How these B.C. farmers turned a patch of land into a turkey paradise
For Andrea Gunner and her husband, Steve, “building something out of nothing” is more than a saying. It’s their reality.
The couple moved to the Okanagan in 1992 with a dream to buy acreage and build a farm where they could raise chickens. While they didn’t have a significant amount of money to invest, they found a plot they could afford and took the plunge.
What they would soon realize is that they’d purchased some of the most challenging terrain any farmer can work with. “We were young and kind of naïve, and we bought it in the wintertime when it was covered in snow,” says Andrea. When the snow melted, the grass was definitely not greener. The land had previously been logged and cleared, leaving only a thin layer of topsoil behind and a field of weeds that reached over Andrea’s head.
The two were heartbroken, but had hope. Andrea, a horticulturalist, had experience tending similar land when she lived in New Zealand. Thanks in part to a green thumb and in large part to their determination, the couple was able to transform the land over the next year by using a farming method called managed intensive grazing, or intense rotational grazing.
But the real change happened when the birds arrived.
In comparison to any four-legged species, chickens and turkeys actually build soil faster than any other animal. They do so by turning the earth, pulling weeds, and creating compost, which enriches the nitrogen content of the soil.
Less than thirty years later, Rosebank Farms is a thriving pasture-raised chicken and turkey farm. “Our [farm] looks like Kentucky. It’s lush and green and gorgeous.”
The difference to the landscape is quite staggering. “We’ve got topsoil now where we just had glacial till – think rock and lichen and no plants, no soil, no nothing,” Andrea shares. “It’s been a miracle, really.”
The farm has even become a mentor for others in the area who want to mirror their success. “We’ve been leaders in BC in terms of intensive pasture grazing. There are a bunch of farms that are getting into it now, but the fact is that we’ve been doing it since 1993,” Andrea states.
Talking healthier, more sustainable turkey
The birds might have saved Andrea and Steve’s land, but the relationship goes both ways. By being able to graze on constantly changing pasture, the birds enjoy a life that’s much healthier and peaceful than the lives of animals raised on commercial conventional farms.
“We don’t use antibiotics, we don’t use growth hormones, we don’t use anything like that. And we’ve been able to raise healthy birds outside at the mortality rates that the commercial conventional growers use with all of their control over the environment,” Andrea explains. The birds also feed on certified organic grain that’s milled every week.
“We have no control over the environment, and yet we’re producing healthy birds without antibiotics -- which of course they’re using -- and getting better quality.”
Turkeys are naturally curious, which is why it’s important to let them explore new terrain. Rosebank Farms contains over nine acres of diverse pasture over which the turkeys roam, and they’re given toys and objects that enrich their lives and help them build strong muscles.
Even the soil, which the farmers and their animals have worked so hard to cultivate, enriches the quality of the meat. “The turkeys and chickens have helped us build this organic soil, and it’s really rich in micronutrients [like B vitamins],” says Andrea. “When you look at the nutritional quality of meat that’s raised on pasture, whether it’s grass-fed beef or pork or anything, we need those nutrients as humans, as meat-eaters.”
All these components of the soil – think calcium and potassium, among others – go into the final product, and it truly shows in the taste and quality of the meals their customers enjoy.
Rosebank Farms recently partnered with MeatMe, a farm-to-table operation that connects customers with their network of trusted British Columbia farmers, ranchers, and fisherfolk. The company prides itself on delivering always-fresh protein to families across the province. Through the subscription service, Andrea and Steve have been able to share their products with more shoppers than ever before.
In the days following Thanksgiving or Christmas, the two inevitably receives calls from families who’ve purchased her products. “People say, ‘Sorry to interrupt your Thanksgiving or Christmas Day, but I just had to tell you, this is the best turkey I have ever had in my life,’” she adds.
Her best tip for ensuring a perfect bird on the big day? “Debone a chicken, duck, turkey, quail, whatever you’ve got,” she says. Not only will this reduce cooking time, but result in a more succulent and tender meal.
Raising animals at this level of quality doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time and care, which the farmers are happy to put in. “That’s what makes us different. The meat itself has integrity, both in the way we raise it, but also the actual caliber of the meat.”
Order your own pasture-raised turkey from Rosebank Farms through MeatMe today and be the talk of the town (or at least, your table) come Thanksgiving dinner.