BY NATHAN PAYNE
— TRAVERSE CITY — Who wouldn't want to build a Thanksgiving feast around a 32-pound factory-raised turkey that bastes itself in juices injected into its flesh after it was killed?
Well, it turns out quite a few people have begun looking for alternatives to the traditional frozen, bowling balls of meat that come from large production farms.
Each year Thanksgiving cooks are looking more and more to local and regional farms for fresh, unfrozen turkeys that have been raised by the farmer down the road rather than the corporation three states away.
It's a trend that Rob Hentschel, manager of Roy's General Store, has watched firsthand with increased demand for the fresh Amish-raised turkeys he sells.
Orders for turkeys sold through the store have increased by about 10 percent each year recently, Hentschel said.
Stuart Kunkle and Genevieve Pfisterer stood Wednesday morning inside the turkey pen at their farm, Morganic Farm, where they raise a variety of animals, including turkeys, the old way.
"The meat is more flavorful," Kunkle said of the 16 turkeys on his farm near Kingsley. "These are definitely a more athletic bird."
The heritage breed birds Kunkle chose to raise this year are smaller than the traditional Broadbreasted White turkeys that are common in grocery store freezers. In fact, they are a few steps closer to wild turkeys than those typically in the food supply in the U.S., he said.
Kunkle's turkeys roam freely in a small pasture on the 30-acre farm. They've already sold eight of the 16 turkeys they raised.
"They're more sort of like the original turkey," Pfisterer said. "They'll be more like a family size."
And Kunkle's not the only one who has been raising turkeys to sell fresh locally.
The Duerksen Turkey Farm in Mancelona has been pasture raising turkeys without antibiotics, growth hormones or GMOs since 2007. Rick and Sue Duerksen ran the farm for decades as a breeder operation for several thousand turkeys.
But in 2007 the couple decided to begin raising their birds differently. They began letting their turkeys roam freely in pastures, eating grasses and bugs much like they would in a wild environment.
"I think that they way the bird is raised has a lot to do with taste," Sue Duerksen said. "I think people are very, very concerned about where their food is coming from."
Duerksen sells her turkeys at Oryana Natural Foods Market, Grain Train Natural Foods in Petoskey and at Evergreen Market in Acme.
When they began producing pasture-raised turkeys in 2007, the farm sold 50 birds for Thanksgiving. Since then, that number has grown to 1,400 and they're all sold for this year, Duerksen said.
"I think people have a notion that fresh is always better," she said. "I think people are so aware of where their food is coming. People want to know their farmer. They read, they know what is going on out there."
Factory-farmed turkeys often look very uniform because of processing techniques and the injection of saltwater into their flesh, Duerksen said.
So buyers getting fresh turkeys from a local farm for the first time shouldn't expect the perfect uniformity they've seen in the past.
"From factory farms, they are a uniform plump round bird, you can fell the water in them," she said. "Our birds are individual and unique, not every bird is going to look exactly the same."
Nonetheless, buyers will taste the difference, Duerksen said.
"I have only had a store bought turkey once," she said. "I remember my kids saying 'this doesn't taste like how dad raises them.'"
If you want to try a fresh turkey, you can contact Morganic Farm at www.morganicfarm.com, or go to Roy's General Store or Oryana Natural Foods Market.