By Emily Weitz
The turkeys at North Sea Farms have no idea what’s coming. Since July 15, when they arrived in Richie King’s custody at one day old, these birds have had it made. For the first two weeks, they were nurtured, kept at 95 degrees and fed a starter mash concoction of corn, soybeans, and vitamins. As they grew, Mr. King introduced a natural feed for more mature birds.
“It’s a hormone-free, no antibiotic feed,” said Mr. King. “It’s as natural as they can get.”
In addition, they cleaned up the grass behind the farm stand where the King family sells fresh eggs, vegetables, and chickens. The turkeys eat grubs, bugs, worms – whatever they can find in the dirt.
“It took them about two weeks to wipe the grass clean,” he said.
Now they roam around their spacious enclosure, they climb up onto the platform they use as a perch. They huddle together when it’s cold, they spread their wings and bask in the sun when it’s warm. And they eat – a lot.
“We go through about three tons of feed every ten days,” said Mr. King. He estimates each bird eats about a pound of feed each day. He used to grow his own feed, but because space is limited, that’s not an option anymore. But he buys from Eastport Feeds in Moriches, which makes the feed to order.
Of the 800 turkeys that King has raised for the past four months, most of them are female. And with appetites, like these, they grow quickly.
“Some will be 28-30 pounds,” he said.
This is accomplished completely without any kind of growth-enhancers. They’re just big, happy birds. And that kind of lifestyle translates into the taste. That’s one of the reasons that families come back year after year to buy their Thanksgiving turkeys from North Sea Farms, located on Noyac Road.
“Those who have bought from me,” said Mr. King, “they say they’ll never buy from somewhere else. It’s because of the taste.”
Of course, raising turkeys with all this space, without any growth hormones, is more expensive than pumping them full of steroids, rushing the growth process, and giving them little room to roam. North Sea Farms charges $4.99 per pound, so an average bird will cost over $100. But that has not stopped North Sea Farms from growing in popularity and becoming a fixture of people’s holiday traditions.
The family took over the farm in 1945, when Mr. King’s father came back from serving in World War II to help his dad. About twenty years ago, they decided to extend their offerings to include turkeys. It was a way to expand their season, bringing an essential component of the holiday table to customers.
They started out with about 100 birds, and year by year they grew. For the past four or five years, they’ve been raising 800 turkeys, and between Thanksgiving and Christmas, that has seemed like the magic number.
People place their orders, and Mr. King slaughters the birds himself. That means customers are getting the absolute freshest turkey, and they know exactly what this turkey’s life has been: humane, from beginning to end.
While some people struggle with the idea that Mr. King is raising and killing the birds himself, he believes that it forges the necessary connection between us and our food source.
“If you’re not going to eat your own,” he said, “something’s wrong.”
At the King house, family gathers around the holiday table for a totally local feast. About thirty brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, and nephews come together. His sister, Kathleen King, created Tate’s cookies. So of course the desserts are off the charts. They’ll eat their own turkeys, Brussels sprouts, and potatoes. Everybody brings something, and for many of the dishes, you can get a detailed history of where it came from and who harvested it.
But you don’t have to have generations of history on a farm to have a tradition of knowing your food source and eating local. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, North Sea Farms is bustling with families stopping in to pick up everything they need for the Thanksgiving table – from fall greens to potatoes and turnips, to squash and sprouts.
. And the fact that the same faces return year after year is one of the most rewarding parts.
“It’s community,” said Mr. King. “We’re a part of people’s holiday tradition.”
To order your Thanksgiving turkey from North Sea Farms, call (631) 283-0735 or stop by the farm stand at 1060 Noyac Road in Noyac.