I’m not much of a cook. Never have been. Luckily, I married a guy who is pretty good at it.
So when we bought our first house last year, my husband Alex suggested that we host our family for Thanksgiving. It made sense: With our parents living in Sarasota and Pasco counties, we were right in the middle. But I was wary. Did this mean I would have to help cook?
My husband took care of most of it. And along the way, we started our own Thanksgiving tradition: Instead of opting for the usual frozen turkeys available at grocery stores, we decided to spend a little extra on a turkey that was born and raised just a few miles down the road.
Grove Ladder Farm is located in a rural enclave of Sarasota County, east of Interstate 75. It’s owned and run by a pair of millennials, Tim and Chelsea Clarkson, both 30. The couple homeschool their three daughters there, and raise a thousand chickens and turkeys, among a few goats, cows and dogs. They sell the chickens and their eggs at local farmers markets throughout the year — and raise turkeys specifically for the holiday season. November and December are a busy time for them.
Grove Ladder Farm offers non-GMO, soy-free and pasture-raised birds. The chickens and turkeys live on the farm’s 10-acre pastures, with access to grass, bugs and sunlight. Everything on the farm is moveable, including the electric fencing, which means the hens don’t stay in the same spot for too long. Tim Clarkson prepares the birds for sale (including the de-feathering and butchering) right on the property. (There are other local farms that do this, too. See box.)
To prepare for that first Thanksgiving in our own house, my husband and I reserved a turkey for $50 online around Halloween, after being warned that they sell out quickly. The Clarksons shared photos of the turkeys on social media as they grew larger. It was a tad melancholy, watching the birds get wider and fluffier in the pictures, knowing one of them would become our meal soon. But it was also unique to get such an intimate glimpse at how the turkeys are raised.
A few days before Thanksgiving, we met Tim Clarkson at the downtown Sarasota Farmer’s Market to pick up our big bird. After only a few hours of being, well, dead, the turkey never spent any time in a freezer, only in a refrigerator or on ice in a cooler.
The homegrown turkeys range in size from 11 to 20-plus pounds. The cost ranges, too. Depending on the size, one of these turkeys can cost $93 to $180. We could select from a size range: small (11 to 13.9 pounds), medium (14 to 16.9 pounds), large (17 to 19.9 pounds) or jumbo (20-plus pounds).
We opted for a small, which fed about a dozen people, and we still had leftovers.
The turkey spent two days in our fridge before the big day. My husband got to work basting the bird, and it went in the oven first thing Thanksgiving morning. I don’t know if it was because of its size (even at around 12 pounds, it felt heavy and thick), but it took a little longer to cook than one we’d bought from Publix in the past.
But when it was ready? Boy, could we taste the difference.
The meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender and juicy. It was quite flavorful, even with minor herbs and seasoning from our chef. Everybody at our Thanksgiving table seemed to notice the difference between this turkey and a grocery store one.
We also really enjoyed knowing that our money was going to a local farmer, and that our turkey was raised right here, not on a giant commercial farm somewhere else.
We’re all set to pick up our local turkey on Nov. 18, for this year’s Thanksgiving feast.
Contact Justine Griffin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.