By Tessa Raebeck
When Richie King approaches the pen, the turkeys cannot contain their excitement. They flock towards the gate as he greets them and follow him around in a massive cluster. King appreciates the attention, but flattery can’t change the turkeys’ fate; with Thanksgiving around the corner, North Sea Farms and King’s Farm Stand in Southampton are in full preparation for the holiday season.
“A small farm with a little bit of everything,” North Sea Farms has been supplying East End families with their Thanksgiving turkeys since 1945. Richard King represents the third generation of the King family to work the land off Noyac Road, following in the footsteps of his father, Richard “Tate” King.
Brought to the farm as chicks in early July, some 700 turkeys are fully grown by mid-November. Their caretaking is fairly straightforward; the turkeys are fed and allowed to “run around outside,” according to Sam Dosch, who has been working on the farm since she was 14. Both King and Dosch maintain that the fresh feed and active lifestyle North Sea turkeys enjoy on the farm makes their taste – not to mention nutritional value – far superior to caged, mass-produced turkeys found elsewhere.
“It’s all about quality,” writes Julia King, an American College of Sports Medicine certified Health/Fitness specialist and Richie’s youngest daughter, on the farm’s blog on LocalHarvest.org. “It is time we all got back to basics with our food. By building relationships with your farmers you are building relationships with your food. And, as in any good relationship, if you take the time to nurture it, it will give back far more than ever expected.”
The free-range, organic turkeys available on the farm range in size from 12 to 25 pounds. Some turkeys are naturally bigger, but activity and “which ones are pigs and eat more food” can also determine size, said Dosch. The main determinate of a larger sized turkey is simple: “they hang out a little longer,” according to Dosch.
With perceived cultural shifts away from eating meat and a new children’s film in theaters, “Free Bird,” about the plight of Thanksgiving Turkeys, King is wary that turkey sales will suffer this year, but Dosch is hopeful that social media outlets like the farm’s Facebook page will continue to draw new customers. If all else fails, North Sea Farms can always rely on the regulars, with countless local and visiting families returning every year.
“People kind of slowly start ordering in October,” said Dosch. “But then like a week or two before Thanksgiving, there’s a mad panic and that’s when the phone won’t stop.”
In addition to turkeys, North Sea Farms sells a wide variety of produce, fresh herbs and baked goods to fill Thanksgiving tables.
“We have everything but stuffing mix here for Thanksgiving,” said Dosch, who, while outlining the staples of a fresh and organic Thanksgiving table available in the shop, categorized the food not by type, but by the member of the King family who makes it.
Richie King’s wife, Robin, makes and sells her renowned cranberry sauce and may add homemade gravy to the line-up this season. Richie’s sister, Kathleen King, is the force behind Tate’s Bake Shop, named after her father and started out of the family farm stand when she was 11. She continues to supply King’s Farm Stand with all their baked goods, and an assortment of pies, tarts and other Thanksgiving treats are available for sale.
Most produce is grown on the farm and all of it is grown locally. Outside the shop’s entrance, wooden carts filled with colorful squash, pumpkins and other seasonal vegetables greet visitors. When families pick up their turkeys, they can explore the farm, learn about the day-to-day operations and visit the family’s two goats, Jiggy and Gilbert. Gilbert has been accompanying King to local schools and petting zoos for 13 years.
With cranberry sauce made by Robin, pumpkin pies baked by Kathleen and turkeys raised by Richie, the King family invites other families to enjoy their harvest as much as they do this holiday season.
North Sea Farms and King’s Farm Stand are located at 1060 Noyac Road in Southampton. For more information, call 283-0735 or visit their page on Facebook.