Raising Free-Range Turkey for 85 Years

On a recent spring morning, we moved some of our free-range turkeys from their outdoor yard to one of our range pastures. As the birds made their way out, one of our longtime staff members commented that it looked like a modern range, with our recently-built feeders and shelters, and a newly revamped water system. I responded that “modern range” would be an oxymoron to most poultry farmers, but he was right: we’ve re-invested in the way we’ve grown our turkeys on our family farm for 85 years. This got me thinking about another good fortune at Ferndale Market, following in the "greatest hits" theme I’ve been sharing here lately. We’re fortunate that my dad and grandpa stuck with free-range farming through an era when most folks moved indoors. As I often tell visitors, when my grandpa started farming, this was the way everybody raised turkeys. He wasn’t trying some new-fangled technique. It was in the decades following that [...]


From Your Farmer: April 2024

I haven’t run out of stories, so I’ll continue with the theme of good fortune that’s benefited Ferndale Market over the past 15 years. I think many of you know that the building we call home is our former turkey hatchery, and the changes it’s seen are a walk through our evolution. Coincidently, we had stopped hatching our own poults in 2007. It had simply become too labor intensive, and we were a very little fish amongst the big guys in the business. So, our hatchery building was sitting idle when we decided to repurpose it into an on-farm local foods store. We paved the driveway, tore down walls, turned truck garages into our front door, and gave the floors a smooth and shiny upgrade. Initially, we had a test kitchen and small event seating space in the front of the store, but time taught us that our customers weren’t eager to attend cooking classes. And, we needed more [...]


From Your Farmer: March 2024

It goes without saying that this Minnesota winter has been out of the norm. As a turkey farmer, that’s had its advantages. We’ve spent less time moving snow around, which gives us time to tackle other off-season farm projects. We’ve spent less time worrying about keeping poults warm. We’ve hardly had to salt the market parking lot. And, I doubt we’ve ever had turkeys running outside this early. It’s one for the record books! I’ve really enjoyed playing with this “Greatest Hits” theme in belated celebration of our 15th anniversary and I’d like to share another fun one here. One of our most recognized Ferndale Market visuals is our “turkey t-shirt.” Our staff wear them, we sell them in the market, and I’ve worn through many of them over the years. They catch your eye from a distance with a big white turkey and up close you can see the feathers make up words that describe us: free-range, raised [...]


From Your Farmer: February 2024

I’m going to continue the theme from last month, sharing another stroke of good fortune that has sustained us for 15 years in business at Ferndale Market. None of us can do it alone, and nothing has been more central to our continued growth than our partner farms. They’re tops in our “Greatest Hits” of good fortune. I’d argue that we’ve got the best of the very best. We’re a unique group of longtime farmers and new farmers. Diversified farms and turkey-or-bust farms. Some were former poult customers from our hatchery days and others discovered us through the grapevine. But, we all have one thing in common: we’re independent farmers who want to do things a little differently – to be a part of a different model in agriculture. You might ask why we need partner farms in the first place. The initial response is simple: we’re at a sustainable flock size here on our home farm. It fits [...]


From Your Farmer: January 2024

Happy New Year from all of us at Ferndale Market!  Many of you may recall that we celebrated the 15th anniversary of our market opening last fall. As we discussed the milestone here as a team, someone jokingly suggested we should release a “Greatest Hits” album to commemorate. We may not have any hits to re-release, but the humorous idea got me thinking about the long list of good fortune that’s fueled us over these past 15 years. I thought I’d share a few of our good fortune “hits” in my monthly updates over the year ahead. So, in no particular order, here’s the first track of our Ferndale Good Fortune album: Thousand Hills Cattle Company was one of the very first brands we carried at Ferndale Market, in part because they were literally our neighbors across the highway. Founded in Cannon Falls just a few years before we opened, we knew them well and admired the model they [...]


From Your Farmer: September 2023

Any farmer will tell you there’s a universal law that extra work always stacks up on a holiday.  That’s the spot we found ourselves in this Labor Day. As an employer, I wish nobody had to work on a holiday, but we haven’t trained the turkeys to take a day off, so our team rotates through the holidays to share the load. This Labor Day was different, though, because of the extreme heat in the forecast. I knew we’d need to spray our oldest flock all day to keep them comfortable. On hot days, we use a tractor and water tank to drive through our range, spraying our turkeys to keep them cool and moving toward water. Top that off with a long-scheduled turkey loading that evening, and we’d have a lot of folks working hard this Labor Day: people spraying turkeys, people loading turkeys, truck drivers transporting turkeys. At one point from the loader, I looked out and [...]


From Your Farmer: August 2023

We had BLTs and sweet corn for dinner last night. Matter of fact, we’ve been having tomatoes and sweet corn almost daily lately. Since opening Ferndale, I’ve made it a personal goal to go a little over-the-top when local produce is in season. It starts in late May when asparagus is fresh, continues in June with strawberries, and these days I’m hooked on heirloom tomatoes. I’m a believer that we should savor (or even go a little over-the-top) when the best produce is coming from our own backyard. Of course, we are now into absolute peak produce season in Minnesota. At Ferndale Market, we’re excited to say we have everything from apples to zucchini. There was an era when people talked a lot about food miles, the surprising distance most food travels to our plate. This time of year, it’s a more compelling argument to frame it all around freshness and quality; peak season local produce simply tastes better. [...]


From Your Farmer: July 2023

This is one of my favorite notes to write each year because I have the chance to personally invite you to our farm. Yes, we’re hosting our annual Summer Farm Tour day this Saturday morning from 9:30-11:30.  We’ll be doing hayride tours through the farm and we’ll have samples to try in the market. I’ll be playing tour guide on one of the wagons, and I sincerely love the interaction with our customers and fans. These farm tour days embody what makes independent farms like ours so unique. Of course, you’ll get to see first-hand the distinctive farming practices we still use, but it’s also my hope that the spirit of transparency is refreshing in our world of big meat brands, supported by completely anonymous farms and practices. We so rarely know the who, where, why, and how questions behind our food system. As I always say, we strive to do something different here. Days like Saturday are our [...]


From Your Farmer: June 2023

They say the only constant is change. I’ve definitely learned that to be true in the world of retail. Or, in the wise words of our first retail clerk, Marlene Willis, “You’ll never figure out retail. If you think you have, it changes!” Yes, we’ve learned quite a bit in our 15 years at Ferndale Market and one of those lessons has been to keep adapting. We want to keep your experience fresh with each visit, so we’ve attempted to keep adapting to be an enjoyable visit for our customers. In that spirit, a lot has changed at Ferndale Market over the past few months. If you’ve been in, you’ve likely seen our new produce cooler as a very visible change in our space. We’re excited both to be regularly stocking more produce and also have a better set-up to ensure peak freshness when you take it home. Along with our expanded mix of local and organic fruits and [...]


From Your Farmer: May 2023

I think nearly every Midwesterner would agree that this winter carried on at least a month too long, and I rejoice at these great spring days we’re having as I write this. Suddenly, our grass is growing inches a day, the neighborhood frogs are back, and the plant rack has made its annual appearance in front of the market. This time of year is also the start of my favorite season here on the farm. Our springtime is marked by unlatching barn doors to turn our flocks back outside after winter, and then chasing flocks from our outside barnyards to our ranging pastures. This time of year makes our free-range practices so visible with our flocks back outside. For those of us on the farm, it’s a daily reminder of the very different way our turkeys live. Funny thing is, this is just standard operating procedure around here. Far from being something we do purely for a marketing point-of-difference, [...]