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North Carolina's 'cute, urban farms' part of a growing new wave of turkey producers

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BOLIVIA — While most people only think about turkeys during the holidays, Maud Kelly enjoys watching them all year wobble on her family farm in this small town in Brunswick County.

“I raised quite a bit this year, and it’s the most I’ve ever raised,” she said. “It’s a crazy amount of work. They are really wacky birds. They’re fun, but they are a lot to keep up with. It’s like having 25 toddlers running around.”

Despite the obstacles, turkey farming in the region is not going away anytime soon, not with North Carolina being ranked second in the nation for turkey production.

A 2022 economic impact study showed the turkey industry in Brunswick County was responsible for $44.1 million in economic activity and created or supported 225 jobs.

For New Hanover County, the industry was responsible for close to $122 million with an impact on 660 jobs.

In Pender County, that figure was $21.8 million.

Kelly’s sustainable Greenlands Farm, which is in rural Bolivia, has been in the family for three generations. The clan began raising birds in the 1980s before taking a hiatus. Work resumed in the early 2000s, with tours of the farm in later years.

Kelly specializes in raising rare breeds such as the Heritage Midget White Turkey, which is around 8 to 12 pounds. It’s an alternative to raising commercial birds, which takes 12 to 14 pounds to mature for processing. The heritage turkeys on Greenlands Farm take about six to seven months to mature on 16 acres of land.

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“There’s a lot of care and cost that goes into raising them for that long,” she explained. “But the meat is definitely superb compared to a commercial turkey.”

With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, Greenlands Farm is ready to take orders for fresh birds — an alternative to the frozen types.

Raising turkeys isn’t cheap. Not these days. The cost of bird feed alone has gone up 15% since 2020. That comes out to about $2,500 every six months.

“It’s costing us twice as much to feed them compared to when we first started,” Kelly explained. “I call them little pigs on two feet. My other birds don’t eat as nearly as they do.”

Kelly is picky about what she feeds them. When supplies are available, she tries to provide high-quality offerings.

“We humanely raise them and process them, and they get a few hugs from me here and there, too,” she said. “They are really sweet birds. They are quirky, little birds. Anytime I have a conversation and laugh, they laugh with me.”

As the Wilmington area continues to grow, Kelly believes turkeys will have a place in the economy, especially farms like hers that offer agritourism.

“There’s a lot of cute, urban farms now,” she said. “It’s nice to see people supporting their local farms.”

To keep her birds safe from predators, and for them to eventually make it to a table, she added guard dogs.

“That’s been within the last three years,” she said. “Before then, I would walk out, and there would be 30 birds dead from a fox. It’s heartbreaking. My birds may be breeders or raised for meat, but they are loved every day by us. I’m a little different than some people. I love my animals no matter what they’re here for.”

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