- photo by Susan Ornelas
- Free-range turkeys on Kokte Ranch
Now that Halloween is over, it's time to start thinking about the next big holiday, Thanksgiving, aka "turkey day." But first comes another turkey day, an Arcata tradition in the making known as The Awesome Autumn Feast. The idea is simple. "Eat from your watershed!" as it says on the event poster.
The concept for the feast came from Arcata City Councilwoman Susan Ornelas, who also serves as executive director of the Jacoby Creek Land Trust. The nonprofit land trust was founded 20 years ago to oversee a couple of hundred acres in the Jacoby Creek watershed, including the 63-acre Kokte Ranch in Bayside. (Kokte is what the Wiyots called the Bayside area.)
Ornelas started raising turkeys on the ranch a few years ago specifically for an annual dinner. This year the fresh-hatched turkeys came to Bayside at the end of May, shipped by mail from Fresno. "When they're babies I really baby them," said Ornelas. She collected pill bugs to hand feed the young turks, supplementing that with an organic grain blend. The free-range birds also eat a lot of grass on the ranch and whatever else they find ranging around. "They love spiders, and they'll eat slugs; they really like mustard greens," said Ornelas, noting that final plumping foods include pumpkins and apples.
At this point the birds are big, "maybe too big," said Ornelas -- 30-35 pounds each. On Thursday the turkeys will be slaughtered, chilled and distributed to local chefs who have until Sunday to come up with a unique gourmet preparation. This year's participants include Avalon, Brick & Fire, Bless My Soul, Cafe Brio, Carter House Restaurant 301, Folie Douce, Jambalaya, The Other Place, Plaza Grill and Wildplatter Café, plus Uniquely Yours catering and Chef Brett Shuler.
On feast day, Sunday, volunteers will prepare side dishes using produce donated by Paul Giuntoli's Warren Creek Farms and Willow Creek Farms. The cooked turkeys will be delivered and a meal will come together. Chef Shuler will also oversee the Sunday volunteer prep/serving crew (including this writer). Meanwhile, volunteer pie makers are cooking up their specialties for a pie auction. Ornelas has gathered work from local artists for a silent art auction. Proceeds help fund the land trust's conservation and education programs.
The Awesome Autumn Feast takes place on Sunday, Nov. 11, starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Arcata Community Center, 321 Martin Luther Jr. Way. Tickets are $35, $20 for youth, free for kids under 5 and are available at Wildberries Marketplace, or by calling the Jacoby Creek Land Trust at 822-0900.