The non-traditional, traditional turkey

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The Times News, Burlington NC, November 25th, 2013

The non-traditional, traditional turkey

by Natalie Allison Janicello, photo by Sam Roberts

SNOW CAMP — Cane Creek Farm has sold out of turkeys for the year.

For most people who buy their birds at the grocery store for $1.50 per pound, purchasing from such a farm may never have crossed their minds. But for a growing number of people who are more conscious about the origin of their food, it is proof that there’s value in buying meat that’s fresh, local and naturally raised.

Eliza MacLean, owner of Cane Creek, described her Alamance County farm as “very free-range.”

This year, she raised around 70 turkeys that had 400 acres to roam.

Most of the turkeys are Heritage breed, which she describes as a wild breed that cooks quickly and has a lot of flavor with little fat.

“People have gotten used to these enormous turkeys at the center of the table that are kind of crazy cheap,” MacLean said. “They’ve lost some of their flavor and lost their meaning.”

She said her 12-pound birds feed 8 to 10 people with other dishes on the table, including other proteins, and said the breasts are smaller but feet are larger than those of most turkeys available for sale today.

“I just offer an alternative,” MacLean said. “That’s really what is. It’s like a more expensive bottle of wine: You drink less and enjoy it more.”

This year was MacLean’s ninth raising turkeys.

She said in addition to being free-range birds, her turkeys, along with other animals on the farm, are naturally raised. MacLean said the turkeys have been eating things like persimmons and greens, much like what a wild turkey would eat.

“It brings to the table this very gamey flavor,” she said.

MacLean begins taking orders for turkeys around Labor Day, and said she sold out in early November. Most of her customers are in Orange, Durham, Chatham and Guilford counties, she said, adding that Alamance County has an “older farming crowd” and folks are still warming up to alternative ways of agriculture.

But her methods aren’t anything too new, MacLean said.

“I’m interested in knowing how to raise these old breeds right on my farm where Alamance County habitants can come and see the way our grandparents did it,” she said. “We could really benefit from doing things the way we did it 100 years ago.”

The farm employs two full-time workers and one part-timer to keep up with the turkeys, pigs, chickens, goats, ducks, lambs and other animals there.

MacLean said she also will sell Christmas hams.

Though the farm is in a period of downsizing — which included the turkeys this year, declining from 200 last year — MacLean said she still plans to continue her work there and to provide others with the same type of food she raises for her own family.

“It’s not that anybody else does it wrong,” she said. “But there’s a demand for this out there, and I’m happy to provide a few more than for just my family. … I feel like I’m in this for the long haul because it makes sense.”

To find out more about Cane Creek Farm, including information on how to purchase its products, go to