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Bainbridge birds go farm-to-table
Tom arrived on the island as a small fluff ball five months ago. He made his way to the Rolling Bay Farm where he ended up in the hands of Adrienne Wolfe and her husband Mark Tiernan.
In just a few days, Tom will be passed to the hands of Kate and Jason Ruffing, who are depending on Tom to fill the most crucial place at their Thanksgiving table: the turkey.
Tom was just a day old when he came to the Rolling Bay Farm with 11 other chicks. Wolfe and Tiernan decided to try their hands at raising a flock of turkeys and Tom was in the first batch. Now all the birds are grown and spoken for. Each turkey will complete a holiday meal for family or friends and represent the bountiful harvest of the farm.
It is unclear exactly when a turkey became an essential symbol of the Thanksgiving meal. Most agree it’s unlikely the pilgrims ate a turkey on their day of harvest celebration. But Tom is a heritage breed, and part of the 1 percent of some 270 million turkeys this year that won’t come from a factory farm.
Heritage birds are a pure breed that can fly, forage for food and are beautiful in color. They look very little like the Broad-Breasted White, which is the breed that most often ends up in supermarkets ready for rushed shoppers heading out the door. For the Ruffing family, their purchase wasn’t quite that easy. They wanted a better life for their bird, and in the process they’ve created a much deeper connection to their Thanksgiving turkey.
The Ruffings moved to the island four years ago from Chicago. Drawn to the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest they envisioned a concept for their new life and home. It’s called Camp 4, and it’s the living laboratory they call home where they experiment with practical ways to live a more sustainable life.
They use their ,a href="http://camp4bi.com/">blog to detail and photograph their journeys – whether they are great successes or failures – from starting their own bee hives to gardening to raising the ducks and chickens clucking out back. Both Kate and Jason have full-time jobs in Seattle, but try to demonstrate the little choices that anyone can make.
When it came time to plan the Thanksgiving meal, Ruffing knew she wanted to use local ingredients. She had potatoes, eggs and herbs from their backyard. She asked blog and social media followers for suggestions on items like a local alternative for cream of mushroom soup. Nixing the green bean casserole was not an option for her husband.
The turkey was the easy part. It stemmed from a conversation on the ferry when Wolfe mentioned her husband was considering trying to raise turkeys this year. Ruffing jumped on board.
She holds up a photo of the bird and boasts of his size and beauty in the same way a mother might show off a school photo. She named him “Tom” when she went to the farm for a visit.
“Lots of people have asked me why I’d want a photo of the bird that will be dinner next week,” she said. “I have a deep love and respect for animals, and that’s why it’s wonderful. I know where he was raised and harvested. I know the farmer and I know the farm,” she said.
Ruffing grew up on a farm and has worked in the food industry throughout her professional career. She holds degrees in meat and animal science and food chemistry, which have helped inform her decisions on how she wants to nourish her family.
“Even here in the bountiful Pacific Northwest eating local is a challenge. Sometimes it’s about making exceptions or getting creative to come up with new ideas, but always looking local first. Voting with your dollar,” she said.
This year Ruffing is incorporating Port Madison Oysters into the menu as well. The family will also open up its home to anyone who doesn’t have a place to spend Thanksgiving Day. They see food as a way to connect with the community.
For Wolfe and Tiernan, starting their own farm and raising livestock is another way to connect to the community. They also ,a href="http://rollingbayfarm.com/2010/11/16/annual-egg-shortage/">blog about their adventures on their "micro-farm." Both the beauty and challenge of Rolling Bay Farms is that they don’t sell anything outside of the farm to avoid costly inspection and licensing.
Bringing people to the farm is an opportunity to start a relationship, one that is built on something everybody needs: food.
Raising the livestock that feeds their family and friends is a natural cycle for Wolfe. In the case of the turkeys, it became a way to witness beauty in an animal she didn’t expect to be beautiful. This week, the process comes full circle and gives an opportunity to participate in a Thanksgiving meal with family and friends.
Though Tom’s days are numbered, his life isn’t taken for granted among the small circle he is shared in.