Memories of the Beltsville Turkeys

By
Real Estate Broker/Owner with ViewHomes of Clark County - Nature As Neighbors

Memories of the Beltsville Turkeys

 

This Thanksgiving season, I read, more folks are looking for small turkeys. The news brings back mixed memories.

 

I (Bernie) was born in Washington, D.C. when my parents lived in a small apartment on K Street. (No, not upscale lobbyist K Street, rather the unassuming residential one.) But they wanted more room for a growing family, so they moved us out to a remote place in the country: Beltsville, Maryland.

 

Known only for its USDA Research Center, the town back then was mostly vast stretches of farmland and homes with acreage. It had one general store. It was rural.

 

To keep us connected to our city roots, we were sent to parochial schools in D.C. There, we quickly learned that our new home was considered a backwater of illiterates by the more "cultured" city folk.  They referred to us as "Beltsville Turkeys", a small breed of bird developed by the Research Center.

 

Not being the combative sort, I got even the best way I could in a competitive prep school - better grades. The moniker was quickly dropped and the "cool kids" suddenly wanted to befriend me - if only to copy my class notes. So the barbs quickly subsided and the indignity eventually forgotten.

 

Until this week. Apparently, this is the year of the small turkey.  With more families hosting smaller groups, the demand for large birds is way down. And, consequently, there is a shortage of small turkeys. Grocers are desperate for smaller birds as we downsize our gatherings this thanksgiving.

 

 

This brought back memories of the esoteric Beltsville turkey.  I did some research to see where we could find one. It turns out, it is all but extinct. An ambitious effort by the USDA provided affordable protein during the 1930s. A heritage bird (naturally reproducing), it averaged 9-12 lbs., required less feed, was free-ranging, and easily fit into the small refrigerators and ovens of the time. Grown commercially in the 1940s and 50s, they were extremely popular and showed promise for developing Third World agriculture.

 

However, the U.S. market dwindled in the 1960s and 70s as progress brought "bigger is better". The breed fell out of favor as consumers wanted bigger roasters.  Commercial restaurants and delis preferred the larger birds because there were more "slices per bird." Todays commercial turkey is a hybrid strain bred specifically for faster meat production. They are artificially inseminated, raised in confinement with automatic feed systems.  The Beltsville is not available commercially, and is now raised only as an "exotic" breed.

 

Which is a shame, because it could fill a lucrative niche in the market - smaller turkeys, raised naturally - something more and more of today's consumers find appealing.  While turkey is popular throughout the year - not just at Thanksgiving, the challenge is finding a smaller bird when you don't have as many guests to feed.

 

It's time. Let's hear it for the return of the Beltsville Turkeys!

 

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Building Your Niche
Birds
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Tags:
thanksgiving 2020
smaller birds
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Ambassador
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Kathy Streib
Room Service Home Staging - Delray Beach, FL
Home Stager - Palm Beach County,FL -561-914-6224

Hi Debb and Bernie= Bernie, I feel your pain when those who were ignorant thought you were part of a backwater of illiterates. I can remember Larry having to hold me back when someone from up north called all of us from Texas hicks and uncultured. 

I ended up with a 17 lb turkey this year and hope it's enough. 

 

Nov 24, 2020 06:30 PM #23
Rainmaker
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Laura Cerrano
Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island - Locust Valley, NY
Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher

You really should consider all options when trying to help our world live sustainably.

Nov 25, 2020 05:07 AM #24
Rainmaker
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Brian England
Vacasa - Gilbert, AZ
MBA, GRI, REALTOR® Real Estate in East Valley AZ

That is awesome that you proved them wrong by getting better grades than them!

Nov 25, 2020 05:33 AM #25
Rainmaker
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Grant Schneider
Performance Development Strategies - Armonk, NY
Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes

Good morning Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD  Bernie - I know Beltsville and the USDA.  I think that is interesting.  Trends come and go and you may be making a real prediction of the return of the Beltsville Turkey.

Nov 25, 2020 05:46 AM #26
Rainmaker
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Kat Palmiotti
406-270-3667, kat@thehousekat.com, Broker, Blackstone Realty Group - brokered by eXp Realty - Kalispell, MT
The House Kat

Yes, bring back the Beltsville Turkeys! I'd sign that petition....

I have to admit, we're having Montana turkey for Thanksgiving. A very organic one. 

Enjoy your day!

Nov 25, 2020 05:50 AM #27
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Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD
ViewHomes of Clark County - Nature As Neighbors - Camas, WA
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Awww, sorry.  Nina Hollander maybe order out and support a local restaurant.  I too wouldn't want to hobble around to cook a Thanksgiving dinner. 

Nov 25, 2020 08:22 AM #28
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Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD
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Hi Kathy Streib - OMG, the plain ignorance of people making assumptions about other people. Makes me nuts.

I'm guessing you two are going to have a fabulous Thanksgiving - and 17 pounds is a pretty good size turkey. I think they figure one and a half pound per person. I can't remember how many of your family members you are hosting. At any rate, the sides take up a lot of room in stomachs too. :) 

Nov 25, 2020 08:25 AM #29
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Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD
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So true Laura Cerrano Happy Thanksgiving Eve. 

Nov 25, 2020 08:26 AM #30
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Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD
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Hi, Brian England, yes, it is one of the better (and safer) forms of revenge! -B.

 

Nov 25, 2020 08:29 AM #31
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Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD
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Grant Schneider I'm impressed you know about Beltsville.  Most people don't realize the extensive research fields they once had.  We were lucky to grow up in that environment. -B.

Nov 25, 2020 08:31 AM #32
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Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD
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Kat Palmiotti Thanks for your support! I mentioned to Debb that there is a conservancy in Iowa that is keeping the breed alive.  So I said maybe we should raise them here to preserve them.  She said I would end up sleeping outside with them if that ever happened!!  Enjoy your Montana turkey - I'm sure it will be great! -B.

Nov 25, 2020 08:36 AM #33
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Kat Palmiotti In all fairness, it's because somebody would have to protect them from predators. Finnegan isn't much of a guard dog - more of a welcome committee. Lol. D

Nov 25, 2020 08:38 AM #34
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Michael Jacobs
Pasadena, CA
Los Angeles Pasadena 818.516.4393

Hello Bernie(and Debb too) - when I saw the name Beltsville in your post title, I did think of Washington, DC.  Although I lived there as an adult and didn't know/truly understand the feelings toward the area, I wondered about the not-so-subtle snobbery towards it.  Thanks for the filling in more-of-those-missing-blanks.  It's definitely an ongoing education.   Years, even decades, later.  

Nov 25, 2020 01:45 PM #35
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Debe Maxwell, CRS
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What a wonderful story, Bernie! I hate you had to go through the negativity at first but, you showed them, didn't you?!!

Funny but, we didn't have any trouble finding a smaller turkey this year. It did make me a little sad to buy such a small one because we always host a very large dinner for Thanksgiving. This year, it will be small and quiet and we may even get the Christmas decorating done early this year! 

I hope you and Debb and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with joy and many blessings!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Nov 26, 2020 04:21 AM #36
Ambassador
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Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD
ViewHomes of Clark County - Nature As Neighbors - Camas, WA
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Hi Michael Jacobs .  We probably wouldn't have known about the cultural divide if we had not gone to schools in D.C. Funny thing, all of my aunts and uncles thought my parents were crazy for moving out to the "hinterlands."  Guess who also moved out there over the years?   Happy Thanksgiving! -B.

Nov 26, 2020 08:41 AM #37
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Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD
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Debe Maxwell, CRS Glad you could find the "right" size bird.  Let's hope we can all return to larger gatherings next year.  We miss that aspect of the holidays.  Happy Thanksgiving! 

Nov 26, 2020 08:44 AM #38
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John Juarez
The Medford Real Estate Team - Fremont, CA
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This year, with just the two of us dining, the need for a small turkey is not evident. We procured a turkey breast, drumstick and thigh. That will be enough - together with side-dishes and pie to fill the two of us and provide the required left-overs for another day.

Nov 26, 2020 09:13 AM #39
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Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD
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John Juarez I think your menu is very similar to others celebrating as a two-some.  Sounds about right.   Happy Thanksgiving. D

Nov 26, 2020 09:19 AM #40
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Michael J. Perry
KW Elite - Lancaster, PA
Lancaster, PA Relo Specialist

We always seem to have way too much turkey every time we host ! The smaller ones make sense .

Nov 26, 2020 06:20 PM #41
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Jeff Dowler, CRS
eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Carlsbad, CA
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That’s a great story, Bernie! I remember Beltsville from living in the College Park area in my college days. Smaller turkeys make more sense in my opinion, at least this year

Sorry the early years were kinda negative but you certainly showed them!

Jeff

Dec 03, 2020 10:22 AM #42
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