Thanksgiving Along Sonoma County Farm Trails
~ By Paula Downing,President, Sonoma County Farm Trails
When you think about Thanksgiving you generally think turkey. And when you’re in Sonoma County, you generally think Willie Bird Turkeys who is celebrating their 50th anniversary in the turkey raising business this year. Willie Bird was one of Sonoma County Farm Trails first members and definitely the Grand Master presiding over our local Thanksgiving feasts.
Our Sonoma County Farm Trails fledgling farmers - Felton Acres (now known as Green Star Farm),SucherNova Farm and Green Goose Farm are all beautiful, dedicated fledglings just learning to fly in the farming business.
Willie Bird Turkeys
In about 1902 or so Willie Benedetti’s grandfather, Conrad, a Swiss Italian by birth, was working as a machinist in San Francisco when he read an article in the paper that promised you could make a good living raising chickens in Petaluma. He packed up the family and moved to this rural town raise chickens and cattle.
Times change and like all good small farmers, Conrad changed with the times. Just before World War II he started raising turkey eggs for George Nicholas Breeding Farm in Sonoma. George marketed bronze turkeys and ultimately bred the first white turkey in 1957 – which has become a staple on our dinner tables to this day.
In 1963 Willie was a freshman in high school looking for a Future Farmers of America project. His dad had continued raising eggs for George Nicholas so there were plenty of turkey eggs around the farm. With the help of his mom, Aloha Benedetti - who got her name from her mother who liked to play the ukulele - he converted an old chicken coop into a home for turkeys and Willie Bird Turkeys was born.
Today Willie Benedetti, his cousin, Rocky, his brother, Riley, and his trusty helper of 37 years, Beagle, raise free range turkeys on 400 acres on Calistoga Road. Willie is testimony to the fact that big isn’t necessarily better. He doesn’t know every turkey by name but he kept his business small, local and in the family.
Willie’s advice to young farmers is “Keep going. There is always a market for your product.”
I would say that our fledgling farmers are taking this advice to heart.
Green Goose Farm
Rebecca Black and Roy Smith of Green Goose Farm are probably the youngest of Farm Trails’ fledglings. They’ve had their 10-acre farm outside of Petaluma for about a year. They’re raising turkeys, geese, chickens, lamb, pigs – all on pasture, only as many as the land will support.
So what inspires them to farm?
“I love the interaction with the animals and the land,” Rebecca says. “I love knowing that we are doing a little part for making things better, providing good food for people who want to eat meat and not feel guilty about how the animals are treated.”
Roy adds, “The primary reason for starting our farm is to create an example of a regenerative farming practice on the small scale, that increases local food security, supports and improves ecological services, and serves to mitigate the impacts of global climate change, while providing hope for a decent future for our daughters.”
Melissa Casanova and Ben Sucher own the 10-acre SucherNova Farm in Cotati.
Their offerings are diverse – pork, chicken, beef, eggs, honey, vegetables, micro greens, and lotion made from their own goats milk.
“Farming is my idea of the perfect life,” Melissa Casanova says. “The land called me. I can’t picture myself doing anything else. I see this as a healing process – for our family and the community. Practicing biodynamics brings the soulfulness back to farming – the opportunity to connect with the earth, to raise healthy food for nourishment. My parents both died fairly young. They were living the typical American life style, buying food at Costco. Their early death inspired me to think a lot about health and lifestyle.”
Felton Acres/Green Star
Marc Felton and Sarah Silva of Felton Acres, now known as Green Star Farm, work 50 acres on Blank Road in Sebastopol. They are just about at the five-year mark moving them from fledglings into seasoned farmers.
Marc created Felton Acres as a result of a little trick on the part of the universe. He was raised in Monterey and dreamed of hosting salmon fishing charter expeditions along the Sonoma Coast. The minute he had purchased his gear and was ready to roll, the bottom fell out of the salmon market. At that time he read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, which made him realize that if he couldn’t catch wild food he could raise it in a way that was in harmony with nature’s intentions, giving back rather than extracting from the earth.
Sarah is a Sebastopol native whose family raised food when she was growing up. She had come home to farm when she met Marc and realized that they were in philosophical agreement. Sarah: “We are serving our community and making the land better, improving top soil naturally, while improving the quality of our animals in their most natural environment.”
Green Star produces eggs, chicken, lamb, pork and goat. Their farming practices are stellar. Their meat birds are moved every day to green pastures – every day! Their egg hens are moved every two weeks. They feed no soy products whatsoever. They are currently experimenting with what is known as a “fodder system” for feed. This is a fairly new process that involves raising sprouts in order to feed “live food” which is so beneficial for the health of animals – and us.
Currently they are sprouting barley, oats and sunflower seeds for the goats. Sarah explains, “It’s easy, much cheaper, and requires a lot less water. You go from seed to feed in about one week and the animals love it. “
One of the huge problems of the very small meat producers is processing. Every small farmer who raises birds in Sonoma County has to truck them to Stockton for processing. There was a chicken processing plant in Fulton for many years but it is closed now and would require about a three million dollar investment to get it running again. Anyone game?
Green Star takes their hogs to Rancho Veal Corporation in Petaluma. They take their goats and sheep to Panizzera in Occidental. Finally the cutting and wrapping is done at Golden Gate Meat Company who has recently opened shop in Santa Rosa. Clearly part of the reason why you pay a bit more for delicious, locally raised, clean meat is the cost of processing!
These are just a few of the Farm Trails Farmers who are dedicated to bringing you delicious, locally raised, clean, healthy food. You can taste the difference and support our local farmers by having a Farm Trails Thanksgiving Dinner.
We have other local farmers and wineries you can support for Thanksgiving: beautiful pies from Petaluma Pie Company in Petaluma and Kozlowski Farms in Sebastopol; great meats from Bud’s Custom Meats in Penngrove and Stemple Creek Ranch grass fed beef and lamb in Marin; fabulous cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery & Bellwether Farms, all-year-long produce from Tara Firma Farms …wines, ciders, fresh vegetables – we have everything you need to give thanks.
Check out these Thanksgiving recipes from our Sonoma County Farm Trail members featured in this article
Topics: Thanksgiving dinner