from gobbling to gobbled up

Once again, I'm out covering my favorite subject — slaughterhouses. Though it seems morbid, I've been documenting this subject for about the last three years, both while I was in Denmark and here at home, and it's something I deeply care about. I believe strongly in the idea of knowing where your meat comes from and appreciating the animal that provides it. And I think that if you are more aware of the process, the less morbid it becomes. turkeys flyingI'm incredibly happy to be in the Shenandoah Valley, where there's a wealth of farmers. I think most of the farmers out here actually sell meat, unlike out in the Midwest where corn and wheat and soybeans are equally, if not more common than beef farmers.

turkey cullingI'm not sure how this story came to be, but reporter Laura Peters were stoked about it once the idea took shape. She found a couple local farms that were still processing turkeys and we went out to investigate.

bourbon red turkeysThough the culling process isn't so new to me, last time I photographed a turkey slaughter, it was different from the process I witnessed in Virginia. The farms we visited cut the throat of the turkey to let it bleed out, which was a much more intimate experience, as the farmer had to hold the turkey's head while it bled out.

turkey defeatheringBut the next day we went out to Charis Eco-Farms, where we met Jeff Rohde. Rohde used to be a mortgage broker in Seattle and said he left after the moral implications of selling sub-prime mortgages to people. He decided he wanted to live a more meaningful lifestyle and this farm in Virginia was one of the first ones he applied to. Though he started with a more limited knowledge of farming, he's currently in his second year and after having been mentored by other local farmers, seems to have learned a lot.

shenandoah valley farmAnd Laura and I fell in love with Jeff. His barn was filled with farm cats that he obviously cared for deeply, and it seemed like he had a similar approach to most of the farm animals. We also had a more intimate experience with the culling of the turkeys, since it was just Jeff doing the entire process himself. He demonstrated a lot of what he was doing and we just kind of hung out with him throughout the morning, watching him work.

turkey cullingI've obviously published much less graphic pictures in the paper about this process, especially since it's running on Thanksgiving. But hopefully y'all are used to this from me by now. Happy Thanksgiving!

cat on a truckAnd feel free to check out the article by Laura Peters from the News Leader.

family mennonite turkey farmthanksgiving turkeyscat on a fence post