SOLON– The Bald Eagle has been the natural representative of the United States since 1782, when congress adopted the gallant bird onto the centerpiece of the great seal. It is now an unmistakable figure of America, but founding father, Benjamin Franklin never agreed with the choice– he liked the turkey.
In a letter to his daughter, Franklin said the turkey, “is besides, though a little vain and silly, a Bird of Courage…”
Solon farmer, Carolyn Scherf, likes the quote so much that she decided to name her turkey-raising start-up business, “A Bird of Courage.” Her decision to breed turkeys began as an art project, and grew into a commercial endeavor that now includes a variety of poultry.
“There’s a certain amount of courage that goes into (starting a business),” Scherf said. “You say ‘I’m going to invest the money that I have and try to do this thing that I’ve never done before.’”
Scherf, 22, became interested in raising poultry as a student at the University of Iowa, where she took a course on art and ecology by Sarah Kanouse. She was entranced by the natural world and the modification of landscapes, which instilled within her a desire to discover better ways to interact with the land. So she started working and learning the trade with small-scale, non-traditional vegetable farms in the area– Salt Fork, Wild Woods Farm, ZJ Farms, and Wilson’s Apple Orchard, among others.
“So basically if you are raising good food in Johnson County, I’ve probably worked for you,” Scherf said with a chuckle.
But Scherf wanted to work with animals, too.
So her journey led her to a job at Savvy Coffee and Wine Bar in Solon, owned by livestock farmers, Bill Ellison and Lois Pavelka. As an interested amateur, she has learned much about raising livestock in her time with Pavelka and Ellison, who specialize in raising wholesome beef, pork, laying hens and lambs.
Scherf is proud that her birds of courage are delicious, and better for you.
“It’s fulfilling to produce food that is nourishing for people,” she said.
Scherf will not give her birds Genetically-Modified (GMO) feed, which is widely used among farmers in Iowa and other states. Last year, GMO corn and soybean varieties were planted in over 90 percent of Iowa row cropland. Scherf believes there are dangers that result from GMO-produced food, and hopes for a grassroots change in agriculture.
“It’s my sense that most of the people buying non-GMO feed are small-scale, non-traditional farmers,” Scherf said. “And so I’m excited to be a part of the group of people that’s creating a demand for that.”
It’s important for her birds to have GMO-free feed, which has been a challenge because of the extensive market for GMO corn and soybeans. She also believes in providing a docile, contented environment for her birds, which she said actually helps produce tastier meat. Not only that, but it has allowed her to sell some of her birds to families as backyard pets.
“With a chicken, you give it all these inputs, right? You feed it, and you get an output– you get eggs,” she said. “All my birds are dual-purpose, you get to have meat. You feed a dog and you know what you get.”
She has sold a few hens as backyard layers, and loves it when children ask for a chicken as a pet.
“I think it’s really cool to empower people with what they need to raise their own food,” she said. “It is important and it’s gonna become more important in the future.”
Most of her business centers around the holiday seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas, when just about everybody is in the market for a bird. She raises an assortment of breeds listed on the American Livestock Breed Conservancy’s list of rare breeds including Bourbon Reds, Narragansetts, Royal Palms, Black Spanish, and Lavenders.
Scherf’s Heritage Turkeys are mostly marketed directly to consumers, and can be ordered online (www.abirdofcourage.com ) and picked-up at Wilson’s Apple Orchard.
Eventually, Scherf said she would like to expand to have a more diversified farm that includes plants, other animals, and of course, turkeys. She said that since she is still young, and relatively new to the scene, she expects it will take a while to reach her desired farm.
For now, though, Scherf’s goal is clear.
“I think I’ll just continue to grow my flock,” she said.