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From farm to feast

By Staff | Nov 17, 2017



JEWELL – When they’re babies, they’re cute; when they’re adults, they’re tasty. They’re also raised in Iowa by farmers who take pride in being eighth in the U.S. in turkey production.

Iowa’s turkey industry has more than 100 turkey farms that raise more than 11 million turkeys annually. Producers such as John and Andria Volkmann of rural Jewell own and operate one of those farms.

John Volkmann started out working for a farmer raising nursery pigs, but knew he wanted to farm on his own. It isn’t always easy for young adults to get started in farming if they don’t have a family operation to merge into, so Volkmann brainstormed how to get a foothold in farming.

“My husband worked all through high school and college for an amazing family that raised hogs and grain farmed. They have always been very supportive and encouraging,” Andria Volkmann said.

It turned out that turkeys were the answer. John Volkmann contemplated contracting hogs or turkeys and decided turkeys were the better option.

Andria Volkmann graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in interior design, but after having their first child, she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. They felt that the time was right for them to jump into farming.

So the Volkmanns bought an acreage near Jewell and constructed a brooder house and two finisher barns, then brought in the birds. The operation officially took flight in 2002. Andria Volkmann said it was a totally different way of life for her.

“I grew up in Iowa City – a total city girl. It never even crossed my mind that I would end up living and working on a farm,” she said. “Everything was kind of a whirlwind.”

Four years later, they expanded their operation after West Liberty unveiled an incentive program for its growers to add barns. So the family added two additional finished barns and added on to their brooder.

Today, the producers raise an estimated 114,000 turkeys every year. They have six flocks of 19,000 that are delivered the day they are hatched. The Volkmanns raise each flock to 19 weeks of age. The turkeys remain in the brooder barn for five weeks, then they are transferred to the finishers where they live until they reach market age.

“We are on an eight- to nine-week cycle. So every eight to nine weeks, we are marketing birds or getting a new flock. Essentially, we raise turkeys year-round,” Volkmann said.

As members of West Liberty Foods out of West Liberty, all of the birds are processed there and marketed through the company. Even though turkeys are typically associated with Thanksgiving, the Volkmanns’ production schedule means they’re busy all year long and not just for the holiday. They also have an interesting niche market for their meat.

“None of our turkeys are sold as whole birds,” Andria Volkmann said “West Liberty Foods is the No. 1 supplier for Subway turkey sandwiches nationwide. West Liberty Foods is continually coming up with new marketing ideas to get our turkey on the market.”

This farm family now has two kids – daughter Taylor, a high school junior, and son Tanner, a high school senior. Both kids help on the farm.

“Whether it is with the turkeys or doing field work and everything in-between, we all four are 100 percent involved,” she said. “We farm full-time and raise kids full-time. Not only do we raise turkeys, but we also grain farm.”

Even though Volkmann participated in 4-H, because she was a “city girl,” she exhibited a variety of projects and working exhibits or speeches. She discovered at a young age that she was a “terrible cook.”

“Thankfully, my husband knew what he was doing and taught me everything,” she said. “Ever since I figured out what I was doing in the kitchen, I now love to cook. Whether it is for a house full of kids or friends that stop by, there is nothing better than hanging out with food and friends.”

“Our kids are very active and we usually only have one to two nights a week that we are all home together,” Volkmann added. On those nights, I will make a big supper and we all four enjoy that. My daughter and I love to do the holiday goodies. We always do the big Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, and it usually ends up being all four of us in the kitchen helping out.”

The Volkmanns embrace all products turkey, not just because they raise them, but because they’re a “very healthy meat to consume.”

“It is a great source of protein and lower in fat,” Andria Volkmann said. “Anything from turkey burgers, turkey bacon, turkey brats the list can go on and on. I use ground turkey or ground turkey sausage for any recipe.”

For their own holiday, Volkmann said they prefer to smoke their Thanksgiving turkey. She brines it for a week before the holiday, using a big five-gallon pail to cover it with water, then adds approximately one-fourth of a cup of salt and any favorite seasonings. She opts to use one-quarter of a cup Cookies seasoning, one-half of a cup brown sugar and then she drizzles honey over the bird. Then it sits in the refrigerator for a week before smoking it on the family’s pellet grill.

Volkmann shared some of her favorite recipes that take advantage of leftover turkey from Thanksgiving.

Shepherds pie

Depending on how many you are serving, spray a 9 by 13 dish or a smaller casserole dish.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Cube up or shred enough leftover turkey to generously cover the bottom of dish.

Then top with leftover gravy (if you don’t have leftover you could use a jar of turkey gravy.)

Then layer on your veggies, our family it is usually corn. (Whatever veggie works great.)

Then layer on your mashed potatoes.

Sprinkle a handful of shredded cheese over potatoes.

Bake for about 45 minutes.

Volkman bakes with a rimmed cookie sheet underneath in case gravy starts to bubble over.

Turkey and macaroni casserole

Heat oven to 350 degrees

Stir together 2 cups chopped cooked turkey, 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, 2 cups uncooked macaroni, 1/2 cup chopped onion 2 (10 3/4 once) cream of chicken soup and 2 cups milk.

Place in 3 quart casserole dish.

Bake for 30 minutes. Top with crushed potato chips and bake for another 30 minutes.

Note: This also works great with 1 1/2 pounds of cooked ground turkey.

Stuffed peppers

This recipe is for enough peppers to cover a 9 by 13 pan. Instead of standing peppers upright, Volkman cuts peppers in half and lay in pan.

Boil water – cut off top of peppers and remove the seeds. Boil for 5 minutes. Remove and let excess water drain from them.

Sautee 1 1/2 pounds of ground turkey sausage with 1 chopped onion

Stir in 1 (14.5 ounce) cream of mushroom soup, 1/2 cup uncooked rice, 1/2 cup water and 1 teaspoon Worchestire sauce.

Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until rice is tender.

Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup shredded cheese.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Top each pepper with meat mixture in baking dish. Combine 2 (10.75 ounce) cream of mushroom soup with water for gravy consistency. Pour over peppers.

Bake covered 25-35 minutes.

Spinach alfredo lasagna

Cook 12 ounces of lasagna noodles as directed

Brown 1 pound ground turkey sausage with 1/2 chopped onion.

Add to browned meat, one package frozen chopped spinach (thawed), 1 (17 ounce) jar of alfredo sauce, 1 (4 ounce) jar of mushrooms-drained and salt and pepper to taste.

In a bowl combine 1 egg, 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, 1 carton (15 ounce) ricotta cheese. Our family is not a big fan of ricotta cheese so I use cottage cheese. 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese. Mix well.

In an ungreased 13 by 9 pan layer a third of the meat mixture then noodles then 1/3 of cheese mixture. Repeat layers twice. Sprinkle with 1 cup shredded mozzarella. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting.


Stir together 8 ounce. cream cheese, 8 ounce shredded pepperjack cheese, and 1 1/2 tablespoon taco seasoning.

Fold in 1 pound cooked ground turkey or shredded turkey.

Divide among 8 flour tortillas

Tuck in sides and fold up each tortilla

Lay seam side down in a 9 by 13 baking dish

Spray tops of tortillas with cooking spray

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes

Turn over and bake an additional 15 minutes

Serve with cheddar cheese, salsa and sour cream

Crock-Pot shredded turkey

In a slow cooker, combine 2 pounds shredded turkey, BBQ sauce (enough to coat turkey evenly), drizzle with honey and sprinkle 1/2 cup brown sugar on top. Mix well. Cook in slow cooker for 6-8 hours on low.

Note: This is great for sandwiches or over a baked potato. Leftovers freeze great!

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