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One sunny day in May a few years ago, two roommates and I drove out to a farm in the country to pick up a couple of three-week-old turkey poults. The farmer raised her eyebrows when we told her that we planned to keep them in our urban neighborhood in Berkeley, California. But we assured her that our turkeys would have a good life, and she relinquished the apple-size birds to us. They chirped plaintively throughout the entire hour and a half of our drive home.
The farmer was probably right to worry. None of us had ever had any turkey experience, unless you counted the kind that appears on your plate at Thanksgiving. A lifelong city-dweller, I had never spent so much as an afternoon on a farm, let alone raised my own livestock.
But that year, 2011, all of a sudden my friends and neighbors began to talk about farming and food. Michael Pollan's influential book The Omnivore's Dilemma had come out a few years earlier, and more recently, journalist and farmer Novella Carpenter had written her book Farm City about raising turkeys, goats, and even pigs in one of Oakland's grittiest neighborhoods.
On my block, chicken coops sprouted like toadstools overnight. Hipsters began haunting the farmers markets, flirting with each other over baskets of kale and collard greens. The poor butcher at the meat stall couldn't get a moment's peace, so surrounded was he by swooning girls. My friends and I signed up for weekly boxes of farm produce, which resulted in acrobatic feats of menu planning. For a while, if I typed "too much" into Google on my laptop, it automatically filled in "kohlrabi."
Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed
It didn't take long for our turkeys to get used to their new life in Berkeley. Until they were big enough to live outside, we kept them in our living room. There is a reason that people don't typically keep poultry in their living rooms: The birds poop everywhere and make your house smell awful. But what our turkeys lacked in personal hygiene they more than made up for with charm. In the evenings, they followed my two roommates and me from room to room, skittering along in an adorable half-flying, half-scurrying fashion. We taught them to fly from one couch to another. If I curled up in a chair to read a book, the birds would eventually arrange themselves on my lap and fall asleep. They looked like miniature dinosaurs.
When they were ready for an outdoor home, our across-the-street neighbors, a carpenter and a landscaper, built an impressive and spacious pen for the turkeys in their yard. I came over every morning with treats for the birds: raisins, nuts, and canned tuna for extra protein. They developed a particular taste for Trader Joe's arugula, which they could spot before I even took it out of the bag. They flapped their wings and nipped at me in anticipation. Both birds turned out to be hens — lucky for us and our neighbors, since male birds would have made a lot more noise.
Despite their bohemian upbringing, our turkeys thrived. By November they were 15 pounds each, big enough to feed a crowd. As Thanksgiving approached, we all agreed that we wanted to do right by these amazing creatures.