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Turkey the organic way

Chad Abraham
Jim Sorensen of Missouri Heights holds up a turkey for Aspen Elementary School students to see Wednesday. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.
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Oohs, aahs and wows filled Aspen Elementary School on Wednesday.And the decibel level only rose from there.Surrounded by awed students, Jim Sorensen lifted a turkey out of its pen by its legs. The large fowl flapped its wings loudly, sending the shrieking children scurrying.”I think they’re kind of cool,” said first-grader Kevin Callahan, “because of how their feathers look.”Others weren’t quite as sure.”It kind of scared me,” said Sabrina Oppenheimer, keeping a healthy distance from the animals. “I think they’re nice and stuff, but sometimes if they see a stranger they get a little angry.”

Indeed, the birds were a bit nervous and wouldn’t answer to gobble calls.But Sorensen, who raises organic turkeys on his property in Missouri Heights, put the kids at ease by holding one and letting them pet it before the students wandered back to class. His goal in bringing the three turkeys to the school was to let the children experience being around a farm animal.”A lot of them said they had seen turkeys before, but I doubt very seriously that any of them have ever really seen [the birds] live,” he said. “Just that experience, being close to something that’s alive, is really a good thing for them.”But Sorensen’s goals are much loftier.He helped found the Roaring Fork chapter of Slow Food, an international nonprofit group dedicated to preserving the biodiversity of the food chain. The educational organization works to promote ecologically sound food production and preservation of regional culinary traditions. Local members of Slow Food hope to introduce organic gardens at the valley’s elementary schools.With most of the food in America being produced and provided by giant corporations, many believe health concerns have fallen by the wayside in favor of profits. Slow Food is looking to make a difference in how people in America and around the world regard their culinary habits.While the students are too young to appreciate the difference, Sorensen’s organic fowl are a world apart from supermarket turkeys.

The latter were raised in deplorable conditions, he said.”They’re crowded side by side, shoulder to shoulder, standing in their own waste,” he said. “They’re fed a constant diet of antibiotics, steroids and arsenic as a growth stimulant. They grow so fast that their blood vessels will explode, so they have to feed them a downer.”When you’re buying a Butterball, you’re basically buying a drugstore.”Sorensen buys his turkeys, which, being organic, are smaller than those in grocery stores, as chicks from a certified hatchery to ensure they are disease free. He said organic turkeys have a vastly better taste than supermarket brands.In Missouri Heights, where he has about 100 turkeys, predators are a constant threat.”I had a lynx on my property last year,” he said of the cat that was recently re-introduced into Colorado. Sightings of the animals are extremely rare, but “I saw one haul off one of my turkeys.”



At the school yesterday, Sorensen spoke about the birds’ anatomy and their history and health benefits.But even the turkey expert was stumped by one inquiry.”Do turkeys fart?” a young voice called out.He hesitated for just a second – “Most likely.”Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com