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Free-Range and Organic Turkey Demand Up in Idaho

Local farms see sharp spike in ethical consumer interest

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According to the National Turkey Federation, more than 244 million turkeys were raised in the United States in 2010. While only 98,653 of those were certified organic according to the USDA, the trend toward free-range and organic birds is on the rise.

"I think people are starting to become more educated on where their food is coming from, and they want to ensure a quality product is on their table at Thanksgiving," said Mitch Lucero of A+ Ranch in Richfield.

Mitch and his wife Acee took over the operation from Acee's father in 2008, and their certified organic, free-range turkey business has grown exponentially since.

"We plant crops in our field especially for them to graze on, such as wheat and alfalfa and grass pasture," said Mitch.

The Luceros raised 650 turkeys in 2010, and that number grew to 1,000 this year. While most A+ Ranch birds are distributed around the Magic Valley, you can also snag one at Boise Co-op or through Mary Rohlfing at Morning Owl Farm.

Another local, free-range option is Vogel Farms Country Market in Kuna. The farm grows all natural beef, pork, chicken and turkey. The turkeys are raised in Cabalo's Apple Orchards, where they roam, freely snacking on apples, wheat, barley and melons.

"Our sales have increased over 50 percent," said co-owner Debi Vogel. "We started turkeys--our first year was three years ago, and we sold 70--and this year I'm over 400."

Though all of Vogel's turkeys sold out a couple weeks ago, she said you can easily snag one next year if you plan ahead.

"We give some early options. We will start posting on Facebook and our website about May, when we buy the chicks," said Vogel. "You can reserve a turkey for $30 down, and then you'll get locked into a lower price."

While free-range or organic turkeys can cost a pretty penny--around $3.25 to $3.50 a pound--Vogel said an increasing number of customers are willing to splurge.

"For the most part, once people have a fresh bird, they will never go back," said Vogel. "It is really good."

Boise Co-op has also ramped up its free-range, organic turkey selection this year. In addition to birds from A+ Ranch, you can also find free-range Robins Family Farms turkeys from Melba and free-range organic and non-organic birds from Shelton's Turkey Ranch in California.

"We're trying to make sure that we've just got enough on the shelves that everybody that wants one can get a turkey," said co-op Media Director Michael Boss.