The ambition for broad acres leads to poor farming, even with men of energy. I scarcely ever knew a mammoth farm to sustain itself; much less to return a profit upon the outlay. I have more than once known a man to spend a respectable fortune upon one; fail and leave it; and then some man of more modest aims, get a small fraction of the ground, and make a good living upon it. Mammoth farms are like tools or weapons, which are too heavy to be handled. Ere long they are thrown aside, at a great loss.
Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch – Lindsborg, Kansas:
Frank Reese was the first farmer to work with Heritage Foods. He raises all the poultry that we sell including numerous breeds of heritage turkey, heritage chicken, heritage duck and heritage goose. For more information on the individual breeds please visit our breed page.
History of the Heritage Turkey
2016 marked the 100th anniversary of Master Poultry Farmer Frank Reese’s turkey flock arriving to Kansas (and 173 years of the genetics), a milestone for American farming, and one more great reason to celebrate Thanksgiving with a Heritage turkey.
Fans of Frank’s Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch turkeys include Alice Waters, who says “These birds are without a doubt the tastiest birds you can possibly serve.” Frank has become an icon of American farming, and has been featured in publications ranging from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to National Geographic and Time magazine. His story is a Rosetta Stone of the sustainable agricultural movement and the reason why the word “heritage” is synonymous with the word “heirloom.”
Frank’s birds are 100 percent antibiotic-free and free-range from the parent stock to the hatching to the harvest. They are not only a model of responsible farming, but also delicious – they bring a character of flavor and juiciness that cannot be matched. They also come with a sweeping history that is as epic as any American Tradition.
Why Lineage is important
THE BIRD BROTHERS
In 1916, poultry farmers with the unlikely name of the Bird Brothers (their real name) won a blue ribbon at a poultry show at Madison Square Garden.
In 1944, the Meyersdale Republican (of Meyersdale, Pennsylvania) wrote that the Bird Brothers’ “success as developers and propagators of the best strains of Giant Bronze turkeys made the name of their firm known in nearly every civilized country in the world. They exhibited fowls at Madison Square Garden for 27 consecutive years, and never without taking blue ribbons.”
Frank’s birds are descendants of the Bird Brothers’ Hatchery turkeys from 1916, a flock that can be directly traced to 1843 and the legendary Boston Livestock Show.In 1917, the mother of Frank’s future mentor Norman Kardosh – who Frank would meet at a poultry show in 1955, when Frank was just seven years old – received ten Bird Brother Standard Bronze turkey eggs as a wedding present, and passed them on to her son.
Long gone are the days when viable bird eggs were given as wedding gifts (or when there were poultry shows in the center of New York City), but back then, in a country driven by family farms, there was nothing strange about it at all. Norman’s mom had the eggs shipped to Kansas by railcar, where Frank would eventually found his farm. These eggs would be the beginning of a flock of Bronze turkeys that by 2016 would become the only breed of turkey whose lineage could be traced back over 173 years — including the last century in Kansas.
In every family, there is pride of history and lineage. This is no different for poultry or livestock. These birds are the progeny of poultry that was bred for flavor.Norman Kardosh spent his life teaching Frank how to raise poultry responsibly, because he knew he was leaving his legacy to Frank, and he stressed the importance of pure genetics. Norman said, “If you mess them up it will take fifteen years to straighten out... if it’s even possible.”The Standard Bronze is the perfect bird — flavorful, healthy, and robust — and represents not just a line of genetics, but the farmer’s love and care in breeding the best turkeys in the world.A Heritage turkey is defined as a turkey that mates naturally, has a slow rate of growth, and lives a long time. Heritage genetics are the foundation for humanely raised livestock.
The American Poultry Association is America’s oldest agricultural association and the keeper of the standards for poultry breed identification. Certification by the APA is the only label that matters when it comes to truly “heritage” poultry. Frank is the first sustainable commercial farmer to receive certification by the APA for his birds as purebreds, standards that they set in 1873. Frank is currently the only farmer selling APA turkeys under USDA certification.
By the early 1970s, factory farming would take over, and turkeys became most commonly bred for traits that would genetically deform them and destroy their flavor — namely how fast and how big they could grow. Within twenty years turkeys that were loaded with antibiotics to keep them alive and were so top heavy they could not walk had become the norm. In fact they were growing so fast that turkeys became so inexpensive as to nearly bankrupt the industry.
Eat Them to Save Them
In 2001, Slow Food USA Founder Patrick Martins put the Standard Bronze turkey on the Slow Food “Ark of Taste” — a metaphoric vessel designed to highlight agriculture on the verge of extinction — and suddenly found himself in the turkey business as well, launching Heritage Foods USA to help Frank expand and successfully deliver his flock. The Turkey Project has happened every year since 2002 with deliveries made to homes around the country as well as restaurants and shops.
Frank Reese turkeys are available every year fresh for Thanksgiving directly from Heritage Foods USA, including the Standard Bronze, Bourbon Red, White Holland, Black, and Narragansett breeds. Birds deliver via Overnight FedEx for delivery the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. To order, visit HeritageFoods.com or call (718) 389-0985.
Frank Reese chickens, ducks and geese are also available for sale year round. All Good Shepherd poultry are raised outdoors, antibiotic free, and conformed to standards set by the American Poultry Association.
Regarding the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of his flock, Frank says, “We are incredibly proud to have preserved this lineage of America’s best turkeys. Something that started as a handful of eggs — a wedding present! — is now a thriving flock. And to be embraced by Slow Food, Heritage Foods and so many great chefs has really helped us get our message out to the public: genetics and responsible farming matter. Not just as something fashionable, but where it counts, on the table.”
Patrick Martins adds, “Frank is a real super hero in the poultry business. His farming practices should be a model for anyone who cares about taste and the survival and success of true heritage breeds. We started our business because we believed in Frank, and his birds have really sustained us. It is nearly impossible to compete with his birds.”Taylor Boetticher of The Fatted Calf in California, one of the largest purchasers of heritage turkeys in America, says, “Promoting the importance of strong genetics is an important national issue and no one exemplifies this plight better than Frank. His turkeys are simply the best.”
Newman Farm – Myrtle, Missouri:
A Farmer and Scientist
From the air, Newman Farms, in south central Missouri, in the heart of the Ozarks, looks more like a pioneer settlement or a holiday camp than any sort of pig farm. Wooden huts are scattered across green fields like bungalows, where contented Berkshire pigs live their lives, happily on-pasture. It’s an idyllic image, far from the modern machine that is industrial pig farming.
Newman Farms smack of an America gone by, the best of family farming, enlightened by the humane and thoughtful practices of loving farmers, and a world increasingly concerned with the source and safety of their food.
David Newman is both a farmer and scientist. “The farmer came first,” he laughs. His degrees are in animal science, and he holds a Ph.D in meat science and muscle biology, focused on meat quality. “As I became a scientist and involved in education, I applied what I was learning to understand what we could do better. As a farmer, we look outside the animal, but as a scientist we look inside-out, and when you can understand what that means, what the metrics are, and how to best raise and breed and feed, how to make our product better, you can apply that every day.
The Berkshire Pig
Berkshires were the favorite breed of British royalty, and were first introduced to the New World in 1823. Since then, Berkshire bloodlines have remained exceptionally pure and have become a mainstay favorite of chefs and diners, legendary for their exceptionally bright pork flavor and thick, delicious fat cap. And if anyone were to question their excellence, just ask David, a real-life doctor of meat studies. “It’s not a matter of opinion!” he insists, passionately. “It’s a scientific fact that Berkshire pigs are better! There are other breeds that taste great, the mangalitsa, for example, the loin is great, but they are excessively fat, I mean horrendously fat! A chef might only get 35 pounds of meat for every 100 pounds of hog.
The Berkshire pig is fat, but the fat is very high-quality, that great curly white fat, that makes great bacon or charcuterie, the ratio is there. And Berkshires are incredibly consistent — you’ll find other breeds and pigs that are incredible, but as a farmer, can you repeat that every day, thousands of times? I can do that with my Berkshire.”
David lives on the farm with his wife, Kristin, his mom Rita, and his kids, and teaches animal science at Arkansas State, bringing with him what few teachers ever will: a real-world case study, a not-so-secret double life, professor as farmer, farmer as professor. As he says, “There is nothing better than learning from someone who has some skin in the game. I make a living for our family on the farm, and I bring with me when I educate my students. It is the real American dream, America at its best.
Our goal is to raise kids on a farm. I was raised on a farm, my wife was raised on a farm, and we want to teach our kids a work ethic, and teach them it is OK to be different. We raise our pigs here and sell them around the country, how crazy is that?”
On a recent trip to the New York he tore through town visiting the celebrated food palaces that revere nothing more than top-shelf ingredients. For a guy who came up down on the farm, he mingles effortlessly with New York’s best chefs — who seem humbled to meet the guy responsible for putting meat on their tables. Says David, “Our whole business comes down to this: if the consumer puts it in their mouth and they don’t like it, they wont buy it again. I’ve spent my whole life understanding the livestock business. I’m an expert, but I’m always learning. We’re real working farmers, but we are not afraid to challenge the status quo. We love to be different. If I ever got a tattoo it would be a pig that says QUALITY.”
“I got my start through my family. My grandfather was a farmer. My parents were a family of hog farmers, but primarily in the commercial pig business. In the 1980s my parents raised pigs in confinement. There were some very challenging economic times for everyone in production, and we realized we were going to have to do something different.
In the 1990s my parents decided they wanted to go back to their roots. We were going to have to be very large to be successful in the commercial sector, and my father decided we should focus on quality. We changed our genetic program and our nutrition program. We became Certified Humane®. We never confine any animals — ‘everybody’ has pasture access — and we chose to focus on Berkshire pigs for their quality.”
Lazy S. Farms – La Plata, Missouri:
In the Beginning
When you see Red Wattle pork on a menu, what you are seeing is a five-state, eighteen farm network dedicated to raising a storied breed that was once upon a time nearly extinct.
Larry Sorell is one of the heroes of this story, an avatar of the heritage food movement, a salt of the earth farmer, a true believer who was destined to become the Guardian of the Red Wattle. He is proof positive of the ethos that when it comes to endangered livestock, “you have to eat them to save them.”
In the beginning, back in 2004 when Patrick Martins began Heritage Foods, a market for the Red Wattle was built on handshake agreement with Mark Ladner, then the chef at Mario Batali’s Lupa, Jason Denton, and Zach Allen also of the same restaurant group. They recognized the high-quality and undiminished taste that came from a Red Wattle pig raised on-pasture, antibiotic free, humanely raised, using traditional farming methods. The deal with Ladner, and the partnership with Larry and his Lazy S farms, were truly the origins of Heritage Foods.
“We traveled 18,000 miles to get started,” Larry says matter-of- factly about a Heritage Foods Odyssey whose mission was to search out rare Red Wattle sows and collect a viable genetic lineage of this incredible pig whose American legacy goes back to 17th century New Orleans. "When we began, we had two Red Wattle gilts and a boar, and we had to travel all over the United States to start a herd."
Best Bite of a Career
“The Red Wattle," says Larry Sorell, "was on their way to being extinct, we had to raise ‘em to eat ‘em or they were going to disappear, that’s where it was at. When I started delivering hogs for Patrick, he had just started Heritage. He’s the one that really got the breed going – he got the meat to the chefs.
They loved it and it grew from there....
“Now I’ve kinda retired from raising animals, but we have eighteen Amish growers working with us, and I pick up the hogs and pay for them, and then bring them to the processor, Paradise Locker. I drive a tractor trailer and go around picking up three hundred pounders, fifty head a week. We have farms in Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa... that’s a lot of traveling, We may have four or five pick-ups every week. You wear out a truck pretty fast.”
Larry, now “pushing eighty,” still does all the driving. “I’ll have to quit sometime but right now it’s going pretty good. The driving is easy. The hard job is you gotta keep eighteen Amish families happy, picking up their hogs, coordinating farmers on the phone, monitoring the size of the animals and making sure we have the right amount— each week we round up fifty pigs. And we’ve been doing it for fourteen years now.”
“When we began,” Patrick says, “farmers were willing to sell their RedWattle pigs since there was no market for them. Larry went out and helped us begin spreading the word on existing farms, and also got new farmers interested. What Larry has done to promote the Red Wattle breed has literally saved it. Red Wattle is still considered a rare breed by the Livestock Conservancy but has been upgraded off their ‘critical list’ to ‘threatened.’
Good Farms – Manhattan, Kansas:
So many of our farmers found their futures working within that beacon of American agricultural leadership, the 4-H organization, including Craig Good. Craig, one of our favorite farmers who along with his wife Amy runs Good Farms, just north of Manhattan, Kansas, affectionately known as “the little apple.”
“I have had a passion for raising pigs,” says Craig, “since taking pigs as a 4-H project in 1965. I studied Animal Science at Kansas State University, and after graduating in 1975 I took a job with an outstanding stockman who raised purebred Duroc pigs here in Kansas. His name was Fred Germann, and he was one of the oldest and best Duroc breeders in the U.S.
“Amy and I were married in 1976 and 5 years later we made the decision to move to the farm that my father and mother had owned since 1961, near Olsburg, Kansas. Craig's father, Don, was a meat scientist and would eventually have a division of Kansas State University named after him. They had been raising purebred Angus cattle and crops on the farm. Right now we have about 110 purebred Angus cows that graze May thru September on approximately 1000 acres of Flint Hills pasture, and then they are fed grain and dried grass hay to finish and harvest. The grain that they are finished with is locally raised by us, or our neighbors. We never use antibiotics or any implants or growth enhancers.” Heritage Foods features Good Farms Angus, once a year during grilling season.
Their hog operation began in earnest in 1981, and they have continuously raised hogs there for the past 37 years.
“Our Duroc herd was started with a few sows from my former employer who started raising Duroc pigs in the 1940s — with females obtained thru Sears and Roebucks! Things sure have changed, but the Durocs that we now raise have ancestry that goes back to those Sears females, approximately 75 years ago. Even though the Duroc breed is not rare, there are not a great deal of pure Durocs in the marketplace.”
In 2009, working with Heritage Foods, Craig and Amy added a rare breed to their herd. “We were acquainted with a man in Ohio that had a small herd of pure Gloucestershire Old Spots that needed a new home. They came from an importation of Old Spots that arrived in the USA in the 1980s. We were fortunate to save this breeder’s entire herd from being sold to the commodity market due to his family’s difficult financial circumstances. In the last two years, again working with Heritage, we have added Tamworth pigs to our production.
“Amy and I really enjoy and value our relationship with Heritage Foods. It has given us a rare opportunity to work directly with the people that use the pork that we produce. We consider it an honor and a privilege to raise pork for Heritage Foods USA, and we will always do our best to uphold the trust and confidence that Heritage and their customers have put in us to raise the very best food.”
Doug Metzger and his family – Seneca, Kansas:
Doug Metzger is a superstar in the Heritage Food world, a veteran farmer and all-around champion.
Doug was the first farmer to grow pigs for Heritage when we first got started. We met Doug and his wife Betty through our original project to introduce rare breed turkeys to the national market (Doug had been traditionally farming turkeys since 1951), and continued to work with him to raise rare Berkshire and Tamworth breed pigs. Truly at the Ground Zero of our business and the heritage food movement, Doug was the magic man that introduced us to our processor Paradise Locker Meats, with whom we have worked and grown ever since.
Doug comes from a truly great American farming family — Life Magazine once wrote that Doug’s father, who lived to be 104, had more living descendants than any American – many of them farmers. His is the story of immigrants who came to the New World and made good through old-fashioned values, tradition, and hard work.
Doug raises purebred, certified Berkshire and Tamworth pigs on his 1500 acre farm in Seneca, KS, where he also grows corn, sorghum, wheat, alfalfa, oats, barley, and heritage turkeys with wife Betty, son Mark, daughter Marilyn, son in law Stan and their three kids.
“We’re here to save these breeds,” says Doug, who is as down-home as the farm he still works on as he approaches his 80th birthday. “Save the breeds and make a little money. We got a lot of things going on, we have a lot of land. But it’s getting hard to keep up with it all… I need more young people! When I was young we raised turkeys in spring and sold’em all by Christmas. We milked cattle all year round. I want to keep working — my dad was helping me when he was 80!” When it comes to family farming, it doesn’t get any more “family” than this.
Baker Farm – Kiron, Iowa; Meyer Farm – Lawson, Missouri; Halverson Farm – Benard, Iowa; Beiber Farm — Waukon, Iowa;
When Heritage Foods first started to ramp up production of heritage pigs at our abattoir in Trimble, Missouri, a number of local farmers called asking if they could also provide a small number of pigs for the program. The answer, like usual, was yes as long as they transitioned to raising the Berkshire outdoors, without antibiotics. These farmers are also helping to grow the supply of good, clean and fair pigs in the Kansas City market, good news for the local restaurant scene, which has really taken off in recent years.
Tamarack Sheep Farm – Corinth, Vermont:
Ben Machin of Tamarack Sheep Farm grew up in Vermont on a small organic homestead, where his family grew their own food, and produced apple juice, apple cider vinegar, and maple syrup. After some years working for the US Forest Service as a Smokejumper, Ben came back to Vermont to study and work on various natural conservation projects, but raising sheep has been in Ben's blood for generations. “These sheep have been in our family for over 90 years,” he says with salt-of-the-earth humility.
Ben’s great-grandfather started a Tunis flock in the 1920s. Years later, Ben's grandfather, Herb, began to work with Dorset Horn sheep for a 4-H project. In 2006, in Herb’s last days, Ben made the monumental and wonderful decision to dedicate himself to revitalizing the family flock. Grace Bowmer joined Ben in 2008. Grace came with a background in architecture, site design, landscaping, and gardening, and together they purchased the land and built a barn.
Ben and Grace raise two breeds — along with the Tunis, they specialize in the Horned Dorset, which Ben “loves especially because both males and females grow horns. There are more differences, one breed may be slightly more sweet tasting than the other, but we’ll let the customer make up their minds. We focus on the farming.
“We’ve been steady in our approach,” says Ben. “The business has been growing modestly — there is always growing interest in local food. Right now we’re at a good size, this has been sustainable and sufficient to support a family. We believe in it. The only new thing is we added a fifth generation – we have a two year old daughter! I guess we’re going to have to get her to work. Actually, in Vermont we’re lucky, a lot of people here are interested in farming, we don’t have trouble finding people to work with us. We get people coming from university farm programs, and non traditional backgrounds – people who want to make career transitions and get out of their offices and work with food. That is not going away, but it is always more work then they expect. Life ends up being a lot of work no matter what you do, but we are very lucky.”
Shannon Creek Farm – Manhattan, Kansas
Joseph Hubbard is one of the youngest farmers in the Heritage Foods network. Joseph learned the art of farming from his family and raises sheep and goats on the vast Flint Hill pastures around Manhattan, Kansas.
The Flint Hills, a band of hills in eastern Kansas stretching into North Central Oklahoma, is a region that is not good for plant agriculture, but ideal for pasture raised animals. This ecological region is where the most dense coverage of intact tallgrass prairie can be found in North America including Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indiangrass, Switchgrass, Prairie Dropseed, and Sideoats Grama. These tallgrass varieties are responsible for producing the tastiest grass fed animals on the planet.
Joseph raises multiple breeds of lamb for different reasons: Katahdin for their multiple birth and high growth rate, St. Croix for the natural tannin in their gut that wards off parasites and White Dorper for their muscling. Joseph is also a major producer for our Goatober Project.
Long Meadow Ranch – Napa Valley, California:
Long Meadow Ranch Cattle Company is the owner of more than 350 outstanding Highland cattle with bloodlines that include the 2000 Grand and Reserve Champion cows and the 1999 Champion Cow/Calf Pair.
The growing operation is based at Long Meadow Ranch's Mayacamas Estate where they maintain bulls and selected cows. The 500-acre farm in Tomales (in Marin County) is home to the mother cow herd. The weaned calves and yearlings enjoy lush Carneros grasses on the 157-acre Di Rosa Preserve along Highway 121 in southern Napa County.
Long Meadow is also famous for their delicious wines and fantastic restaurant Farmstead headed by chef Stephen Barber. Housed in a former nursery barn, the restaurant is centered around an open kitchen, family-style dining, a full bar and an authentic farm-to-table menu.
Heartbrand Beef – Texas:
HeartBrand Beef, Inc., produces natural Akaushi meat under rigorous quality guidelines and certified product testing in a source verified vertically integrated production system. Their program is designed to provide consumers the healthiest, highest quality and antibiotic free Akaushi beef.
These Texas Akaushi cattle are 100 percent pure and are direct descendants of the Mount Aso region's revered Akaushi herds that are considered a national treasure and are protected by the government of Japan.
Akaushi was brought to the US in 1992 through a loophole in the Trade Act. Three bulls and eight cows left Japan for Texas where they have become a national treasure here as well.
Paradise Locker Meats – Kansas City, Missouri:
Mario and Teresa Fantasma are the founders of Paradise Locker Meats. Mario worked in the commodity meat industry for decades before deciding that he wanted something better. So he went to the bank and got a loan to purchase an existing slaughterhouse in Paradise, Missouri, just outside Kansas City. The old plant, which had frequently been used as a local election headquarters, eventually burned down during a curing accident and the Fantasma family was at a crossroads. Would they open a new plant or call it quits and go back to working for the big guys? Thanks to prompting from their two sons, Lou and Nick, who both work there now, Mario and Teresa decided to invest in a new building a few miles away.
We first met the Fantasmas in 2005 and they immediately became USDA inspected (from state inspection) allowing them to ship across state lines for Heritage Foods accounts. Today their operation has expanded from 6 employees to 46, they recently doubled in size, and they are now a Certified Humane facility.
Paradise Locker processes most of the steak and hamburger we sell, but most importantly, they process, cut, cure and ship over 200 pigs a week for hundreds of Heritage accounts from coast to coast. WE speak with them numerous times a day as they work with us to improve the quality of meat in fine restaurants, cure houses, meat counters and homes around the country.
Paradise Locker has won numerous awards for their injection-curing program, are a fixture of the BBQ circuit locally and are growing their retail store as well. Heritage is honored to have grown with them and looks forward to growing more in the future.
Miz-inka Farm – New York:
Ruth and Jim Sickler run Miz-inka Farm, which has been in the Sickler family since 1929. Both Ruth and Jim grew up on dairy farms helping their families with the farm chores for as long as they can remember. For the past 25 years Ruth and Jim have maintained the farm’s dairy business. In 2008 they began raising Boer meat goats.
The Sicklers originally looked to goats as a tool for making the farm more sustainable, but have grown to love the fun and excitement the herd brings their grandkids. Their diverse herd, which now boasts 75 goats of all ages, includes La Mancha dairy goats, a source of milk and cheese for the family.
Jim and Jean Bright – New York:
Jim and Jean Bright work with their grandchildren, who are avid 4-Hers, to show their goats around central New York State. The Brights have a dual purpose herd with Boers, Alpines and crosses. They have a registered Boer buck and registered Alpine buck in the herd. They milk their does by hand and have become especially skilled at making fresh cheeses. Their three-acre farm is home to 32 goats. Recently they have begun work on new property that will eventually house a larger farm. Plans are to expand to approximately 75 meat goats and 25 dairy goats with a milking parlor and cheese processing facility.
4 Tin Fish Farm – New York:
4 Tin Fish Farm is a family owned and operated micro goat dairy located in Central New York. The farm initially started out as a hobby for the Fish family, but as their passion grew they began to shift their thinking as to how they could turn the hobby into a family business. Their goal is to provide farmstead cheese to local restaurants and consumers and to raise quality Alpine dairy goats.
The Fish family learned of Heritage Foods through the Cornell Cooperative Extensions list serve that posted a request for more goats for our annual Goatober Project. Since responding the Fishes have produced goats for some of New York City's best restaurants.
We are are big fans of the Fishes, especially after a recent visit where we got a chance to taste their chèvre and feta.