Nearly 46 million turkeys are raised in Minnesota each year, making the state the nation’s top producer. By Thanksgiving, roughly one-third of 1 percent of those birds will hail from Ferndale Market in Cannon Falls.
The farm is named for its founders: Dale Peterson, who started the operation in 1939, shortly before he met and married his wife, Fern. Their son, Dick, and his wife, Jane — and their son, John, and his wife, Erica — now run the family business, selling to Twin Cities restaurants, natural foods co-ops and supermarkets.
Ferndale raises Nicholas broad-breasted white turkeys, a common breed. But they’re treated uncommonly. It’s a short life — hens mature in four to five months, toms go a month or two longer — but the birds stay clear of cages, antibiotics and other intrusions of large-scale turkey production. Instead, they free-range in the fresh air, feasting on grasses in the farm’s pastures and finding shade under sheltering oaks.
“We’ve all seen those horrific pictures from poultry farms,” says Tracy Singleton, owner of the Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis, a leader in the local foods movement and a Ferndale customer for five years. “This is a world apart. The farm is beautiful. They’re happy turkeys, they have room to roam. That’s a product we want to sell, and it tastes great. It’s the reason why we go through a ton of turkey burgers.”
— RICK NELSON