In the Fournier Free Range Food mobile processing trailer, Doug Hamm cleans a fresh turkey from Julie's Happy Hens in Mont Vernon.
MONT VERNON -- Julie Whitcomb knew all along that the turkeys in her flock would end up as Thanksgiving dinner, but while they were under her watch, she made sure they had the best life a turkey could have.
Whitcomb, owner of Julie's Happy Hens, a farm in Mont Vernon, raises free-range turkeys at the Trow Farm, which serves as a kind of annex to her poultry farm just up the road. At the Trow Farm, a historic property, Whitcomb housed her brood of more than 60 turkeys.
"These turkeys go outside every day and wander about as much as possible," she said.
Last weekend, knowing that the turkeys weren't long for this world, Whitcomb took them for long walks in the woods around Trow Farm, and let them gobble to their hearts' content.
But on Monday, Craig Fournier and his mobile poultry processing team from Fournier Free Range Foods arrived to help prepare the turkeys for their role as the main course for dozens of families on Thanksgiving day.
Fournier, of Hudson, operates the only USDA-inspected mobile processing units in the state. He uses a retrofitted camper to transport the state-of-the–art equipment from farm to farm, where he and his crew of three work to humanely and efficiently dispatch and process different types of poultry including chickens, ducks and turkeys.
The team works quickly, plucking, cleaning, shrink-wrapping and freezing the birds, all in the back of Fournier's trailer.
Fournier has a culinary arts degree and worked at a variety of restaurants, hotels, and nursing homes. But he got his start at a local farm.
"I was asked to help process chickens at a farm where I was donating my time," he said. "From there I took my history and experience in the culinary arts and applied that to what we were doing at the farm and we opened a processing facility."
But Fournier began to realize that for smaller farmers, like Whitcomb, putting the birds in crates and transporting them to a processing facility was a lot of effort. He designed the mobile processing unit, had it inspected by the USDA and the state, and began traveling to the farms.
The turkeys raised by Whitcomb, and her husband and co-farmer, Matt Gelbwaks, are of a heritage breed, which means they are closer to their wild relatives than commercially raised turkeys. Whitcomb said she hires Fournier because she knows her birds will be handled humanely and the end result will be a turkey or chicken that's been properly cleaned and processed.
Gelbwaks said that Fournier and his team are trained in safe food-handling procedures.
"It's worth having him come out and clean the birds properly," Gelbwaks said.