Have you ever wondered what makes a turkey’s life balanced? Here at the Ypsilanti Food Co-op we try to promote healthy, balanced lifestyles for our community. Well this goal doesn’t just apply to the people we know, but also to the animals and animal products that we buy. For Beverly and Ken Garno it’s all about family, friends, and the poultry they raise with care.
The Garno Farm is a family business located near Adrian, MI. The property originally belonged to Ken’s parents as additional property, separate from their homestead. Ken and Bev bought the property in the 1960’s, but didn’t actually focus on poultry until later. Their original crop was feed corn, which has been a specialty for Ken’s family going back at least four generations! They are still growing corn and selling what they don’t need for their own birds.
It was in the early 1980’s that their older kids became interested in raising chickens; something their dad had been doing his whole life. They officially began selling to Co-ops in 1989 and now sell to stores all over Michigan. These days they have expanded their farm to include turkeys, meat and egg chickens, and meat and egg ducks. They even used to have some sheep, but it proved to be too much as their poultry took off in popularity.
The chickens are kept in coops with open-air runs, and they have several hundred chickens. Chickens are easier to raise further south where the winters are milder, so they have to keep the coops heated in the winter. When it gets too cold the birds tend to get sick more easily and egg production drops. Their son Tim handles the coop and pen cleaning, working daily. The ducks number around fifty and roam freely around the farm. “They just kind of know they belong to the farm and don’t usually go too far,” Bev noted.
The turkeys are my personal favorite as my birthday usually falls within days of Thanksgiving. On average they have around five hundred turkeys and in the past have had as many as a thousand! The birds are kept together in a large pen and have access to shelter from the elements. Despite having enough room to spread out, the turkeys actually move around together, where one goes the others follow. Because domesticated turkeys are so large, they have to be artificially inseminated in order to successfully breed. The Garnos buy their chicks from hatcheries that specialize in producing healthy birds. In the past some of their kids have tried to breed the turkeys naturally, hatching the eggs at the farm, but were met with little success.
All of their birds are fed daily with feed that Ken mixes himself. A combination of whole grains, fresh and dried vegetables and greens, and herbal supplements. One such supplement they use is kelp, for the minerals and iodine it provides. The birds require a whole variety of foods, much like humans, to be healthy and nourishing. Bev has received a lot of feedback from customers who tell her they can really taste a difference in their turkeys! I myself can definitely tell a big difference, especially the in freshness. Even though the Garnos have high standards of natural care and quality and their birds are raised without hormones or antibiotics, they are not certified organic. In a time when the very definition of organic is being questioned daily, the process of becoming certified is very costly and difficult for a small family farm. Especially for one raising animals, since every source of feed has to be certified separately. Since the Garnos use such a variety of food sources to keep their birds healthy, they have decided not to pursue organic certification. Larger organizations such as Organic Valley Family of Farms have the collective buying power to make organic food sources easier and more affordable to obtain. The Garnos lack that support.
Some of the challenges they face while raising such a large number of birds include a variety of predators and illnesses. Some of the common predators they encounter are: owls (which have been known to carry off large turkeys!), hawks, foxes, coyotes (they really don’t see these too often, if at all), raccoons, and skunks (the last two mainly go after the duck eggs). To keep the birds healthy they need to be kept warm, dry, clean, and are given garlic both daily and in larger doses a few times a year. The garlic, as many of us know, helps to prevent illness and build the immune system (I wonder if it also adds to the flavor?). When birds do become sick they are isolated and nursed back to health, and then rejoined with the group when recovered.
The farms operation has always been about family, and without family help their high quality of production wouldn’t be possible! About a month before Thanksgiving they kill the first few birds and freeze them for small buying clubs. The rest of the orders are prepared the week before Thanksgiving and that is when the family reinforcements come to the rescue! “We have been very blessed with family to help out!” emphasized Bev. The fresh birds are stored at about 28° F, enough to freeze the surface and allow for safe travel temperatures, but not enough to put the birds into a deep freeze. The Garnos themselves have a large Thanksgiving feast with a few large birds as part of the spread. Sometimes they will even cook a bird in the smoker grill for some variety. It is sure good to hear that even their family gets to enjoy the result of a lot of hard work and care.
As I was wrapping up my conversation with Bev, Ken chimed in, “Why do we do it? We have an insatiable desire to give out truth.”
As a member of Ypsilanti Food Co-op since my birth, I have to agree with his sentiment. Isn’t that what we strive for as a health conscious community? Access to knowledge and wholesome food, conscientious awareness of our food sources, and support of local vendors whose practices are in harmony with nature. I would like to thank Bev for her time spent talking to me about her family’s farm and hopefully you will give the turkeys a try this year! It is definitely worth the extra cost to celebrate Thanksgiving not only in tradition, but also in action by supporting healthy values for our families and communities. Please remember… “Think Globally, Act Locally!”