Any latecomers hoping to gobble up a locally raised Thanksgiving Turkey from Vogel Farms are out of luck.
For the first time in 14 years, all 400 turkeys raised by Vogel Farms and Cabalo’s Orchard and Gardens in Kuna completely sold out the week before Halloween. Debi Vogel and Cathy Cabalo, whose families own the two partnering farms, said they saw unprecedented demand in 2020 for turkeys and other locally grown food due to the pandemic.
“Since pretty much March 14 we’ve been crazy here,” Vogel said, sitting in the red and white commercial kitchen at Vogel Farms. “People are just wanting local food. I think they saw how fragile the food chain is so they’re trying to find more choices. Everyone is getting back to basics.”
Every year Vogel and Cabalo work together on raising turkeys to sell for Thanksgiving. They start with roughly 600 chicks inside a heated building in March and raise them until they are large enough not to be carried away by owls. They expect up to 200 turkeys to die in the early months due to cold and their tendency to pile on top of each other to keep warm, so each year they end up with roughly 400 adult turkeys to sell to customers who reserve them ahead of time.
The turkeys sold for $3.95 a pound, and customers can request a size range for their bird. Vogel said she had several regular customers asking for smaller turkeys than usual because they did not expect guests, but Cabalo said she had several requests for larger than normal turkeys or multiple birds so they could stockpile food for later. Vogel said she plans to include recipe cards for extra turkey meat leftover from Thanksgiving dinner so it doesn’t go to waste.
Looking for local
Vogel Farms is open all year and sells a range of products, including beef, pork chicken, fresh scones on Saturdays and plants grown in a greenhouse. As soon as the pandemic hit and grocery store shelves started to empty due to shoppers overstocking and food processing plant closures due to the virus, the demand for their meat went sky high.
Many of the customers were residents looking for different food sources during the pandemic, but Vogel said they also saw new business from customers who are new to the area from California, Oregon and Washington looking for local food options. She is anticipating business to decrease as the pandemic wears on, but she wonders how many new customers will become regulars.
“I’m expecting some of it to decrease next year once things settle in and people get back into the routine,” she said. “They have a lot of time on their hands because you’re not supposed to be doing much, even though some people do. The restaurants aren’t open like they were and the question is how many of those new customers will continue with us.”
Vogel and Cabalo said they have both seen more interest than ever in canning supplies and methods for preserving fresh food at home. This has been a boon to Cabalo, whose farm sells pumpkins, pickling cucumbers and apples three months out of the year. With the advance warning of the demand from Vogel, Cabalo was able to make preparations for a bigger year than ever and sell triple sales.
“It was early enough in the year that I got to set up my gardening for a larger amount of people,” she said. “I got a chance to pre-plan my garden and the good lord gave us a bumper crop of apples. It all turned out amazing.”
Staying socially distant has also been a priority as the two farms have welcomed more customers than ever before.
Cabalo did not require masks at their pick-your-own orchard because customers were outside and could follow the policy of “staying six turkeys apart” while selecting their fruit and vegetables. But at Vogel Farms, masks are required while shopping inside their gift shops and they plan to set up a social distancing friendly Santa Claus photo opportunity for children after Thanksgiving.
Before the pandemic, the line to pick up the fresh turkeys customers pre-ordered was frequently out the door of the small indoor store on the Vogel Farms property. In 2020, to accommodate social distancing Vogel and Cabalo have devised an elaborate drive-thru system where customers will pull up, pay for their products and get assigned one of the two farmer’s grandchildren to guide them to several stations to pick up their turkey and other extras they might have ordered.
“We’re trying to eliminate any lines,” Cabalo said. “We really put some serious thought into taking a massive pickup event and making it flow.”
It is unknown when COVID-19 will lift and what the world will look like when it does, but Vogel said she hopes people in the Treasure Valley will keep some of their new habits of shopping with local farmers well into the future.
“Let’s just take what good we can,” she said. “I think people are spending more family time together and I call that a good thing. It’s not worth the number of deaths that have happened and what we’ve had to do, but I hope we take some of the lessons we’ve learned after it’s over.”