It’s come a long way and is quite wonderful. I can buy heritage turkeys by driving a couple of miles up the road.
A note from Marian Burros to Patrick Martins, thanking him for his efforts and congratulating him on the success of the Heritage Turkey Project.
In 2001, Slow Food USA sent out a press release announcing the ceremonial entry onto the Ark of Taste of numerous varieties of “heritage turkey.”The heritage turkey was by far the ideal poster child for the Ark: it was American, everyone ate it, and it even had its own holiday! The traditional, tastier breeds of turkey had been pushed aside to the brink of extinction in favor of larger-breasted and faster-growing birds concocted in corporate laboratories. For varieties like the Bourbon Red, Narragansett and Black, only a few dozen breeding birds were alive and in action even though over 260 million turkeys are consumed in the US each year.
Marion Burros wrote a New York Times article announcing that in 2002 Slow Food USA would begin selling these rare birds to Slow Food members in an effort to increase demand and population counts — for we must eat these birds to save them. We were surprised—we weren’t completely ready to get into the retail meat business, but the fire had been lit. We started a company, Heritage Foods USA, to protect the non-profit status of Slow Food, and began planning for a turkey sale! The first person we called was Frank Reese, the Godfather of American poultry, a man generally considered to be the best breeder of poultry alive today. Frank agreed to help us raise the birds on his farm, the Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch.
Every November since that first year we have had the great honor of announcing the arrival of a new generation of Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch heritage turkeys. To this day Frank remains the only farmer in the US allowed to claim “heritage” on his USDA certificate thanks to the American Poultry Association, a certification group that confirms standards traceable back to the 19th century.
As a result of the success of our direct to consumer program, numerous varieties of turkey have been officially upgraded off the Livestock Conservancy’s most critical List of Endangered Species including the White Holland, Bourbon Red, Slate, Black, Standard Bronze and Narragansett. The population counts of certain varieties have grown by as much as 1500% from 1997 levels.
In 2002, 800 heritage turkeys were raised, the next year 1600, and the numbers have grown to 7000 today just on the Good Shepherd Ranch. In addition, Frank sells his cherished poults to family farmers around the country, growing the total number of heritage turkeys grown in the US each year thanks to Frank closer to 15,000.
The word “heritage” is now accepted as a term to describe non-factory farmed livestock, in the way heirloom is used to describe rare seeds, providing the foundation for niche marketing for family farms across the country. The word heritage has also drawn attention to the over-manipulation of genetics by corporations which causes animal suffering in the quest for faster growth and necessitates the use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics. But most importantly, the Heritage Turkey Project has brought gastronomy (and history) back to one of the most important meals of the year.
As we look forward, Frank, who also raises heritage ducks, geese and chickens, is joining forces with Wesleyan University in Kansas, to create the Good Shepherd Poultry Center, an accredited program for college students that combines coursework in four core areas: Biological/Environmental Sciences, Environmental Social Sciences (including public policy, Ethics and individual and group behavior), Environmental Economics, and Heritage Breeds Sustainability. Stay tuned for more regarding this important cultural institution.
And stay tuned to this year’s turkey supply. Heritage turkeys arrive fresh the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and are available for pre-sale starting in August.
In order to make cheese, animals on the farm must be producing milk. And to make milk, animals must be giving birth and having many babies, consistently.
In the case of goat cheese dairies, the birth of a male goat creates a dilemma for the farmer — there is no good market for goat, so male goats are usually sold at birth onto the commodity market or disposed of before their time. Thus the raison d’etre for our No Goat Left Behind project.
In 2012 Heritage Foods USA partnered with a dozen goat dairies around upstate New York and Vermont to purchase all their unwanted male goats when they were ready for harvest — we had the confidence to commit to the purchases thanks to hand shake agreements with over 70 New York City chefs who agreed to feature goat on their menus.
Goat is a seasonal meat with mothers giving birth mostly in the Spring. Baby goats then grow dining on Spring and Summer grasses when food is abundant. They are ready for market in the Fall. This is why Heritage Foods USA is working to change the 10th month of the year from October to Goatober!
The brainchild of Heritage Radio Network Executive Director, Erin Fairbanks, and renowned New York cheesemonger, Anne Saxelby, No Goat Left Behind was started to address the growing problem facing New England goat dairies and has since developed into a celebration of all goat breeds including meat breeds, with the goal of increasing overall goat consumption in the US. Today, Americans still import most of its goat (and lamb) from New Zealand and Australia.
Goats are environmentally low maintenance and easy to raise. They eat almost anything, are adaptable and smart and usually birth twins. They also make for delicious meat, the foundation for millions of recipes worldwide. As a result, goat is the most widely consumed livestock in the world.
The flavor of goat meat is light, lean and green with a clean and grassy finish.
Frozen goat is available year round and fresh goat in October.
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One of the most exciting projects at Heritage Foods USA is our effort to increase population counts of rare breeds of lamb in the USA. What is most remarkable about our Lamb Project is that all the lamb we sell is moved through our direct-to-consumer Mail Order division. It’s no easy task to sell nose-to-tail via internet sales, but over the past two years we have increased the number of lambs from our group of farmers 600% and plan to grow steadily again next year.
The breeds we source each carry unique histories and traditions. Most are also members of Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste, a living catalog of America’s endangered foods.
Did you know our forefathers were lamb fanatics? George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson ALL wrote about the Tunis breed to taut its superior taste – and we don’t blame them. The Tunis is delicious and dates back to the days of the Bible, reputed to be 3000 years old.
America’s first domestic sheep were small, rugged Churro sheep from Spain, brought by Francisco Coronado in 1540 and Don Juan de Onate in 1598. The Navajo people adopted the lamb into their culture (the animals were owned by Navajo women), prizing them for their wool and distinctive sweet taste. The Churro was nearly decimated by the US government in their fighting with the Navajo but is now being raised again on a small number of family farms.
The Dorset Horn is a traditional breed originally from England. Once exclusively reserved to the aristocracy this breed is known for its balanced, delicate flavor with hints of lavender and olive oil. The Dorset gives birth three times a year rather than two as with most sheep breeds yet it still remains endangered.
Besides old varieties, we are also working to develop the ideal American breed, rotationally grazed on Kansas’ Tall Grass Prairie. The foundational breed for this experiment is the Katahdin hair sheep. Developed in Maine, the Katahdin is loved by farmers because it does not produce wool, making farming easier and giving the lamb a very mild flavor.
The best way to try different our lamb breeds is to order frequently or to try our Breed Variety Packages that offer the same cut across multiple lamb species. Lamb is available for sale year round, but stay tuned to weekly emails in the Spring and Fall to try cuts fresh!
An excerpt from the NY Post article, Why chicken doesn’t taste like chicken anymore:
In the town of McPherson, Kansas, there is a butcher shop called Krehbiels Meats, where, not long ago, an elderly woman bought a chicken that moved her to tears. The chicken had longer legs, a smaller breast and yellower skin than regular chickens, and on the back appeared two words the woman, who was in her 70s, would not have seen in a very long time: 'barred rock.'
That Barred Rock chicken was raised by Frank Reese. Frank Reese is the American master of all things poultry and has dedicated his life to maintaining established standards for chickens (as well as for turkeys, ducks and geese) including shape, size and taste. Indeed walking onto Frank’s farm is like taking a gastronomic tour American cuisine from 1830 to today.
As part of our effort to revive rare, heritage chicken lines and create an alternative market for non-industry bred chicken, Heritage Foods USA partners with Frank Reese, the country's preeminent poultry farmer, to offer a rotation of heritage chicken breeds every few months. There are numerous heritage breeds of chicken on the brink of extinction and we plan to bring them back breed-by-breed. Heritage Foods USA is the only place you can taste these special heritage birds today.
Heritage chickens are breeds that have been around since before the industrial farming era. Their genetic lineage has been preserved because they have not been genetically modified by the industrial poultry industry. Heritage birds grow at a healthy rate, while industry chickens are genetically manipulated to grow at an unnaturally fast rate that can be harmful to the skeletal, cardiovascular, and immune systems of the bird.
We carry each breed on a rotating basis throughout the year. We recommend cooking heritage chickens low and slow fully enjoy the flavor and texture.
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The Ark of Taste is a living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction. By identifying and championing these foods we keep them in production and on our plates.
What is the Ark of Taste?
The Ark of Taste is a catalog of rare and endangered foods from around the world. Harkening back to the story of Noah boarding two of each animal onto his wooden Ark to save them from the proverbial flood. Slow Food’s Ark of Taste seeks to preserve a global knowledge of food that is at risk of being lost to the sweeping flood of industrialization. Many of the products on the Ark of Taste are unique because they are linked to the history of an indigenous group, use an ancient and time tested preparation technique, contain invaluable genetic information or have a depth of flavor unrivaled by commodity goods.
How Does a Product Get Boarded to The Ark of Taste?
First, products must be at risk of being lost or forgotten and not readily available to consumers. The reasons for the decline can range widely but could include environmental degradation, cultural shifts and economic pressure.
Second, the product must taste good. What is considered good taste is as diverse as the cultures the Ark represents around the world. Usually, the products need to be unique or distinguishable from what is available on the commodity market.
Third, can the product be produced sustainably? For livestock this means that generally they do well on pasture, for fruits and vegetable that they do not need outside inputs of fertilizer or chemical treatment.
Finally, Ark of Taste products should be linked to a cultural history or tradition. Often times this means that they are economically significant to a particular region or group of people.
Why do we need the Ark of Taste?
Industrial agriculture has helped feed the world but we have made big trade offs along the way. Time saved in the fields has come at the cost of flavor. We have also sacrificed biodiversity and lost cultural knowledge. The Ark is an invaluable resource for preserving cultural traditions, protecting vulnerable foods, and promoting biodiversity in our food system.
Since the creation of the Ark of Taste in 1996 over 1,100 products have been boarded onto the Ark from 50 countries. The United States currently has 200 products on the Ark of Taste. However, this number is only a drop in the bucket compared to the potential loss of diversity facing our food system. The most recent information from the United Nations produced in 2007 found that at least 690 livestock breeds have already been lost to extinction and another 1,491 breeds are at risk of being lost. Furthermore, in total people consume about 7,000 species of plants around the world and only 150 species are commercially important with rice, wheat and corn accounting for 60% of the calories consumed.
How to take action
Heritage Foods USA was founded as the marketing arm of Slow Food USA back in 2001 and continues, fourteen years later, to mobilize around food products that are at risk of being lost. We are proud to continue to partner with Slow Food USA and share the core value that we must “Eat them to save them".
We are excited to constantly expand our network of Ark of Taste farmers and products. Visit our Collections Page and look for the Ark symbol next to some of cuts of pork, lamb, goat and poultry.
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Since Heritage Foods USA started we have seen fads melt and trends rise and fall. We’ve seen the food world morph into fashion, where sizzle rules the day no matter where the steak came from.
But the spate of fancy events and color photographs and chef competition shows on television has done little to help American independent farmers sleep at night—or to improve the chances that our planet might survive the current onslaught of corporate farming and the looming realities of climate change. We are drowning in recipes and food porn—when it comes to the real issues that concern our farmers and the health of America’s food supply, the food media is failing. It isn’t much more than a beauty pageant.
The revolution needed a voice, something to punch through this wall of tawdry, feel-good fluff—so in 2009, largely inspired by Carlo Petrini’s 1975 pirate station in Italy, Radio Bra Onde Rosse, we began the Heritage Radio Network, an Internet-based radio station inside Roberta’s Pizza in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Carlo rescued an old military surplus transmitter to start his station; we built ours out of a couple of recycled shipping containers and put a garden on the roof.
Chris Parachini, Brandon Hoy, and Carlo Mirachi had opened Roberta’s a few months earlier, and were at the vanguard of a new generation of restaurant at once cool and sustainable. Roberta’s was unlike any other in America — the restaurant itself was built by the owners out of an old auto body shop with rescued and recycled materials, in an industrial district that nearly burned to the ground during the great blackout of 1977. Now it is very much at the hub of a fantastic new food movement, and the food that comes out of the pizza station and kitchen is delicious.
Heritage Radio now reaches millions of listeners a month. At the core of the station are 39 fantastic weekly shows—hosted by a diverse group of chefs, authors, visionaries, lunatics, journalists, historians, and hedonists — about food technology, beer, cheese, food history, politics, and cocktails, to name just a few of the myriad, plus a few outlier shows covering alternative music, arts, and pop culture. The station started as something of a clubhouse for subversive foodies but has grown into a legitimate media outlet—we are a source for hard news and opinion, a beacon for like-minded progressives who do not view food as simply fodder for the style section.
HRN is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and relies on your donations to continue to broadcast content. Consider becoming a backer!
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Perhaps nothing is more satisfying than to see a growing charcuterie tradition in America. The birthplace of fast food now also produces some of the best tasting long-aged and short-aged cured meats (and cheeses) in the world.
In restaurant kitchens and curehouses from Virginia to San Francisco, the highest levels of gastronomy are being reached using cuts from animals that can stand up to long curing times.
Some curing processes take three years, others take three months but together they add value to our American culture and represent the highest forms of man’s ability to manipulate food to taste delicious.
We encourage you to try the various cured meats using heritage breeds as a raw ingredient. Some are available on our site for sale while others must be purchased at the place where they are produced.
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