Humble Homestead poultry paradise
Brenda Bank talks turkey, regenerative farming, and agritourism
Gombert and Bank stand beside their poultry pen; the birds are rotationally grazed in four separate areas.
Photos by Wendy Swearingen
I’ve driven by this pretty swath of land on Route 93 in the Town of Porter twice a day, every day, for years. Nothing changed except seasons. Sumac turned red, scrub and brush turn green then brown then white with snow, then green again. Suddenly, one day this spring, the landscape transformed. The land, nestled between Tom Tower’s farm to the west and a small family farm to the east, was cleared. Posts wrought of huge tree trunks formed a circle a quarter mile into the property. A gravel drive went in, leading…nowhere. Then, when the weather warmed a bit, a propane tank was installed—sure signs of imminent occupancy. A red barn and other outbuildings followed. Land closest to the road was plowed and seeded. Weeks later, a huge field of black oil sunflowers emerged. Chatter and speculation about the property ran the gamut from a dollar store going in to a hops farm to cannabis production to a place to park the buses that took tourists to the Jet Boats in the Village of Youngstown.
It turns out the acreage was purchased by Brenda Bank, whom I happen to know through a mutual friend. She contacted me to inform me that she is now in the turkey biz and asked to be included in Spree’s guide to buying fresh turkeys (see guide here). Those enormous logs frame a big, grassy enclosure where the birds hang out during the day. Mystery solved! Now for the details:
Broad Breasted Whites; Brenda Bank holds the boss of the birds; Dave Gombert shares a sunflower head with the hens
What’s the history of this place and what are your plans?
We bought the land in April of this year with the intention of growing, not only regeneratively but organically and humanely.
Last year, we started up sort of as an experiment. I wanted to raise turkeys and I found the perfect person [partner Dave Gombert] who wanted to indulge me.
When we were selling the turkeys, our customers said, “I’m not going to buy it—I don’t care if it’s organic or whatever—unless I know it was raised humanely.” I thought, well, that’s easy, because we’re animal people. We’re not here raising what you might standardly find around here, the CAFos—the confined animal feed. They may be cage free, but they can be in a barn, shoulder to shoulder in artificial light. It was important for us, and obviously now to our customers, that they are actually outside and rotationally grazed. You won’t find many pastured poultry. It is pretty fabulous.
You took an intertest in raising turkeys and just researched it?
Yes. I’d read an article on this woman in Ithaca, my aunt sent it to me. She raises the Heritage Narragansett, so we found a commonality there. I just contacted her, and she said, “Come out and see me. You can ask any and all questions you possibly have.” We saw her setup, which was Dave’s inspiration for this pen.
We weren’t sure what was going up when we drove by. What are they, pine trees?
Black locust. They’ll never rot. Dave augured a hole five feet deep and put them in. We used an excavator to dig all the way around the pen two feet deep, so the predators can’t dig under the fence—the coyotes and the foxes and the racoons. We put the flocks inside at night.
What kind of birds do you have here?
The turkeys—the white ones are the Broad Breasted White, which are specifically bred to be eating machines, it’s what makes them grow so quickly. The others are Heritage Narragansett. They’re more akin to wild turkeys.
And you have guinea fowl. Are you going to sell those?
No, those are just for my own entertainment. They make an unbelievable racket. They’re very good alarms for predators.
Are you also selling eggs?
I am, but I’m such a small operation I only have a handful of customers so far.
What’s your vision for this place?
Long term, we’d like to become certified organic. For me, regenerative is even more important. We’d like to work a little bit more of the acreage and be able to offer fruit and produce that complement Tom Tower and Sanger farms. The goal is to become for the community a farm market row, so to speak. Since Route 93 is so busy, the visibility is there. We want to be able to complement these two—we’re not interested in competition. It would be nice for people to drive out—you’re going to Tom’s anyway, maybe you need some eggs or order a Thanksgiving turkey while you’re here. Stop at Sanger and get your pies or preserves or lunch. The goal is to offer something that’s not already available.
What does regenerative mean in this instance?
Regenerative means you’re starting from the soil and building up. A lot of farmers now are only familiar with using chemical fertilizers to enhance their crops and their yields. We want to build up, so that means introducing back organic matter into the soil rather than chemical. We will reuse the manures that we get from the chickens and turkeys—and you might have noticed that big pile of mulch out front. A friend of mine has an organic dairy, so we’ll bring manures from her as well. We’re adding back the nutrients that have long since gone, because this used to be farmed back in the early 1970s. From a health perspective, the quality of your fruits and vegetables will show when your soil health is optimum. For us, physically, it makes a big difference, too. Another goal is to be able to provide our own food for the poultry without having to outsource.
We don’t want to grow too quickly. It seems almost counterintuitive. As it is here, we’ve got plenty to do.