Meet new turkey farmers in the U.S.'s largest turkey-producing county
If you want to know where your turkey comes from this holiday season, get to know a turkey farmer. On our AgweekTV "Thankful for Ag" episode on Nov. 24, I'll introduce you to Chris Huisinga. Here's some of the backstory:
After years of working corporate jobs, Chris and his wife Joi pursued a way to move their family back to Chris's roots of turkey farming. Chris has more than 70 years of turkey farming in his family history. To join that legacy, Chris and Joi started a new farm and put their first flock into an empty barn on Aug. 1, 2017.
Today they reside in a quaint brick farmhouse they're remodeling — a place they first lived the first summer they were married as young 20-somethings. Fast forward a couple decades and they're back to where they started as a couple, only now with their two teenage kids and turkey barns in the yard. The farm has been in the Huisinga family for over a century, and the home was built in 1927.
Chris and I visited in the Huisinga living room. Joi was preparing for friends to come over for supper that evening and making homemade turkey pot pie. I snapped a picture of her recipe and hope she'll share it in Agweek soon.
Choosing to farm or ranch is not an easy decision. Choosing animal agriculture of any type is time intensive and, most of all, financially intensive. Chris said they are very financially "leveraged" now, and every decision they make over the next 10 years will make them "squeak" from being fiscally conservative to make it in the turkey farming business. I never had met the Huisingas before this farm visit, but my farming admiration and pride grew listening to each of them share their stories.
Chris shared about how he works with nutritionists to provide optimal nutrients to his turkeys to grow and stay healthy. They eat vitamins, trace minerals and primarily corn and soybeans. The diet changes as the birds grow. The key to growing turkeys is bird health.
"Healthy birds are happy birds. And happy birds are going to grow well," Chris said.
You don't see turkeys roaming the Huisinga farmyard. They are safely tucked into turkey barns with strict biosecurity guidelines to prevent disease and avoid predators. Chris said turkeys need "clean, warm air, good, clean water, access to quality feed." On the day AgweekTV's Trevor Peterson and I visited the Huisinga farm, the windchill was 3 F. Chris shared that turkeys have "tight parameters" when it comes to temperature changes. Chris had been up at 3 a.m. that day to fix a heater in a barn. An alarm had alerted him to the problem. A farmer sacrifices for their farm, and that is any hour of the day, I was reminded.
If you're going to venture into turkey farming, I think Kandiyohi County, Minn., is one of the best places to start. Kandiyohi County leads the nation in turkey production, and Minnesota leads the nation in turkeys.
Chris and Joi both had education and work experience outside of agriculture. They lived in other places and experienced the corporate world. I think their management experience combined with purpose and passion will make them not only successful turkey farmers but leaders for a next generation thinking about going back to their roots of agriculture or starting as first-generation farmers.
Knowing where your food comes from matters. Chris said to me no matter where we are located in the Upper Midwest of the U.S., most likely your turkey was raised within 100 miles of you. And even if my turkey this holiday season was raised farther away from me than that, it doesn't matter to me. Turkey farmers like Chris and Joi Huisinga have my appreciation and respect. I am thankful for the food choices they provide.