FDA grad’s heritage turkeys featured on Martha Stewart

Published 4:41 pm Friday, December 10, 2010

Alabama-born and bred turkeys-straight from the care of a young farmer with local ties–made a special appearance on the “Martha Stewart Show” on the Hallmark Channel on November 23 and 24.

Birmingham chef Chris Hastings used heritage turkeys raised by Auburn grad Ann Barganier Randle, a Fort Deposit native and 2006 graduate of Fort Dale Academy, to prepare a holiday meal with lifestyles maven Stewart.

Randle, who works as part of a four-member team at Randle Farms near Auburn, raises heritage turkeys along with pastured chickens and ducks. This was her first year to try her hand at raising these ancestors of the broad-breasted white turkey commonly sold in supermarkets today. Hatched in Cullman, the heritage turkeys spent their entire lives in Alabama before making their way into a television studio.

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Randle says Hastings chose to use Randle Farms’ turkeys because of his familiarity with their produce and livestock.

“Chris has worked a lot with us in the past. His use of food from local farmers is how he first found us,” Randle said.

“So, when he was invited to be on the show and cook a Thanksgiving meal, he wanted to use the same high-quality, local food he uses in his restaurant. When he found out we were doing turkeys, he was excited to give us a little exposure.”

Randle says the free-range fowl raised on the small family farm offer benefits to consumers.

“As a rule, we don’t use any animal proteins, antibiotics or hormones in our meat production. If a wild turkey doesn’t eat it, our turkeys don’t eat it,” she said.

“That means you don’t have to worry about what’s in the food you are eating. It also means the birds grow slower, which gives them a lot more flavor than the industrial turkeys you buy in the store.”

Randle notes more and more Americans, even those who live in rural towns, are becoming increasingly disconnected with where their food is coming from. And it’s hurting our health, she says.

“As we’ve become further and further removed from our source of food, we’ve become less and less healthy. We are starting to see how all that cheap, highly processed stuff we’re eating is making us really sick with increasing rates of obesity, diabetes, cancers,” Randle said.

“Our goal is to provide our community with an alternative: real fruits, vegetables and meats. They know us, they know where their meals come from, and they know that they’re feeding their children something that’s good for them.”

It’s a challenge to change people’s mind-sets, Randle says.

“People don’t understand that cheap food is like a cheap car. You can either pay for it now, or pay for it later. A century ago, Americans spent 50 percent of their income on food; today, it’s about 10 percent,” she said.

“Our food speaks for itself. A California tomato just isn’t going to compete with an Alabama tomato-not here, anyway. As soon as people taste the things we grow, they’re hooked. We don’t worry about marketing. We just focus on providing the highest quality meat and produce, and it sells itself.”

Her biggest satisfaction working on the family farm, Randle says, is “getting to interact with our customers.”

“Most farmers don’t get to do that. When they like something, they can walk right up and tell us. And we get to teach them what we do and how we farm,” she said.

She met her new husband, Franklin, while interning on the farm as an Auburn student, and says he is “fun to work with-his mind works so differently from mine, we fill in the gaps for each other.”

Franklin, his father and brother have been on the farm full-time for about a decade, Randle says, and they are a great resource and encouragement for her.

“If it can go wrong, it’s gone wrong on the farm before,” Randle said.

It was her experiences working with Mary and Billy Croley of Greenville’s B&B Nursery that led her to fall in love with farming.

“It was there I realized for the first time that in farming, your brain works twice as hard as your hands. It’s the only work I’ve ever done that’s forced me to use mental and physical skills at the same time. The Croleys taught me to be proud of a days’ work, and they taught me how to work hard,” Randle explained.

“If you can’t work hard, you won’t work for them for long. If I hadn’t ever worked for them, I’d probably be a whole lot less satisfied with my life right now.”

To learn more about Randle Farms, visit www.randlefarms.com.