Last year I threw a Friendsgiving in early November.

I rented a private event space in the in the historic village of Bowens Mills, near Caledonia, MI. A decorator was hired, and I roped in a friend of mine to cook the most important part of the meal: the turkey.

I was not, however, about to serve a conventional turkey.

My wife and I always buy our meats and produce at the Fulton Street Farmer’s Market (one of the best farmers markets in the country, I’m told). We want that personal connection with where our food’s coming from–wholesome, nutritious, local food.


I called one of our favorite farmers at the market to see if he had any turkeys available in early November, and it turns out he did!

It was a pasture-raised turkey with no growth hormones or antibiotics.

Now, up until this Thanksgiving, my in-laws always cooked the turkey which they bought at the grocery store, so this would be the first time I’ve ever had a pasture-raised turkey.

And I can honestly say it was the best turkey I’ve ever eaten!


For this year’s Friendsgiving, however, I tried something different.

It was a heritage turkey from Idle River Farms. It’s a small family-run farmstead in Burlington, MI.

Like last year’s turkey, it was pasture-raised, GMO-free, and free of antibiotics. Unlike last year’s turkey, it was a heritage turkey.

Now, as I understand it, heritage turkeys come from breeds that grow very slowly. They’re hard to get your hands on since there are few farms willing to grow them–even the farms at the Fulton Street Market. But, they are supposedly the best-tasting turkeys money can buy, so I thought, “Why not?”

Matt and Kristal are the farmers over at Idle River. They sell their turkeys exclusively through an online heritage farmers’ market (Duba & Co.) based in Grand Rapids, MI, which ships their turkeys pretty much anywhere in the country.

I left the cooking of the turkey up to one of my friends (the same friend that cooked it last year).

And, I’ve gotta tell you, this turkey surpassed even last year’s pasture-raised bird!

In fact, it’s like it’s an entirely different species of meat, deserving a category all its own. It’s hard to describe, but it’s kind of like going from eating fish sticks your whole life to eating lobster. It was quite literally “the turkey your grandmother hopes you never taste.” (“You won’t let me drive, and now you won’t let me cook the turkey!? You might as well put me in a nursing home.”)


My only disappointment was that there were no giblets in the gravy (I guess the turkey didn’t come with giblets).


You will end up paying more for a heritage turkey…quite a bit more. On the other hand, it’s not much more than what we already pay for a pound of grass-fed ground beef. But if you can swing it, it’s worth every penny.

Check out their turkeys at

With conventional turkeys this Thanksgiving flying off the shelves of supermarkets at a buck and change a pound (it’s the only time these turkeys fly, by the way), I was reflecting on the higher price-point of sustainably-raised meats.
This disparity is most pronounced when one coughs up nigh $8 – $10.50/pound for a heritage turkey. That’s when the following thought came to mind: the Great Pyramids, also, were built inexpensively–thanks to an endless supply of slave labor. Closer to home, it’s the same reason why the American South couldn’t bring itself–without the Civil War–to part with slave labor, aided by the convenient falsehood that Africans were less than human.

Allow me to draw the following parallels, then, between the excesses in conventional agriculture and the building of the Great Pyramids. For starters, both are wonders: vast in their scale and scope, they are technological feats of marvel; we’re talking very advanced science. Both, however, accomplish their feats with the fetters of a false ontology. What I mean by this is that slavery, albeit an efficient means of production, is made possible when one begins to view a being of a higher order (namely a human) as being of a lower order (an animal, for instance). A similar error is made when factory farming views an animal, a being of a higher order, as an inanimate object, an object of the lowest order. The error, of course, allows the producer to become extremely efficient at outputs which is reflected in extremely low prices to the consumer.

A small but growing band of individuals, animated by something akin to the spirit of the American Revolution, have begun to shake off the shackles of this false ontology. Economic sacrifices are made. We’re eating less, but better, and finding that we’re bettered by it.

When I first discovered heritage meats in the Spring of 2011, it was like unearthing a buried treasure, a total accident (though it felt like it was meant to be found, and that I was meant to find it—and that is an encouraging thought!). Thinking that Duba & Co. would be the first heritage meat merchant in the United States, it wasn’t until August of that year that I stumbled on Heritage Foods, USA, based in Brooklyn, New York. At that time, CEO Patrick Martins and his team had been at it for nearly a decade. The company, run by a small team of dedicated individuals, moves upwards of 60,000 pounds of heritage meats each week and has been named Company of the Year by Bon Appetit, House & Garden, Newsweek, Saveur Magazine and The New York Times Magazine.

While away with my family last month seeking more buried treasure, this time in the form of Belted Galloway beef in the Allegheny mountains of Virginia whose tree-lined summits were awash in golds and reds, we navigated to the northeast where, in the heart of Brooklyn, Mr. Martins hosted my wife and me for a cup of coffee in his headquarters. While our daughter watched Tommy the Train on television, Martins and I became acquainted. Martins launched Slow Foods USA, the national chapter of the international Slow Foods movement based in Italy. After a misprint by the New York Times that Slow Foods USA would be selling heritage turkeys, the company was born to meet the demand for heritage meats.

Heritage Foods is the creator of the Heritage Radio Network, a national radio station that hosts almost 50 programs dedicated to the Slow Foods movement. Its recording studio is in Roberta’s, the rustic Italian restaurant just around the block from the company headquarters. There, guests can watch the recordings live. Martins invited us to attend that morning’s recording session and invited us back to Roberta’s the following day, a Friday, for a heritage foods tasting event. Even now, as I write, I feel the regret of not being able to accept either invitation. We traded pizza at Roberta’s for a sandwich in Grand Central Station, boarded the train which whisked us back to our car, and drove west until a warm October evening closed in on us.

Halloween is about atmosphere and what the Irish call thin places, those mysterious meeting grounds between two worlds where the veil between the physical and spiritual is palpably thin. Halloween, after all, comes to us from the Celts. And it falls, appropriately enough, at a thin time of the year, at a time when earth itself hangs between life and death, between Autumn’s harvest and Winter’s slumber. Being drawn to thin places explains the inexorable hold that Halloween, ghost stories, forests, the sea, graveyards, ruins, thunderstorms, Edinburgh (Scotland), New England in the Autumn, and heritage meats–especially the ancient Scottish, English, and Irish breeds–have on me. Here’s to all those thin places. Happy Hallowe’en!

When I was a child I ate what resembled bony witches’ fingers at Halloween (just a creepy version of pigs in the blanket). Now, I just eat bones or–more precisely–bone marrow, carving out of oven-fired bones the hot, gooey innards and spreading them on crusty bread. With a little sea salt and a garnish of fresh minced parsley, they make a gourmet appetizer. Think of bone marrow as butter: meat butter (!)–only more coagulated and savory. But bone marrow is more than a delicacy.

Eating the marrow of pasture-raised livestock–whether beef, pork, or lamb–has numerous benefits to one’s health. They are a cancer fighter, foster healthy bones and skin, and bolster the immune system. Further, marrow is brain food, it contains stem cells, and it fosters the healing of wounds.

The oven-baked appetizer is not the only delivery system, however, for the benefits of the bone. Using soup bones to make a beef stock will deliver the nutrients in measured doses through the slow sipping of soup broth. The later method is a time-released capsule versus the direct injection method of the former.

For further reading on the health benefits of bone marrow, including a super-simple recipe, try the highly engaging piece “Incredible Health Benefits of Eating Bone Marrow”.

Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River.
Life is old there, older than the trees…

(John Denver, “Take Me Home, Country Roads”)

Last week my wife Erin, daughter Analise, and I traveled to West Virginia and–from there–to northern Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains. These forested mountains rose and fell with the reds, yellows, and greens of autumn’s colors, just then beginning to peak.  A more idyllic setting can hardly be imagined for Riven Rock Farms, home of the heritage Belted Galloway cattle which spread out to pasture on more than 700 acres of shaded farmland.

These cattle, with a distinctive white “belt” around their middle section, graze on the shaded pastures and drink the fresh mountain waters. Chuck and Lou Ann Neely oversee the operations at Riven Rock and, in addition to raising “Belties” (as the breed is affectionately called), they raise lamb and pastured heritage pork. Their hogs have access to seven acres of forested grasslands where the oaks let drop their acorns for the animals to gobble up. It’s a diet that harkens back to the earliest days of pork production, in ancient Roman times.

From the Virginias, we drove east towards Connecticut, stopping to hike in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area. After a couple of days in Avon, Connecticut, in the Farmington Valley of Hartford, we took a train into Brooklyn, New York, to spend some time with Patrick Martins, founder of Heritage Foods USA and the Heritage Radio Network. Times Square, Rockefeller Center, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral (currently under renovation) rounded out our visit to the Big Apple.

Our return home took us through the rolling hills of New York State and Pennsylvania until we spent one final night on Lake Erie–perhaps the last warm night of the year–listening to the trees, blowing in the breeze.

My family and I have been traveling this past week on a late “summer” vacation that included a farm visit in the Allegany Mountains of Virginia. Above is a snapshot of the farm’s Belted Galloway cattle milling on the mountainside, a preview of coming attractions when the blog post resumes next Thursday, October 9.


April. That’s how long Thanksgiving has been on my mind this year. That’s the month we asked Idle River Farms of Burlington, MI, to raise our first crop of heritage turkeys. Taking up to 2 1/2 months longer to bring to harvest than conventional turkeys, our order was placed at the 11th hour.

Ever since then, Matt & Kristal Burdick who run Idle River have been passing along images of the turkeys’ progress. From poults in May to the images that arrived today, I have been moved by these photographs–so pastoral in nature. They speak of life and, moreover, a quality of life which translates into quality of meat. The images remind me of a conversation with Mary Wills and Jill Johnson of Crane Dance Farm who run an animal welfare approved operation in Middleville, MI. Of their livestock they observed that they enjoy hundreds of good days and one bad day, while animals which are the product of the conventional meat industry have hundreds of bad days and one good day. For both, that day is harvest day.

The appointed time for the Narragansett and Bourbon Red turkeys you see pictured below is November 18. It’s a sobering thought and one that instills, paradoxically, a reverence for life and a sense of gratitude. It’s this piety that was so acute in the Native American peoples that came to know and give thanks with the earliest American colonists, and I like to think it was the Narragansett turkey that graced their tables on that first Thanksgiving.

On pasture late this summer

On pasture late this summer

A turkey appears to be investigating the plant life

A turkey appears to be investigating the plant life

Allowed to roam in the fields, the turkey eat all sorts of vegetation

Allowed to roam in the fields, the turkey eat all sorts of vegetation

To place your Thanksgiving order (and to enjoy 10% off through the end of September) visit the turkey product pages by clicking here.





This recipe is unbeatable: my mother’s hot, spiced apple cider was always associated with cool Fall nights but especially Halloween night. She brewed it in an antique coffee maker that moaned like a ghost, and the aromatics filled the house with cinnamon, clove, and allspice. This cider benefits from extended brewing times.

The Ingredients

1 gallon apple cider

1/4 C. honey

1 cinnamon stick

1 t. allspice

1 t. cloves

The Preparation

1. Place apple cider in a crock pot or large pot on the stove. Heat on high if using a crock pot or a medium heat in on the stove.

2. Add cinnamon stick, allspice, and cloves.

3. Once the cider has become hot, stir in the honey and reduce crock pot to low. If on the stove top, reduce heat to a very low setting and partially cover: the liquid should continue to steam but not simmer.

4. Allow cider to brew at least an hour, but longer is better.

5. Serve hot.

Here in the clove of the seasons, one day feels like Summer and the next like Fall. That’s certainly been our experience in Michigan this week. One part pumpkin pie and one part ice cream shake, try this pumpkin shake recipe for these in-between times…

The Ingredients

2 scoops vanilla ice cream (1 1/4 – 1 1/2 C.)

1/2 C. milk (the creamier, the better)

1/8 C. pumpkin puree

1 t. sugar

1/4 t. vanilla

1/8 t. ground cinnamon + extra for garnish

1/8 t. ground cloves

1/8 t. ground ginger

pinch salt

whipped cream (optional)

The Preparation

1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth

2. Top with whipped cream and garnish with cinnamon

Serves 1

NOTE: The cinnamon, cloves, and ginger may be replaced with pumpkin pie spice.