One of the few local family-owned farms raising turkeys, Chestnut Ridge, represents couple Thad and Anna Mann’s plunge into a different lifestyle.
“We were city-slickers and foodies,” said Anna Mann. “We also come from a long line of consummate home gardeners. We reached a point at our home in Raleigh where we had maxed out the garden and so in 2007 we took the plunge. The nice thing is my husband can work from the house. His job didn’t change. We just took a deep breath and moved.”
She said the 16-acre farm has only three acres that are actively being farmed currently. Mann said it is a sustainable farm being managed organically with no pesticides. In addition to turkeys, the couple raises pastured poultry and pork and the operation has been certified through the guidelines of the National Animal Welfare group. Eggs, poultry and pork have all been certified by this group which requires an operation’s farm, butcher and source for birds all be certified.
Mann, who is an Iraqi veteran, cites the help of the Farmer Veteran Coalition. This group is a resource for veterans who want to start their own farm businesses and grant money from the FVC recently allowed them to fence in their two-acre heirloom apple orchard. Mann said she has found the pace and quiet of farming a welcome respite. She said many veterans have found owning a business helps the transition from active duty to civilian life.
She said shortly after she got the word out at farmer’s markets in September, this year’s crop of 20 birds was spoken for. Knowing many customers don’t mind the bird’s being frozen, Mann pre-sold the birds that had already been processed.
“Last year so many people asked us about turkey we decided to give it a try,” added Mann. “They went so fast this year It’s time we think about this being something really worth more attention.”
The farm raises a type of broad-breasted bird that is regarded as an industry standard. Mann would like to move in the direction of raising an heirloom type of turkey but she admittedly says she needs to find stock that has been selected for meat rather than just laying ability. She says the turkeys are raised just like the chickens on their own pasture and have their own coop to sleep in. The birds are rotated to different pastures yearly.
“If I could only raise one type of livestock I would make it turkeys,” said Mann. “They are curious and funny. They really like shiny objects. Often they will walk up and look right in a camera. I particularly enjoy taking an aluminum pie pan and hanging it on a fence for them to play with.”
Mann said since turkeys don’t scratch and work up the ground like chickens, they have different feed and bedding needs. She said giving the birds enough space means a longer process to get them table ready but it is worth the work. She said it takes them about six months to raise these birds. The couple began by raising only enough birds for friends and family four years ago.
“People are eager to put them on their tables,” summarized Mann. “Our birds are more expensive but people are willing to pay more for the quality product.”
The farm also offers herbs, cut flowers, homemade preserves and fruits and vegetables when in season. Another venture the couple has been successful at is raising untreated honeybees for their raw honey. Mann said the farm averages three hives.
“We always wanted to do beekeeping and frankly we got into untreated bees because I’m cheap,” joked Mann. “We took a great beekeeping class in Forsyth County. The honey really sells. I like to have a pyramid of honey in small bear-shaped bottles on display with our vegetables, meat and herbs at farmer’s markets. I guess you could call us a little bit of everything farm.”
Mann estimated there were 15 types of heirloom apple varieties among the 30 trees they maintain. Apples in the orchard include crab, early, middle and late season types with the oldest of the trees just beginning to produce fruit. She said the trees were obtained from Century Farm in Reidsville.
“A lot of the reason we are doing so many things is because we are trying to learn what works on our land,” said Mann. “We’re green as summer grass. In farming often you don’t know what works until two years in. The lifestyle has been a great thing for us as a family. We really love it. This has been good for me as a vet. It’s so peaceful and quiet.”
Anyone interested in obtaining more information about the farm and its products can call 336-351-4611 or on the Internet at email@example.com.
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.