are tough, and this is a luxury item,’ but it’s been the completely opposite case,’’ he said.

The state has seen a jump in the number of people raising turkeys over the past few years, thanks to the popularity of the local food movement, which encourages the consumption of locally grown and produced food, said Scott J. Soares, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.

Currently, more than 150 turkey producers across Massachusetts raise 18,000 birds each year, fueling a $2.7 million industry, he said.

“It parallels the interest in buying local, getting access to local meats and produce,’’ Soares said. “It’s a great opportunity to make direct contact with the farms and know how it’s produced.’’

Paul Magliozzi, who co-owns Seven Acres Farm in North Reading with his wife, Susan, said so-called locavores have become part of his clientele as other buyers have fallen away for economic reasons. The farm raises about 3,000 turkeys each year, with a 24-pound bird carrying a $70 price tag, he said.

“I did lose some of my biggest buying customers, like some construction companies,’’ Magliozzi said, “but I’ve had other people come along and pick up the slack.’’

At Raymond’s Turkey Farm in Methuen, demand for holiday birds was up slightly over last year, said Jim Rischer, who owns the 75-acre farm. Between now and the end of the year, the farm sells on average between 8,000 and 9,000 turkeys at $3.09 per pound, and it should easily meet that number this year, he said.

“It’s like the biggest meal of the year,’’ said Rischer, president of the Massachusetts Turkey Growers Association. “Most of them will pay a little more to have a really good turkey.’’

Sales at Owen’s Poultry Farm in Needham are also strong, said Don Owen, who runs the 75-year-old farm. Taste plays a large role convincing some people to pay higher premiums for turkeys, Owen said, because local poultry carries more fat for the cold New England climate than Southern birds sold frozen at stores.

And at the end of the day, a good farm will have a reliable base of repeat customers, said Charles Daigle, who owns Elm Turkey Farm in Dracut.

“A lot of people in the area, a lot of them you only see once a year when they come in for the turkey,’’ Daigle said. “It’s nice to see them. . . . It’s a festive atmosphere.’’

For a list of the state's turkey farms, go to www.mass.gov/massgrown.

Globe correspondent Katrina Ballard contributed to this report. L. Finch can be reached at lfinch@globe.com.