Talking turkey with Summit County turkey farmer days before Thanksgiving

Airline pilot gave up the skies to farm turkeys

BOSTON TOWNSHIP, Ohio - One of your guests of honor at your Thanksgiving Day dinner will probably be Tom. He usually makes the rounds on the day, elbowing his way to the dinner table.

Ol' Tom Turkey usually has the best seat in the house -- in the center of the table.

Terry Smith, a farmer in the Summit County of community of Boston Township knows tom and hen turkey as well as any other farmer who raises the birds.

"We raise two different kinds of turkeys," he said with a shy smile. "We have the bourbon red and the broad-breasted," his finger pointing to the two kinds of turkeys in the pen a few yards from the backdoor of his farmhouse.

Both are heritage turkeys in that they have the characteristics not found in the majority of turkeys which are raised in the U.S. Smith talks turkey easily as he feeds them what he calls scratch grain. It is a mixture of various grains, including corn, which he spreads liberally in the pen. The scratch grain does not stay there very long as ol' tom and hen scarf it up as if it is their least meals.

In some instances, it is.

Smith is raising the turkeys for sale to customers who pick out a 20 or 30-pounder that Smith then trucks to a turkey dresser. When the birds return to Smith, they have been plucked clean and dressed. Chilled, the turkeys are handed over to paying customers. The birds have been made ready for the dinner table.

Of course, the turkeys don't know that. All they know is the sound of Smith shaking his container of scratch grain. That sound of food keeps them running toward him in their pen.

Smith runs Goatfeathers Farm, part of the conservancy of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which works to keep some farming in the area. Smith's leases the land from the conservancy and runs a farm operation where the accent is on organic.

Part of the deal is for some of the profit from the farm be returned to the national park. Although Smith has hogs, cattle and goats, the emphasis at Thanksgiving time is on the turkeys.

Gus Karvovnides runs Karvo Paving Company, which was repaving part of Akron Peninsula Road where the Goatfeathers Farm is located. Karvovnides' workers all giggled at the sounds of gobbles, oinks and clucks heard from the farm.

"He's and regular Old MacDonald," said Karvovnides, smiling at Smith, who leaned against a truck chatting with some of the road paving crew. He talked turkey, even with them.

Of the bourbon red turkeys, which are about the color of bourbon, Smith proudly announces they don't always stay on the ground as do most turkeys raised for consumption.

"They fly up in the trees at night," he said, pointing to a favorite tree on the property where they roost after sundown.

Smith has about 35 turkeys in the pen. By the time Thanksgiving Day arrives, the pen is empty. So what does he usually eat for Thanksgiving Day?

"Ham," he said, offering a sheepish smile. "I usually sell every turkey."

Not bad for a former pilot for Northwest Airlines who, for medical reasons, left the job. He always wanted to raise turkeys, so he hangs around the farm. Still, he does some flying. He is a flight instructor, offering lessons in aviation at Akron Fulton Airport.

But the bulk of his week is on the ground, with the turkeys.

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