Thousands of turkeys squabbled and gobbled at Sho Nuf Turkey Farm in late September, making space for Damascus resident Chris Bohrer as he entered one of their barns to show them off.
It’s November, however, when the energy at Bohrer and his wife Tanya’s farm reaches a peak.
“People are willing to wait in line 30 minutes, just to buy a turkey” in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, Bohrer, 54, said. After decades of shopping at grocery stores for convenience, “now, people are reverting back to … wanting to know where their food is coming from.”
The Bohrers’ farm is one of a handful in Howard County that put turkey, beef, vegetables, wine and more on local tables during the fall and through the holiday season. Buying locally raised meat and produce is one way for residents to get the freshest food — and to give their neighbors a boost.
“You’re supporting number one, local business, but in this case, local agriculture,” said Bohrer, a retired Montgomery County police officer in his 36th year working on the Fulton turkey farm.
Sho Nuf Turkey Farm got its start in 1938, under a different name, when Tanya Bohrer’s grandparents received turkeys as a wedding gift. Today, it’s still a family-run operation.
Starting in late June, the farm received batches of day-old “poults,” or young turkeys, every three to four weeks through August, primarily from a hatchery in Harrisonburg, Virginia. During their lives on the farm, when they’re mature enough, the turkeys are free to roam outside their barns.
“Our turkeys aren’t stressed,” Bohrer said. Rather than being driven on a truck to a processing plant miles away, Sho Nuf turkeys are processed on site. “We’ll open a door to the barn and they’re naturally curious; they’ll come outside and they’ll find the easiest way to go [to the processor].”
When the antibiotic-free birds are sold to be cooked for Thanksgiving meals, they’re “very, very juicy,” Bohrer said. He attributes that to Sho Nuf birds being chilled in ice and water at a less-rushed pace than at some other processing plants.
Bohrer’s greatest expense, he said, is the birds’ feed — costing about $300,000 per season. Because turkeys are a “fickle creature,” the most difficult part of raising them is keeping them alive. To predators like foxes and skunks, the barns full of turkeys look like a “buffet” and last year, avian influenza took a toll at many hatcheries.
Around 20,000 turkeys are raised each year on Bohrer’s farm and most are sold ahead of Thanksgiving. In addition to selling directly to customers, who can place requests for different sized birds online, Bohrer also fills bulk orders and has wholesale partnerships, including with MOM’s Organic Market.
Bohrer said he and everyone who helps out at the farm “really put our heart, our sweat, our energy into making a quality, quality product.”
Elsewhere in Howard County, farm work is also a family affair.
Woodbine resident Kelly Hensing moved to Maryland in 2010 and started Hensing’s Hilltop Acres with a dairy cow she bought so that she could make unpasteurized milk. Now, she, her husband and their youngest son raise 100% grass-fed beef, lamb, pork and chicken on their 50-acre farm.
“It’s a fresher kind of meat that’s been sourced locally. It hasn’t been potentially trucked across the country,” said Hensing, 48. In the fall, she had several hundred chickens, fewer than 10 pigs, around 15 dairy cows and about 20 beef cows.
Special requests for tenderloin and rib roast cuts abound approaching the winter holidays. Each month Hensing takes a small number of her livestock to a U.S. Department of Agriculture processor, a requirement in the state to sell by the cut, she said.
She sells products from the farm at farmers markets in Ellicott City and Clarksville, May through early November. People can also place orders online and swing by Hensing’s Hilltop Acres daily, or pickup locations in Columbia and Ellicott City two days each week.
“Their money’s staying in the community,” Hensing said of customers supporting her farm and others in the area.
In late October and November, Casey Caulder, who runs Woodbine’s Breezy Willow Farm with her brother and parents, fields requests for another popular holiday menu item: pumpkins.
“There are pumpkins that are specific for eating … it’s called a hubbard [squash],” Caulder said of the bluish, gray-hued fruit that she raises on her farm. “That’s what they traditionally use for pumpkin pie.”
Caulder was growing the squash variety in September and said she’d harvest them in October. Once picked, they can be saved for months if kept in cool and dry conditions, she said.
“Knowing where your food comes from and knowing that it hasn’t been stored somewhere in a warehouse forever and picked when it’s not ripe, there’s a huge difference in flavor,” said Caulder, who shares recipes with those subscribed to her weekly newsletter. “You’re eating with the seasons.”
On her farm, she grows tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers, eggplants, kale and other crops, available via a CSA program and at Breezy Willow Farm Country Market, where customers can buy a wide range of locally sourced food, including made-to-order pies for the holidays, she said.
For a beverage fit for a feast, look no farther than Cooksville’s Penn Oaks Winery, open year-round to visitors on Sundays, weather permitting, said Maura Cahill.
Cahill, who owns and operates the winery with her husband, Jan Luigard, started the vineyard in 1997 after Luigard developed an interest in winemaking while living in Germany. “There’s a lot that goes into growing grapes,” she said.
In Howard County, the couple has been growing five varieties of grapes — riesling, Gewürztraminer, Montepulciano, Müller-Thurgau and regent — on Penn Oaks Winery’s 37-acre farm. A small crew of people harvest them by hand in September, so that they can be run through a machine that breaks up the grapes’ skins and takes them off their stems, Cahill said. Then, the grapes and juice go into barrels. Over the winter, work continues to prune and look after the vines.
This year, the spotted lanternfly, an invasive bug relatively new to Maryland, showed up in Cahill’s vineyard; she’s been managing the pests by spraying them with soapy water to slow them down, so that she can squish them.
But the wine is still flowing at Penn Oaks, where guests can bring their own picnics or board games, buy bottles to take home, enjoy the tasting room and take advantage of “wine education,” Cahill said.
For a Thanksgiving meal with turkey, she suggests a white wine, like a Gewürztraminer, riesling or Müller-Thurgau. For Christmas, to pair with roast beef and potatoes, a rosé or a red wine like a cabernet sauvignon, a Montepulciano or a regent would be Cahill’s pick.
“You’re supporting the local economy and the land itself,” she said.
Sho Nuf Turkeys
11788 Scaggsville Road, Fulton. shonufturkeys.com
Breezy Willow Farm
15307 Frederick Road, Woodbine. breezywillowfarm.com
Penn Oaks Winery
14607 Riggs Meadow Drive, Cooksville. penn-oaks-winery.com