Of Pine Needles and Turkeys
The names read like an atlas of the poultry world: French Guinea Fowl. Japanese Quail. Chukar Partridge. Silkie Chicken. Black Spanish Turkey. Bobwhite Quail. But these birds are not scattered across a map. Two young farmers, Abra Morawiec and Chris Pinto, raise all those breeds in Jamesport, on a Peconic Land Trust-owned scrap of land they call Feisty Acres.
You can’t see the scrubby farm from the road. There are no tours nor, heaven forfend, a petting zoo, even though the chicks are very, very cute. It’s human instinct to reach for them, draw them near. But the game birds, which are pasture-raised and certified organic, have been selected less for their adorableness than for their superb flavor. Taken together, they constitute a veritable Noah’s Ark of heritage-breed species.
If you are in the market for a good-tasting local chicken, your options are few. There are the mass-produced supermarket chickens which, even if they are free-range organic, are insipid at best. Then there are the flaccid, overrated Cornish cross chickens, a quick-growing breed available on small poultry farms. If you talk to someone who buys these chickens, chances are they will rhapsodize about them. But what they are really going on about is the transaction itself. The sight of a chicken being wrapped in unwaxed butcher paper triggers a release of endorphins that makes it impossible to recognize these bland specimens for what they are. But now that we have Feisty Acres, no one within a hundred mile radius of Jamesport has any excuse for serving anything less than a rich, grassy-flavored game bird ever again.
Morawiec learned the rudiments of farming while stationed in Mali during a two-year stint in the Peace Corps. She thought she’d pursue a career in international relations. She dreamed of becoming a diplomat but found herself ill-equipped to deal with the civil servant mentality. After a series of false starts, she found herself pulled back to farming. At first, she worked for local farms on the North Fork growing vegetables. Then, in 2014, she got a job at Browder’s Birds in Mattituck. It was there that the seeds of Feisty Acres were planted.
“People would ask, Do you guys have guinea hens and partridges?” says Morawiec, who is dressed in a flannel shirt, leggings, work boots, and a baseball cap. “I thought, Oh! Somebody should raise these!” In the fall of 2015, she and her future partner, Chris Pinto, did just that, having learned from Chris Browder how to properly raise poultry on pasture and also how to process meat.
Their menagerie grew from there. “Our birds lead really sweet lives,” says Morawiec. They “demolish pasture,” forage for such high protein foods as insects, and dine on supplemental organic grains from a Mennonite farm in Pennsylvania. And when their time is up, the two farmers slaughter and process them at Browder’s Birds in Mattituck, the only certified organic processing unit on Long Island. Notes Morawiec: “We’re unique in that we don’t have to travel for hours stressing out our birds. We’re with them every step of the way, from the time they arrive on the farm until we pack them in bags.”
The farm sells poultry and eggs year-round, and even has a CSA. Morawiec is already looking ahead to Thanksgiving. In November, she and Pinto plan to move their turkeys through the cedar wood on their land. “It’s gonna be fascinating,” she says with excitement. “Turkeys love to eat little cedar needles and that will affect their flavor. People talk about terroir in regard to wine, but man, this is bird terroir. If you truly pasture-raise your animals, they’ll taste like no one else’s.”