Whole Story

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Meet Our Turkey Ranchers

It’s turkey season! Last week I told you why our turkeys are different than a lot of what you’ll find out there at other stores. Stuff like:
  • No antibiotics — ever
  • No supplemental growth hormones*
  • No animal byproducts in feed
The other point I made was that we have complete traceability to the farms and ranches where the turkey was raised. That’s so rare in the industry and it’s one of the things that I really like about working here. Whole Foods Market goes to the effort to know exactly where our turkeys come from. And since we do, I thought you’d like a chance to meet our turkey farmers and ranchers and find out a little bit about the people behind your Thanksgiving dinner. Here’s a handful of turkey farms to get us started. Check back between now and Thanksgiving to meet more or check our local stories page to read about them now as part of our holiday website.    * Federal law does not allow the use of supplemental growth hormones in any poultry sold in the United States. Maple Lawn Farms – Fulton, MD Family pride. Maple Lawn Farms has it. They also have incredible turkeys. The Iager family has been raising turkeys since 1938 when Ellsworth and Mary Elizabeth Iager placed the first poults. The fourth generation is now learning turkey production to continue the Iager family tradition. Pitman Farms – Fresno, CA Rick and Mary Pitman have dedicated their life to producing premium quality turkeys. Their farm is home to traditional turkeys and rare Heritage breeds. The birds are matured for seven months (the standard is five months), which creates a richer, more savory bird for your holiday table. Hillview Farms - Buckholts, TX Born into the ranching business, Wayne Hillman has more than 40 years of experience. About 10 years ago Wayne and his wife began raising turkeys, which allowed them to return full-time to the ranching lifestyle that's been a part of their families for three generations. This small, mom-and-pop operation is committed to providing the tastiest turkey for your holiday table. Mills Rest Ranch - Mt. Gilead, OH William and Vanessa Mills have been raising livestock in Mt. Gilead for ten years and take pride in handling their cattle and poultry with respect. Mills Rest Ranch was the first livestock producer to receive a Local Producer Loan, which funded the construction of a new poultry barn and a significant expansion in production. Larry Shultz Organic Farms – Owattona , MN Larry Schultz and his wife Cindy are fourth-generation farmers, and they really know how to raise turkeys. Schultz Organic Farms has two farms that produce their amazing turkeys. The Schultz’s farm is committed to providing the tastiest turkey for your holiday table. Hope you enjoy this introduction to people behind your food! Come back for more.

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41 comments

Comments

Bepkom says …

We Do sell turkeys from Deistel Ranch. However our product selection will vary from store to store so you should check with your local meat department.

Bepkom says …

We work closely with industry experts, our meat producers, animal welfare advocacy groups, animal scientists and third party auditors to create and maintain the highest standards for humane farm animal treatment, which includes our turkeys. Additionally, for the second year in a row we have ranked number one in the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) survey ranking U.S. grocery stores on the availability of humanely labeled foods. You can learn more about them here: http://www.prweb.com/releases/WSPA/Food_Survey/prweb2621954.htm

j_n says …

I also think it is important to support local farmers and growers. There is not one farm on here from New York. I'd rather buy directing from a farm I know that they are treated humanely. It doesn't really matter if you can trace it back to the farm, if the farm is not treating the animal with respect, that is the most important part. Support Local Farms!

Sandy Alonsoperez says …

We're looking for poultry that is raised humanely. Mills Rest Ranch sounds like that. We're planing our first visit to your store tomorrow!

Ashley says …

I agree, that since you are not answering the MAIN question that everyone is asking: Are the turkeys are raised HUMANELY? Then we can only assume by your dancing around a definite answer that Whole Foods does not carry humanely raised turkeys and that is such a big let down coming from Whole Foods.

Angela joyce says …

Where are the turkeys sold at your N Wales sore from ?- Just how much time are they "free range"pecking for bugs and egg shells as they did before the toxic soy was put in all 'organic ' grain ? What is the name and location of these turkeys ?- Thanks, Angela

Nancy says …

I'm more interested in learning how the turkeys are treated while they're alive. And how they're killed.

Ann Gumula says …

You don't mention humane treatment and humane slaughter. These are very important to me and influence what I buy.

Phyllis p. hall says …

Do you sell Turkey's from the Deisel turkey ranch?

Jessica says …

Hello, I agree with Nancy and Ann. I would also like to know how the turkeys are treated while they are alive and how they are killed. Thank you.

Nicole says …

Hello, I agree with Nancy and Ann's concerns over how the turkeys are treated and killed. However, since I plan on consuming them I am more concerned on the quality of feed the turkeys are fed. Are they pastured, and is the feed gmo free and from pesticide/fertilizer free fields? Do these farmers practice sustainable farming? I am not requiring organic certification, but just healthy, practical, ethical sustainable farming practices. In my opinion, healthy is more important than tasty, but then, if they are pastured and all the above, the taste would be beyond tasty....

Nanny says …

I have just finished a gruesome read "Animal Factory" by David Kirby. It is about poultry, beef/dairy and pig facitilties that ARE NOT true farms. Large groups of animals are confined 24/7 in factory "barns". Feces and urine are put into "lagoons" which overflow into local waters. Odors are horrific and people have become ill from "poop" sprayers fouling their homes, clothings, cars, etc. I am determined to eat eggs, poultry, beef and pork raised as locally as possible using open grazing. No feeding animals to animals and no growth hormones or antibiotics. I have been buying from mega companies for years, but not more. I'll pay more and know my beef weren't up the the "udders" in poop and urine. I hope I can depend on the products offered here to be truly organic and farmed the right way. Hopefully.

Rachel says …

I'd like to see Turkey's that are raised without GMO feed as well as all of the above. The current information looks pretty grim for GMO's. Please Help Whole Foods!! Thanks for your consideration. Rachel

Marilyn says …

Is there genetically modified corn and soy in your turkey 's feed?

James says …

It's refreshing to get to learn a bit about where our food comes from and thanks are due to Whole Foods Market for introducing us to their suppliers. Does anyone at Whole Foods Market or, perhaps, one of the Turkey farmers, have any advice on when the best time to buy a fresh or frozen turkey is? How long should it remain in my refrigerator prior to preparation? I'm planning to do this year's cooking and it'll be my first turkey, ever. I definitely plan to buy from Whole Foods Market this year.

Bepkom says …

Click on this link for a thorough guide on how to choose, prepare and cook the prefect turkey! http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/holidays/guides/turkey.php

Bepkom says …

Thanks for your questions! All of our turkeys are raised to these standards: •No antibiotics — ever •No supplemental growth hormones (which are prohibited in poultry) •No animal byproducts in feed I’ve asked our meat team if they can find out about the feed for our turkeys, but in the meantime your best bet is to look for organic birds. Buying organic is the best way to avoid GMOs in feed.

Maxine Blank says …

Michael, I assume since you have not specifically said that the turkeys *are* raised humanely, that they are, in fact, NOT.

Bepkom says …

Maxine and Ashley, I appreciate your concern for this matter....we are very concerned as well! Our turkeys are absolutely treated humanely as are all the other species of animals that we carry that have been raised for consumption. As I mentioned in an earlier response, we work very closely with industry experts, animal welfare advocacy groups, animal scientists and third party auditors to ensure that our standards for humane farm animal treatment are not only the highest in the industry but that they're maintained and upheld by our meat producers. This is why we are so extremely proud to share the stories of our vendor partners. Thank you for your questions and please let me know if I can provide further insight!

Jason Halbert says …

Dear Mr. Bepko: Whole Foods' statement: "No supplemental growth hormones*" and then the note of Federal law prohibiting the use of growth hormones in poultry is a bit misleading. Federal laws passed in the 1950's did ban the use of certain chemical growth hormones in poultry, but not all. Tens of thousands of chemicals have been invented since that time, including Roxarsone an arsenic-based growth enahancer and parasite killer for poultry feed. Most chickens and turkeys in the US are fed this additive. It's basically harmless until it gets into the gut of the bird (no oxygen) or on the land as poultry litter and then it turns really toxic. It's contributing to fish kills in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and likely other places with high concentrations of industrial poultry farming. Does Whole Foods have a ban on the use of arsenic-based feed additives? Thanks, Jason Halbert Charlottesville, VA

rob says …

How do you keep track of the food origin and do you use a certain application/software for the traceability compliance?

Bepkom says …

@Rob: We have an entire team devoted to our Quality Standards and Organic Standards....they oversee all of it.

Cee Cee says …

Hello, i think that i saw you visited my blog so i came to “return the favor”.I am trying to find things to enhance my site!I suppose its ok to use a few of your ideas!!

Jason Halbert says …

Mr. Bepko: I'm still curious to see if you are willing to reply, either online or offline, to my post of 3/29/11. In light of the FDA's announcement of research finding toxic inorganic arsenic in poultry meat (http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm258342.htm) and Pfizer voluntarily stopping sales of Roxarsone, now would be a opportune moment to reply. Best, Jason Halbert Charlottesville, VA

Simone Lima says …

Please note how packed the turkeys are in the picture in Maple Lawn farm- that is NOT a humane practice. Furthermore, even if they live happy lives, are people willing to consider how they are killed and do people really think that's OK to inflict the pain involved? I urge people to visit a farm Sanctuary and hang out with one of these amazing , inquisitive, sentient beings, look them in the eyes, and then visit a turkey slaughterhouse and decide for themselves of they can live with the knowledge.

Kevin says …

I don't mean to be rude, but everyone is right that you don't provide any specifics about the treatment of the animals. You unequivocally state that no turkeys are fed antibiotics, etc., but you evade the questions about the treatment of your turkeys by pointing to a survey concerning the practices of your suppliers in general. Your evasiveness leads me to distrust Whole Foods. I will be buying my turkeys elsewhere this year.

Kevin says …

Interesting how the thread ends in 2011. Why is that? Did no one post anything else or did you decide to end the thread? If the latter, why?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@KEVIN - Thanks for your comments. The reason why this thread probably slowed down is because this post if from about 2 years ago. We have more recent posts, for example: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/blog/latest-gobble-turkeys-are-step-rated, that explain the treatment of the turkeys under the Global Animal Partnership 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Program. In the text of the newer post, you will find a link to the GAP page where you can see the qualifications for rating, treatment, etc. Hope this helps!

Robin Montoya says …

I am curious about the feed your turkeys consume. Are the corn and soy non-GMO? This is not addressed in your description and therefore leads me to assume that it IS GMO corn & soy fed to the turkeys. I would appreciate clarification. Thanks

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@ROBIN - Due to the pervasiveness of GMOs in animal feed, the only way we can guarantee that the turkeys were fed non-GMO grain would be to look for organic turkey options. We will be providing GMO labeling for all of the products in our stores, including our meat options. Very soon you will be able to look for GMO labels to determine if the feed contains GMOs.

Tina says …

Do you know if the turkeys are feed corn?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@TINA - The turkey's diet will differ amongst vendors which vary between stores. You can check with your local store and they can give you a firm answer but typically corn is used widely as animal feed.

Cindy Dodson says …

Alton Brown says a frozen turkey is better than a fresh one, unless the fresh ones are from a local turkey farm. I live in Boca Raton, where is my fresh bird coming from?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@CINDY - Our vendors differ between stores and regions. Check with the store directly to see where they source their turkeys.

Bill Bartholomew says …

Hi, Your list does not mention whether or not the turkeys eat genetically modified corn in their feed. Do you know if the corn has been genetically engineered by Monsanto or some other company? I appreciate all the other things your are avoiding. Yours, Bill

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@BILL - Since there are no GMO labeling regulations, we would suggest looking for organic turkeys if you're looking to avoid GMOs. Once the GMO labeling goes in to effect at our stores, we will have a label if the meat was fed grains that contain GMOs.

Marthe says …

Hi My husband purchased a turkey from Larry Shultz farm only to find printed on the label that it was processed in a place that processes wheat products. I have celiac disease and have to avoid any cross contamination, this is the first time I have ever come across this labeling on a turkey. How are you processing the turkey that means it comes into contact with wheat? And thanks for ruining my Xmas dinner!

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MARTHE - My apologies about your turkey. If the turkey was packaged, that means that we do not take care of any of the processing of the bird in our stores. The only processing we do for meat will typically be grinding meat or cutting specific selections that are in the meat case. I would suggest reaching out to the vendor directly if you have any questions as it sounds it was not processed in our store.

CHERIE AVALLON says …

Are any of your turkeys free range turkeys. I definitely want Organic, but free range is what I am looking for. Not cage free - free range.

Heidi says …

I am one of many people who will eat meat/poultry only if we know it is raised and killed humanely. I sure would like a turkey this year. Can I buy a certified humane turkey at Whole Foods? I am in San Antonio. Thank you. And please note. We are a growing number. Heidi

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@HEIDI - You can find detailed info about our 5 Step Animal Welfare rating at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/animal-welfare/5-step-animal-welfare-rating.