7214 S. M-66 Hwy.
Mancelona, MI 49659
Employees: Rick and Sue, plus one part-time employee, June to Thanksgiving. We need an additional 10 to 12 people at Thanksgiving.
Products: Pasture-raised turkey
Varieties: Broad breasted Whites and
Heritage Bourbon Reds
Farm Animal: Dutch, our German Shepherd
Favorite Tool: John Deere tractor, and meat grinder for making our ground turkey.
Favorite Recipe: Grilled turkey breasts that we marinate overnight.
Why do you love farming? Being in business for ourselves, being outside, working in the dirt and with the animals, watching them grow. We're producing something really good and healthy. That's rewarding. Farming is family friendly. We love that our kids grew up on a farm. They had a lot of fun out there, gathering the eggs in the barn or having egg fights with the cracked eggs and making huge forts out of the straw bales and then enjoying a picnic. We even found one of our kids sleeping on top of the egg case one day. To this day when our kids get together they bring up stories that happened on the farm, we all get a good laugh! Raising animals has also helped our kids learn how to manage their money. It taught them to be responsible, that you've got to earn your money, and that takes work hard. Our kids have good work ethics, and are dependable, conscientious, trustworthy, and not afraid to work.
What's challenging? You have to take good care of the birds. If you don't, they could get sick and die, and you can lose a lot. Another challenge is having the time to market our products. It's not always a 9-to- 5 job. We're constantly talking about the farm and trying to figure our how to market our products. It takes a lot of creativity!
What's unique about your products? Our turkeys are pasture raised, out in the open pasture where there's fresh air and where they can run. We feed them GMO-free feed. The birds are happy. They have plenty of omega 3 fatty acids. We have our own MDA- approved processing facility that's clean and sanitary and makes it less stressful on the turkey to only be a couple hundred yards from the pasture. There's so much care that goes into this. This is our livelihood, not a hobby.
Advice to new farmers: It's not easy to raise turkeys, it takes a lot of research, time, sweat and sense of humor! You should start small and talk to people who have done it before.
Future plans: We'd like to invest in a refrigerated truck and walk-in cooler. Always looking to expand our business and develop more delicious and healthy products.
By Janice Benson, Taste the Local Difference
Rick Duerksen has been raising turkeys most of his life. Photo by John Russell.
At Thanksgiving, there’s a farm in our region that deserves special thanks.
Duerksen Turkey Farm, in Mancelona, operated by Rick and Sue Duerksen, is one of the few farms in our are raising turkeys not just for the holidays, but all year long.
Back in the 1940s, Rick Duerksen’s grandmother used to raise 100 turkeys on her farm in Antrim County, and it became a family tradition. Rick’s father, Delmer, also raised turkeys for 15 years, in the late ‘50s through the early ‘70s. During his teenage years,
Rick helped his father with the birds and he learned a lot about raising poultry.
One summer, during driver’s training, he met a girl named Sue Hines, who had recently moved to the area from Lapeer with her family. The two became high school sweethearts and married soon after graduation.
“I never planned to marry a farmer,” laughs Sue. “With Rick, it must have been true love!”
Rick got a job driving a school bus for the Mancelona Public Schools, and he and Sue lived on a small farm before purchasing their current farm, on M-66, in 1979. They settled down and raised their four children there: Amy, Annie, Andrew, and Adam.
In addition to working for the schools and raising their family, the couple developed a breeding operation. Over the next 24 years they raised several thousand turkey-breeders and sold them directly to a hatchery in Zeeland. But in 2003 they were told that the hatchery no longer needed their breeders’ fertile egg supply.
After much consideration, Rick and Sue decided to put their farm up for sale. They kept it on the market for several years, and one family that came through said they were interested in raising organic chickens there. That family decided not to buy the farm, but their visit got the Duerksens thinking: Why not sell pasture-raised turkeys, rather than breeders?
“We thought, why couldn’t we do that?” says Sue. “We have the equipment and the knowledge. We felt there was a reason that we met that family and that the farm didn’t sell. God had his hand in it. He opened the door for our farm from the beginning.”
Building a New Business
So they investigated options and attended the Small Farm Conference, in Gaylord, to learn more.
“If we were going to do this, we wanted to do it right and make sure we could set ourselves apart,” Rick explains. “We wanted to produce a one-of-a-kind product and with the increasing number of people looking for delicious, healthy, clean meats, we knew that was the direction we wanted to head in.”
After months of research and discussion with other farmers and businesses, they purchased their first flock of turkeys and kept their focus on pasture-raised turkey products.
The Duerksen's sell their pasture-raised turkeys year round, not just during the holidays.
And before they made further investments, they did more research to see if there would be interested markets in the area. Rick called on a very good friend, George Shetler, who was bottling his own milk and selling it to local grocers.
“George recommended that I talk to Oryana Natural Foods Market,” says Rick.
Rick talked with Oryana and, sure enough, they were interested in having a source for local, pasture-raised turkey. That was enough incentive for them to get started.
In 2007, they began producing pasture-raised turkeys on their farm and processed the birds using a mobile processing unit during the Thanksgiving season for the next three years.
That first year they raised 200 turkeys; just five years later, in 2011, they raised 2,200 turkeys—an amazing amount of growth! Encouraged, they invested in their own MDA slaughter facility on the farm and began attending farmers markets and selling their turkey at local grocers.
Presently, they sell boneless, skinless, and bone-in turkey breasts, thighs, and legs with skin on, ground turkey, BBQ pulled turkey, summer sausage, turkey hot dogs, breakfast sausage, turkey brats (plain, cheese, mushroom & Swiss, and spinach & feta), smoked turkey, turkey taco meat, turkey soups, and more.
Their products are available at Oryana Natural Foods Market, The Grain Train Natural Foods, Evergreen Market, Willow Mercantile in Cadillac, Port City Organics, and Boyne Country Provisions, as well as at Green Tree in Mt. Pleasant.
They also attend the Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market and the Farmers Market at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons in Traverse City, as well as the Elk Rapids, Petoskey, Charlevoix, Harbor Springs, and Boyne City farmers markets. They sell to three food cooperatives, in Grand Rapids, South Lyon and Ann Arbor. Cherry Capital Foods also distributes their turkey to local restaurants, including Mission Table, Jolly Pumpkin, the Great Lakes Culinary Institute, and Julienne Tomatoes.
The Duerksens also sell turkeys direct, any time. They slaughter on a weekly basis, so they offer fresh turkey July through November, while frozen turkey is available year round. They recommend ordering early for Thanksgiving in order to secure the desired size of turkey.
Meanwhile, while they build their turkey business, Rick still works for the Mancelona Public Schools, as he has for the last 34 years. He also coaches the boy’s high school basketball team. Sue runs her own cleaning business and has built a strong client base over the last 18 years.
“Eventually we won’t have to work off of the farm,” Rick predicts. “We have a five-year and a 10-year plan, and we want this farm to be sustainable.”
The two are happy with what they have accomplished.
“There’s a lot of tenderness, care, and love that goes into this business,” Sue observes. “We mix that all together and feel a sense of accomplishment knowing we have put our best foot forward and given it our all in producing the best possible turkey products. This is a venture we feel passionate about and want to continue. We have had a tremendous amount of support from our customers, which continues to keep us inspired!”
“One of our customers came to pick up her Thanksgiving turkey one year and it was a very cold and windy day,” recalls Sue. “She had to stand in line for 20 minutes while we helped other customers. When the woman got to the front of the line, she handed us a loaf of homemade pumpkin bread and said, ‘I thought you guys could use this, because you do so much for everyone else.’”
“Talk about a blessing! People are really grateful and that means so much to us,” says Sue.
“We enjoy meeting our customers face-to-face. It’s builds relationships, knowing that we’re all supporting each other,” says Rick.