Jessica Isbrecht carried her bathroom scale into a farm field adjacent to the Negri-Nepote Native Grassland Preserve in Franklin Township and weighed herself on Election Day. She then rounded up the 51 heritage breed turkeys she raised at Green Duchess Farm this season, picked them up individually and weighed herself with them in her arms.
Ultimately, she lifted over 700 pounds.
Although Isbrecht is a third generation farmer, 2014 was her first season at her own farm. She left her family farm in Warren County in 2000, received a B.S. in Biology from University of Delaware and worked as an environmental consultant. Her mother succumbed to a battle with a rare form of lymphoma in 2013. Reeling from the loss and the knowledge this type of blood cancer is hereditary, Isbrecht realized life is short and chose to return to the farming lifestyle she loves.
“ Isn’t it sad how a tragic loss or some tragic event has to happen to make you look at your life and decide that you want to be happy? “ she asked.
Her own happiness has remarkably grown and taken flight with these turkeys. Thinking back over the season she realized, “Being around these animals has been so much fun for me and such a joy which I didn’t expect. I loved spending time with them and watching them.”
“I chose to raise them to try to educate people about the importance of our food system and where our meat is coming from and how it is raised. A lot of people are not as aware as I think they would be,” she said thoughtfully.
Isbrecht settled on raising theBourbon Red turkey, a heritage breed that came close to being extinct after the broad breasted white turkey become the most consumed breed in North America. The Bourbon Red is known for having excellent flavor and foraging capabilities.
Before deciding to raise the breed, though, she had never actually tasted it. She got her chance in September, when she was forced to harvest an injured turkey earlier than expected.
“The turkey that I ate tasted excellent. It is rich flavored. The white meat is closer in proportion to the dark meat. The breasts are not large and round like the grocery store turkeys,” she said.
Isbrecht credits their unique diet for their flavor, adding: “They really have a terroir like in wine.”
At the beginning of the season, Isbrecht admits to being a bit of a mother hen. She checked on them incessantly. Turkey chicks, or poults, need more care during the brooding process than chickens, which she also raises.
Green Duchess Farm is taking orders for turkeys at its website. Choose a fresh small turkey, 7-9 lbs, $80; medium turkey – 10-15 lbs, $120;
large turkey, 16-20 lb, $155. The thirty pounder, extra large turkeys that she struggled to weigh on the scale are sold out.