Tony Daranyi of Indian Ridge Farm in Norwood tends to a flock of grass-fed turkeys. (Courtesy photo)

Needless to say, a turkey roaming across bug-speckled pasture in an all-you-can-gobble grass buffet probably has a better sentient existence than say, the factory farm bird confined with thousands of his compatriots in a space so densely stuffed he can’t even flap his wings. Yet even if turkey welfare isn’t your particular cross to bear, advocates of locally-grown, pasture-raised poultry say the benefits of eating local free-range meats extend far beyond a contented clucker.

“First and foremost, one of the biggest benefits when it comes to eating grass-fed poultry is the flavor,” said Barclay Daranyi of Indian Ridge Farm in Norwood. “The turkeys are incredibly flavorful. It tastes like a true turkey.”

Furthermore, she said, grass-fed poultry can be up to 10 times higher in omega-three fatty acids as well as contain higher levels of conjugated linoleic acids, a type of omega-six fatty acid thought to have numerous health benefits including immune support and weight loss.

“It’s also higher in vitamin C and E,” she said. “It’s more nutrient-dense and more flavorful as well.”

Beyond the obvious rewards of slicing into a juicy, farm-fresh roast turkey, the land that produces free-range turkeys reaps the benefits as well. Turkeys strutting across open pasture leave behind nutrient-rich fertilizer in their wake, contributing to healthy soil that in turn provides those nutrients to future creatures and crops.

“At Indian Ridge Farm we practice regenerative agriculture,” said Daranyi. “Basically, that’s raising food, both vegetables and animals, in a way that regenerates and builds the soil and heals the land. Part of that is rotating our animals through the pastures so that their manure builds soil, along with providing a number of other benefits to the land.”

According to the 21-country nonprofit coalition Regeneration International, a global transition back to regenerative agricultural practices and away from practices like mono-cropping and animal factory farms can provide a major source of carbon sequestration, helping to reverse rising global temperatures. Regenerative agriculture represents a down-to-earth, tasty solution to climate change that “lies right under our feet and at the ends of our forks and knives,” according to the website of Regeneration International.

"Small and environmentally friendly farms operate in ways that benefit the soil, our water, and air, by creating a healthy ecosystem on their land," said Vicki Renda, founder of Vicki's Fresh Food Movement. "Eating meats from farms that raise their animals on pasture also generally don't use hormones or antibiotics since they are not confined with other animals, creating less chance of disease spreading amongst animals that are otherwise in cages or feedlots."

Using regenerative techniques like pasture rotation and composting, the Daranyis of Indian Ridge Farm produce and sell about 80 to 100 turkeys each holiday season. The birds are a hot ticket item for holiday feasts, selling out well in advance of the annual holiday season. While Thanksgiving gatherings are bound to look a little different this year, with restrictions on gathering sizes and traveling, the turkey remains a staple steeped in family tradition. The Indian Ridge tradition, for example, features a Southwest-style turkey basted in a tamarind lime glaze and stuffed with a cornbread chorizo stuffing, accompanied by poblano chile gravy.

Even with a mouth-watering menu and the perfectly roasted bird, those that look forward to the annual large gatherings of friends and family may be experiencing a case of the pandemic blues as COVID-19 topples yet more cherished plans. Recentering the holiday as an opportunity for cherishing what we’re able to have, or even “rescheduling” Thanksgiving for a future date, can provide anchors in the emotional turbulence.

“Thanksgiving is truly about gratitude and there are many ways we can be grateful throughout the year, not just on Nov. 25,” Daranyi reflected. “We have many reasons to gather and be grateful all year round and if it doesn’t work right now because of the times we’re living in, perhaps we can look to the future to gather with those that we love and celebrate at a different time.”

In addition, spending those hard-earned dollars on farm goods is not only tasty but a pragmatic way to fight the pandemic blues.

“The food dollars spent at a local farm allow that farmer to head to Telluride for a ski day and patronize one of our local businesses,” said Renda. “So buy local and eat seasonally as much as possible to strengthen our regional economy as well.”

Large gatherings may be out, but the turkey is all gravy. And pass that cornbread chorizo stuffing, please.