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Demand for smaller turkeys a big issue for local farmers, markets

Farm markets report increased demand for smaller turkeys, turkey pieces.


October 8, 2020
By The Canadian Press

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This year’s Thanksgiving gathering might look a little different than past years.

Local farm markets around central Ontario say turkeys are selling, but there’s an increased demand for smaller turkeys and turkey pieces.

“In other years, families would be gathering and often they’d be doing a big turkey with all the trimmings, but this year it seems like while most are still doing a turkey, they’re choosing a smaller size,” said Lynda Van Casteren at Nicholyn Farm on Horseshoe Valley Road, west of Midhurst. “They’re still doing all the trimmings.”

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And some are opting for the larger turkeys, deciding to create a plate or even an entire meal for friends or family who can’t join their dinner table, she adds.

Cayleigh Jago at the family-run A&D Bird Seed Country Store south of Stayner confirmed that demand this year looks much different than in past years.

“It’s been a lot of people wanting small. It’s only groups of five or six or just the family and they don’t want anything super big,” said Jago. “We usually have a long list, and we usually sell out.

“Definitely it’s a big change from large turkeys to really, really small turkeys or even doing large chickens.”

Some are also buying individual turkey pieces, such as the breast or the thigh, instead of an entire turkey.

And while the order list is filling up, the Stayner store – which usually sells about 60 turkeys at this time of year – still has some available.

In addition to Thanksgiving turkeys, the farm markets also sell specialty products, like their own baked and canned goods, often sourcing other meats and produce from other area farmers.

A&D specializes in bird seed but also raises its own meats and carries local products in its market, making their own jams, jellies, pickles and sauces as well as frozen meals and offering seasonal items.

In Warminster, west of Orillia, Hewitt’s Farm Market & Bakery is also finding more of a demand on turkeys, particularly the smaller ones, this year due to travel restrictions and more people staying home.

“I think there’s a lot more people staying in the area too, people aren’t away on vacation,” said Trevor Hewitt, farm owner and co-owner of the market on the family farm. “Because of that, I think there’s a little bit more of a demand as well.

“We’re a little busier for sure with the turkeys.”

Hewitt’s year-round market sources locally grown meat and produce as well as crafts and gifts and homemade goods.

At Innisfil’s Maple Heights Farms, Greg Bray raises heritage-breed turkeys and poultry as a sideline to maple syrup and honey production and wood sales along the 5th Line. In addition to a selve-serve shed in front of the farm, Bray supplies products to Barrie Hill Farms and other markets.

“There seems to be a real awakening on who’s producing their food now,” said Bray. “We’ve met a lot of people who have moved into Innisfil.

“It’s just been an interesting time.”

Heritage turkeys are a throwback from the market turkeys raised for consumption. At Maple Heights the turkeys are free range and grain-fed, will take longer to grow out and don’t get overly large – 18 pounds is considered large. Although they harvest some of their own turkeys, the Innisfil farm largely supplies the breeding stock for other growers.

Maple Heights also sells bagged wood, developing a market for specific needs, such as oak and wood for smokers and pizza ovens as more people are getting creative with home cooking.

As essential services the local suppliers and markets were all overwhelmed early in the pandemic as people stocked up and cleared shelves, unsure of what the future would bring. Some of the stores put limitations on the number of items customers could purchase.

Nicholyn Farms decided not to add staff or expand its work bubble as a safety precaution in the face of the health pandemic, although there was already more staff than in previous years.

They also had to organize the movement of people to ensure distancing.

“It’s a challenge to get people through our market as quickly as we would like to because we have to make sure we are maintaining all the COVID protocols,” Van Casteren said. “So we’re limiting the number of people in the store at one time which means that it’s not nearly as quick.”

Nicholyn Farms has baked goods and ready-made meals in addition to meat, dairy products and the produce it grows.

Jago said A&D saw customers it had never seen before and business suddenly jumped 200 per cent.

As people returned to their regular grocery routines, or started consuming all the goods that they had purchased, she found demand levelled off and the market replenished to prepare for more increased demand in the remainder of the summer and fall.

The Stayner market is now fully stocked and the freezers are crammed.

“We don’t have a lot of extra room for some extra turkeys, but we have other pieces available if people want to do a roast or large chicken,” said Jago.

Adds Van Casteren: “Everybody is doing their very best in our industry to meet with all of the criteria that we have to to keep everybody safe, but we still want to keep everybody fed. Most of our product is perishable when you’re growing crop and selling it directly to the consumer.”


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