Inside the World of Organic Turkey Farming

Massage therapist-turned-organic farmer Vanessa Wallock pasture-raises turkeys that go beyond the Butterball. 

On this small organic farm 30 miles north of Milwaukee, Vanessa Wallock is rearing a flock of 55 Broad Breasted Bronze turkeys. The birds, named for their coppery luster, live a pretty good life, eating grass, bugs and clover and roaming, sun-speckled, in the open air.  

Wallock came to farming in her 30s, after wanderlust and a career in hospitality and massage therapy lured her away from Wisconsin. But growing weary of that work – and nurturing a longstanding interest in wellness – she began to think seriously about food. She went to farmers markets, chatted up the farmers, her knowledge growing, her interest building. A Wisconsin farm internship in 2012 turned into four seasons at different farms. “I ended up being in love with it,” she says. She ended up falling in love with someone, too – her now-husband, Andrew – and together they’re pursuing the agrarian dream on their 10-acre The Victory Garden Farm in Fredonia, raising poultry and growing heirloom herbs and vegetables. 

Vanessa Wallock; Photo by Tom Grimm

Wallock’s compassion for animals and commitment to sustainability were sewn into the Victory fabric. She was drawn to heritage-breed animals specifically because of their conservation status. The Bronze turkeys are on the priority list of the Livestock Conservancy, a nonprofit focused on preserving rare breeds. 


 

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Vanessa Wallock; Photo by Tom Grimm

When Wallock and I talk in late summer, her turkeys are fuzzy, waddling babies. But in a few months these birds known for their prodigious size and full plumage will be ready to fulfill their Thanksgiving destiny. Toms (male turkeys) can weigh up to 40 pounds fully grown, Wallock says, which is why she only keeps the birds for about 16 weeks. Their weight in that timeframe maxes out at 12-25 pounds, depending on their sex. Her prices increased this year (inflation, yeah) to $70 for a 12-pounder and up to $130 for a turkey 20 pounds and over. 

Whether marketing to customers directly or through the Third Ward butcher shop-restaurant Bavette, Wallock says the birds sell out, and fast too. An organic, pasture-raised poult is blessed in ways your typical Butterball is not, she says. The first is flavor, which “tends to be more robust,” says Wallock, as a result of the turkeys’ diet and lifestyle. “From day one, mine are roaming, getting sun. They have freedom.”  

There are deeper considerations, too. If you buy from a local farm that is animal welfare approved (as The Victory Garden is), it benefits the animals and the environment – and it keeps your dollars rooted in the community. For this farmer, the work is physically taxing but rewarding, especially when she’s able to share it. “When I prepare a meal with everything from my farm, that makes me really happy,” she says. 


Photo by Tom Grimm

Where to Buy a Turkey: 

The thing about organic, pasture-raised (and/or heritage) turkeys is you need to commit weeks, even months, before Thanksgiving. Here are some sources to reach out to (or to keep in mind for next year).

1. Bavette La Boucherie

217 N. BROADWAY

This year, the chef-owned Third Ward butcher shop’s turkeys come from both Fredonia’s The Victory Garden Farm and Minnesota-based Ferndale Market. “I usually send out an email and start to advertise in October, and when they sell out, they sell out,” says owner Karen Bell. As an example, in 2021, the Ferndale turkeys ranged from 10-22 pounds and sold for $5 a pound. Sign up for the email list at bavettelaboucherie.com

2. Alden Hills Organic Farms

N237 ALDEN RD., WALWORTH

The Broad Breasted White turkeys raised on this certified-organic farm in Walworth are pasture-raised and processed in a certified-organic USDA facility. Turkeys – which range from 12 to 25 pounds – run $6.78 a pound. Alden Hills started taking deposits on birds in September, with pickup and final payment at the farm the Saturday before Thanksgiving. 

3. Green Fire Farm

N5305 RINGHAND RD., MONTICELLO

Certified organic and located in Monticello (just south of Madison), Green Fire is selling frozen pasture-raised turkeys (10-25 pounds) harvested this fall, for delivery to Shorewood and Wauwatosa the Saturday before Thanksgiving. At press time, owner/farmer Jacob Marty hadn’t determined the cost of his turkeys but expected it to land in the $5.25 a pound range


 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s November issue.

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Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.