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Guest Blogger: Lisa M. Hamilton on "The Transformation"

(Photo by Jason Houston)

We'd like to thank Lisa M. Hamilton for sharing her photo essay, "The Transformation", with THE MOYERS BLOG. We invite you to respond below.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Lisa M. Hamilton are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

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A Community Comes Together to Conserve Two Endangered Species: Rare-Breed Turkeys, and Turkey Farmers

In 2004, Slow Food USA launched a campaign called Renewing America’s Food Traditions (or “RAFT”), whose purpose was to save endangered food species by getting farmers to grow them—and consumers to eat them. Members in Sonoma County, California, set out to revive heritage breed turkeys, but immediately were faced with a new issue: there were no farmers to raise them. In the early 20th century the region was known as the “Egg Basket to the World” and had as many as 6,000 small poultry farms. But beginning in the 1950s, factors ranging from urbanization to industry consolidation to the advent of breakfast cereal wiped out nearly the entire industry. Today only a handful of small-scale poultry farmers remain, and none was about to jump into the unpredictable business of raising commercially unfamiliar breeds of turkeys.

Undaunted, the Slow Food members decided to start from the ground up. Three years ago, they joined forces with a local 4H group to start a sort of “turkey CSA”: Each year the 4H kids raise the turkeys at home, just as they would with a cow or a pig, and along the way learn about responsibility, leadership, and practical agricultural economics. In return, Slow Food enlists people in the community to buy the turkeys. Because the kids agree to raise the turkeys organically, the members give them a generous price per pound. As organizer Jim Reichardt explained, the lesson in agriculture economics becomes a lesson in the economics of sustainability; for instance, the more the animals are out on pasture, the less feed the kids need to buy. While the margins in conventional turkey farming are tight, these kids have discovered a potentially profitable alternative. For now the venture is just a summer job, but organizers are hopeful that it could eventually lead to the revitalization of the industry. “It might not happen this year or next,” Reichardt said, “but someday we hope we’ll find a kid who wants to take this on and run with it.”

With this near-perfect solution, the Slow Food members faced one final challenge: there was no small-scale processing plant that could “harvest” the birds. Again, they looked to the community. In what has become an annual tradition, the weekend before Thanksgiving everybody— kids, parents, Slow Food members, local chefs, and other volunteers— comes together to turn the turkeys from feathered friends to holiday entrees. This year I joined the event, which Reichardt has dubbed “The Transformation.” Some of the photos are not for the faint of heart, but if you eat turkey and care about local food, I think it’s worth a trip.

CLICK HERE to view Lisa M. Hamilton's photo essay, "The Transformation."

Journalist Lisa M. Hamilton focuses on food and agriculture, particularly the stories of farmers and ranchers. Her work has appeared in THE NATION, HARPER'S, and ORION, as well as on nationally syndicated radio. Her narrative nonfiction book DEEPLY ROOTED: UNCONVENTIONAL FARMERS IN THE AGE OF AGRIBUSINESS" will be published by Counterpoint Press in May 2009.


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Comments

Paul: See this woman on here selling exotic turkeys? Bill has given you a strong hint. To get "hotter" and find the "Eastereggs" you have to realize the USA is not out to help "every country that cannot stand on its own feet." Our "Decision-makers" are as likely to knock them off their feet, cut their feet off, or decapitate them like a turkey. We taxpayers finance such adventures, then pay for the plucking and cleaning, so the wealthy class can dine in style. Observe Paul how narco states are a prime focus of our foreign policy (Afghanistan and Columbia) and how intervention is used not to obtain petroleum energy but to manipulate the price and distribution. Haven't you observed how peculiar (in capitalist terms) the recent oil price fluctuations have been?

Just because naive patriots believe the agitprop, and do and support things for the "right reasons" doesn't mean the "New World Order" reflects their interpretations and/or values. You jumped at the novelty of eating a "rare bird" in your first post, said you would broadcast the butchering to your friends. I guess when they show body parts from a Mideast bombing splattered all over the shop fronts and daub ruins that's just a sophisticated prelude to a treacherous elite feast. Follow the money, Paul, and eat your (and their) heart out. For one day soon you might become a "turkey."

On your shows your constantly talk about how we MUST put billions into Afghanistan and Iraq, while our education suffers, children are getting record low scores and we no longer teach the arts. Why should we be the one country who feel a responsibility for every country which cannot stand on its own feet. Well they must learn to do this alone. The Iraq war was supposed to pay for itself with its oil. The money we pour into the country should be loans from us, because it is plain to se that when w leave their oil will flow and their money will just go into the pockets of the corrupt people of Iraque. We started a war which has devastated a country rich in archeological wonders, now gone because we stood by and watched the pillorying. The historical devastation of Iraq lies straight on Bush's shoulders and he must pay for his blunder.

It would be nice to get some kind of response to posts...
I understand that Bush wants to do preemptive pardons for all of the Turkeys who caused the Iraq
attack and the economic disaster.
When do the rich and powerful pay for their crimes against humanity?
When do the CEO scam artists return their loot? When do the bought and paid for politicians get removed from office?
We have a long way to go to "fix" our social systems.
When can we be thankful that we have a just and equitable society?

Why is eating a rare breed better? Is the Transformation the same thing a soldier killed in Iraq experiences? What does it teach a child when a companion is killed and sacrificed for profit? Why are the killing process photos so sanitized in the edit and why aren't the kids in there cutting throats and plucking?
Why are Americans so hungry for rotten dead meat and so blind to the insanity of mass reproduction for slaughter? Here is a psychic and cosmic meltdown too big for a bloody bailout. Please consider a meat free diet for your health and that of our planet. Look at your leg in the shower Bill Moyers. How would it taste roasted with onions and basil?

"Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet." —Albert Einstein

I thought you might like to hear a good turkey tale...

My son's family with nine children and one on the way raised a turkey for Thanksgiving.
They called the turkey "Thanksgiving".
The turkey, despite its name; some how survived Thanksgiving. Probably because they had their Thanksgiving dinner at our house. So, now they have changed the name of the turkey to "Christmas".
I have a stange feeling that the turking may be called Easter next. This could go on for a long time. This turkey could get to be a very old bird. This turkey is also going to be a very thankful bird.
I guess we can all be thankful we are not a turkey. We cannot soar with the eagles if we are turkeys.

We raised our turkeys this year.They weren't heritage-just dark ones and a white one.
we have had fresh turkeys before but this one was hands-down the best we have ever tasted. It really matters, the care taken and the food offered..
Even if we don't do it again, I'll never the delicious home-raised birds.

Amazing work, looking forward to seeing the book when it comes out.

I'm sending the turkey processing photos to my family for thanksgiving.

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