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by Slow Food USA intern, Cecilia Estriech

As Thanksgiving approaches, many of us are steeling ourselves for yet another holiday feast featuring a mealy industrially produced bird. Turkey, in most American households, is the white elephant on the buffet table—everyone knows that the nearly ubiquitous broad-breasted white is dry and flavorless, but most of us are too polite to say anything (it is a holiday after all). The members of Slow Food Russian River are trying to change our turkey experience one heritage breed at a time.

Situated in California’s Sonoma valley where the broad-breasted white was first bred in the 1950’s, Slow Food Russian River has established the Heritage Turkey Project to encourage the production of endangered breeds. The three-year old program partners with 4-H and Future Farmers of America to get kids in the region involved in raising the turkeys. Every year, six to ten young people raise two-hundred heritage breed turkeys provided by the Russian River chapter. Once they reach maturity, the birds are sold at market price—$7.50 per pound this year. For their labor, the kids receive all the revenue from sales.

In addition to providing kids with hands-on experience working with heritage breeds, it also encourages consumers in the community to expand their palates. Russian River committee leader Rick Theis remarks that “residents are learning about Heritage Turkeys and the Slow Food Movement, and tasting the results.” The turkeys have become so popular, in fact, that they consistently sell out with an ample waitlist.