Do you wonder where your Thanksgiving turkey came from? Have you ever stopped in the grocery store aisle, read a label and thought, "I can barely pronounce this, but for some reason it's in my cranberry sauce"?
Debi Vogel, of Vogel Farms in Kuna, is intimately familiar with that feeling. She and her husband, Edwin, have been raising organic turkeys with nongenetically modified feed since 2007, and--with an upswing in concern over food origins--demand for the Thanksgiving fowl has steadily increased.
Boise Weekly caught up with Vogel to talk about raising non-GMO gobblers, demand for organic grub and "Mr. Skunk."
What's the history of Vogel Farms?
It was started by my husband's dad. It was your typical farm in the '50s, and it was pretty much conventional farming. Basically about 2004, when my husband and I got married ... we started to do the non-GMO. The more we found out about genetically modified food, we got more into [non-GMO].
Tell me about non-GMO.
Our message to everybody is: You have to put your money where your mouth is. You have to demand it.
Has interest in organic or local food been a driver of sales?
What I've found that's really strange was that when the economy took its dive in 2008, I think people stopped eating out. When they started cooking for themselves, we got busier. When you start cooking for yourself, you start realizing what kind of food you're using.
How does Vogel Farms prepare for the Thanksgiving season? When?
That whole process starts back in May, when we buy the turkey chicks. We do this with Cabalos Orchard. Half of them go to Cabalos Orchard and half of them stay here. They go in and out of the barns, but they're free-range, but they're fenced.
What does it take to raise a turkey? How long? What do they eat?
We don't do anything to regulate their feed. It's free. They get to eat what they eat. Our biggest one gets from 35-38 pounds, and that's dressed. The smallest is usually around 14 pounds. Last year, they were monsters. We had a bunch over 25 pounds.
What about GMO turkeys?
I've read in different places, turkeys are fed arsenic. It gets 'em to eat. ... They get to a certain size and they butcher them.
What's the flavor difference?
[F]resh turkey is phenomenal. It's so much better than anything. I can't even stand to smell a turkey from a store. When I was in Seattle [where Vogel is from], I'd buy pork and marinate it because it was tasteless. It was like tofu. When I moved here, and the first time I had pork from the farm, I was, like, "What is this?" My husband said, "It's a pork chop." It's the difference between tofu and something that's rich in flavor. We feed 'em grass and grain. If you go to 100 percent grass, that to me is a little gamey.
How many turkeys did you sell your first year? How many recently?
In 2007, we bought 100 turkey chicks. We had no idea what we were doing. We had 92 that survived all the way through and we ended up selling them all. The next year, we went up to 200 and we did 200 for a couple years, and then we went up to 400. Last year, we went up to 600 and we decided that was too many. You get 100 butchered at a time, so we just decided that was too many, so we cut back. And of course, the year we cut back was the year Mr. Skunk decided to have a little fun with them this spring. So I think we lost between 75 and 100 turkey chicks.
Mr. Skunk contributed to your selling out this year?
It was too late to get any more. At first, you're horrified that something got in there, so you just have to go, "Oh well." I think it was just so hot--it was such a weird summer--there was just more wildlife around. My husband was out irrigating one time and he saw a fox packing up a chicken. Which freaks me out. I'm scared to death of coyotes. I won't even dump the garbage when I hear them.
How many were you able to sell this year?
It was about 200. Back to square two.