Demand for Thanksgiving turkeys of all shapes and sizes is booming at Mercer Farm
MERCER – The coronavirus pandemic has impacted all aspects of life, and the Thanksgiving turkey trade is no exception.
Business is booming for farmers. However, grocers cannot always keep up with demand. Nonetheless, Thanksgiving this year is a much bigger endeavor for Scott Greaney, his wife Tracy, and their sons Adam and Benjamin who help out on Greaney’s turkey farm in Mercer.
âPeople have a big Thanksgiving,â Scott said from behind his desk, with a poster reading âTurkey Timeâ in the background. “All that little turkey thing – maybe in the cities – but honestly, they have big Thanksgiving here.”
Well a 48 pound turkey recently sold.
The Greaneys have raised 1,500 turkeys this year, about 500 more than a normal year. As of Wednesday, they had slaughtered and dressed about 1,200 other turkeys brought to them by individuals or other farms. Small backyard farms can bring in turkeys Sunday through Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, and the Greaneys expect to process about 1,500 additional turkeys. For Thanksgiving 2020, the Greaneys can process up to 5,000 turkeys, about double a typical year.
âNothing was different,â Scott said. âWe received calls from everywhere.
âIf we do 2,000 between ourselves and the backyard farms, we’re in luck,â said Tracy Greaney. This year is a new best.
The Greaneys supply turkeys to stores across the state from Bangor to Kittery. Scott Greaney prefers to supply local grocers. He’s been approached by grocery chains such as Shaw’s and Hannaford, but it just isn’t him. Greaney enjoys knowing and building relationships with his clients over time.
âMy name is on these birds, and we have a reputation,â he said. âYou take care of these people, and they depend on us. “
When Greaney underwent chemotherapy in 2014 for genetic mantle cell lymphoma, a rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which is now in remission, customers offered to help on the farm. This, he said, is the essence of local agriculture.
GREANEY’S IDEAL TURKEY
On the farm since 1983, Scott has found his perfect turkey. The farm uses a medium strain maple veil. Developed in the 1960s, the turkey breed comes directly from Bob’s Turkey Farm in Lancaster, Massachusetts. This year’s turkeys hatched in May or June, and Greaney loves them because of their advanced digestive systems.
âWhen they eat the grain, it’s like giving a baby steak,â Greaney said.
Greaney and his team were packing bulk orders on Wednesday. There are still orders for traditional sized turkeys. Some customers have said they would freeze some of it, but others are a bit more specific. Greaney received requests to halve turkeys specifically for a Thanksgiving meal and a later meal. Some orders include requests for boneless turkeys in small boneless roasts.
The increased demand is also a pandemic. In May, Greaney and a handful of other local farmers told the Morning Sentinel that demand for poultry had increased as customers worried about the food supply chain. The regular clientele expanded to include a larger clientele in the state as well as other local farmers.
âLast spring was a wake-up call,â Greaney said. âThere is a resurgence of anxiety. People fear to spend the winter rationed.
The Greaneys offer chicken slaughter to customers on Saturdays and certain days of the week. They are known for their humane killings which involve electric shock. This year people came from all over New England to dress their broilers. In previous years, the season ended before Thanksgiving. The Greaneys have chicken days planned until mid-December.
Through it all, Thanksgiving week is expected to be the most important yet. The Greaneys deliver. Last minute orders are expected.
Greaney expects Thanksgiving week to be a zoo.
FROM OTHER LOCAL FARMS
For local farms, business is on the rise everywhere.
Pauline Henderson, co-owner of Pine Tree Poultry in New Sharon with her husband, Tim, said the turkeys were gone. This year they were sold much earlier. They approached Thanksgiving 2020 as a “year of no expectations.” They didn’t know what was going to happen.
âThere are a lot more Thanksgiving breakfasts this year,â said Pauline Henderson. âWe’ve seen a lot of consistency with the size of the turkeys, but a lot of people are asking for smaller turkeys. There are last minute plan changes or Thanksgiving decisions. “
In Skowhegan, Ferme Tessiers raised 25 turkeys this year and sold out in September, which is not unusual. Owner Carrie Tessier said she still gets calls – three times as many – than she usually would.
“The farmers did not know if there would be people who would like to buy local products, but it has certainly been a good thing for all the farmers, because people want to support local products and know where their food comes from.” , Tessier said. âWe weren’t sure what things would look like until June and July because with turkeys you have to get them in the spring. We have what we have, and for next year we would definitely do more.
For the Greaneys, who own one of the largest turkey farms in the state, Thanksgiving is always a busy time. They look for turkeys on a bell curve, 18 pounds being the sweet spot. Scott works with a nutritionist to define the protein levels in the grain for optimal turkey size. Towards the end of the season, protein levels drop and the turkeys go into “maintenance” mode.
Recently Scott Greaney got a call from a 92-year-old customer in Bath asking for a little turkey. He pulled out a 9-pounder from a refrigerated room.
âI feel obligated to my people,â he said. âIt’s our way of doing business.
ON THE SHELVES
At the grocery store level, grocers are seeing differences as of Thanksgiving 2020. Some stores respond to increased demand earlier than usual, but others cannot get the number of turkeys they would need in a year. normal.
Susie Witt, a grocery buyer for Uncle Dean’s Natural Market in Waterville, said there were “a few minor supply issues” this fall, such as a shortage of canned pumpkins.
âWe have the same deals for three types of turkeys, but the only thing I noticed is that because people have smaller dinners, the smaller turkeys sell first,â Witt said.
Rob Pleau, owner of Pleau’s Market in Winslow, said his store sold out early. He said customers focus on quality over price for all meats. Pleau obtained his from Associated Grocers of New England. They have sold 100 turkeys between 10 and 25 pounds and hope to continue selling more. At Pleau’s, there is no rhyme or reason as to the size of the turkeys ordered.
“It’s everywhere,” Pleau said. “When it comes to what people do for the holidays, people haven’t really said it.”
At Tobey’s Groceries in China, meat manager Jonathan Farnham pre-orders turkeys based on sales from the previous year. They have frozen and fresh turkeys. They had more special orders this year, but more holiday hams than turkeys. The Thanksgiving bird is not a major profit maker. Small grocers cannot label turkeys to the same extent as large chain stores.
âThere are changes in the community in their buying habits, and I feel like the coronavirus has had an impact on that,â Farnham said. âIt’s a guessing game. What we do is do everything we can to make sure we get the customer what they’re asking for.
Ginger Desrosiers, director of Buddies Groceries in Oakland, said the store previously sold a Thanksgiving dinner box, but couldn’t afford the turkeys.
âThe size of the turkey we normally cook in this box is hard to find, so we decided not to do them this year,â Desrosiers said. âHopefully we can do it for Christmas, but we’ll see availability at that time. “
Buddies Groceries mainly orders 10-16 pound turkeys from the wholesaler in Bozzuto and a few small vendors.
âIt was a little difficult even getting those for the freezer,â Desrosiers said.
The Greaneys deliver all week to stores like these. And no, they are not tired of the turkey.
âWe want our turkey, and by the time we get to Thanksgiving, we’ve earned it,â said Tracy Greaney.
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