A few years ago, not too long after moving to Salem, I invited friends and family up from California to celebrate Thanksgiving with an Oregon feast. I wanted to impress my guests with the bounty of my newly-adopted state, and, especially for Thanksgiving, I wanted all the food I served for dinner to be locally grown, as befits the true meaning of a harvest feast. I began my hunt for a Thanksgiving turkey at the beginning of November – I wanted an organically grown, free-range, humanely raised, local turkey. Given the abundance of the Willamette Valley, how hard could that be? I checked all the usual stores; I found organic turkeys, free-range turkeys, and even some fairly local turkeys, but no turkeys that fit all my criteria. I didn’t want to order a turkey from out of state; I wanted an Oregon turkey.
I was afraid I was doomed to disappointment, until I found Afton Field Farm.
On 106 acres near Corvallis, Tyler and Alicia Jones raise not only free-range turkeys, but pastured chickens, pigs, beef cattle, and sheep with multi-species, managed-intensive rotational grazing methods that are modeled on those Tyler was taught as an apprentice on Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm.
These methods attempt to mimic the symbiotic grazing relationships found in Nature – where varied herds, in practically constant movement, provide the land with extreme soil disturbance, followed by periods of rest. At Afton Field, cattle graze one pasture for a short time, then are moved to another field. Chickens are brought in next, in mobile coops, to scratch and peck in the soil and manure. The cattle at Afton Field are free of parasites because the chickens eat the larvae of any intestinal parasites that the cattle may have deposited, breaking the cycle of infestation. Tyler never plows the land – the cattle’s hooves churn the soil enough for any re-seeding that is necessary. During the winter, the cattle are confined to an open barn, bedded on straw, to keep them from over-working the soil when it is water-saturated.
Sheep, which are lighter on their feet and eat different grasses than their bovine companions, graze the pastures year-round. Pigs forage and root in the oak woodland. As much as possible, Tyler and Alicia strive to allow the animals on Afton Field Farm to live their natural lives, out of doors, following their natural instincts.
Afton Field is not certified organic, but follows organic practices. The Joneses do not use any pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers and the animals do not receive routine antibiotics or growth hormones.
The chickens produce enough manure to fertilize 1/3 of the property every year and the bedding from the winter barn is spread as well; manure is the only fertilizer used or needed.
The butchering of large animals is done at the USDA facility in Mt. Angel; poultry is butchered on the farm, using humane methods. “Death is a disconnect in our society,” Tyler says. On their website, Afton Field shows photos of poultry butchering and allows interested people to help with the process through classes or personal demonstrations.
Tyler sat with me at his kitchen table, talking passionately about farming. From the kitchen window we looked down the hill over a spread of green pastureland, and the white curve of the hoop houses sheltering chickens. Farming is astonishingly hard work, but, carried out in this way, working in accord and within the strictures of Nature, it seems to offer a sense of meaning that few, if any, other occupations provide. As Tyler and Alicia say on their website: “We are committed to . . . the raising of food in ways that are respectful to the soil, animals, local community and the natural ecosystems we inhabit in an ongoing effort to be reverent participants in the grace that is our land and lives. “
Tyler and Alicia are dedicated to selling locally, and to fostering the connection between consumer, farmer, and food.
Afton Field sells its meat and eggs through its on-line buying club, with monthly deliveries to Salem, Portland, Corvallis, and Eugene; through its customizable CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares that are picked up at the farm weekly; at the Corvallis Saturday Farmer’s Market; and to a number of high-end restaurants in Portland, Corvallis, Albany and Eugene (hello, Salem chefs?).
Oh, and my Thanksgiving? It was an unqualified success: acorn squash, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, garlic, and salad from my backyard garden; cranberries from Bandon, pie from a pumpkin purchased at the Salem Saturday Market in October; Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot. And the piece de resistance – the Afton Field turkey- crispy skin, juicy, plump, moist, unctuous, flavorful; (I risk descending into food porn) with sage stuffing and gravy. My guests were impressed and sated; I was happy.
Afton Field Farm turkeys are only available at Thanksgiving time; mark your calendar, get on the list.
For more information: aftonfieldfarm.com