A small poultry farm promising a return to the old way of doing things has found a home in Crozet.
But while Kelly Turkeys USA makes plans to sell authentic tasting turkeys in time for Thanksgiving, some neighbors have expressed concerns about potential impacts to the community.
“Kelly Bronze is an artisan, family business model, and it’s not mass produced,” said farm manager Cari Culver, whose husband, Judd, owns the business. “They are produced in small quantities because it’s a very labor-intensive process.”
Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently approved a $29,000 grant from the state Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund, which Albemarle County matched, for Kelly Turkeys.
Kelly will use the money to renovate a historic barn, build an additional one and purchase equipment for plucking.
The Crozet farm on Jarmans Gap Road is the only location in the United States for the British poultry company famous for its Kelly Bronze turkeys.
Neighbors have raised concerns about processing, odors and runoff into Lickinghole Creek. Judd Culver said neighbors will just have to trust him at first.
“This is not a factory, it’s a barn,” said Culver, whose family lives beside the 100-acre property owned by Kelly Turkeys LLC. “If there was a smell, we would not be raising our family beside it.”
Culver said that, unlike any other company in the United States, Kelly dry plucks and dry ages the birds, which he said is a process that also eliminates odors.
He said raising the birds to a full life span and utilizing a dry method changes the way the bird is handled and preserves the taste and texture.
Culver said the process in large factories scalds the birds in hot water and puts them through a battery of wet pluckers, a faster process.
“Wet means bacteria. Bacteria means smell,” he said. “Ours don’t smell at all from the processing side.”
Culver said his birds will be fenced 35 to 50 feet from Lickinghole Creek to mitigate runoff.
“From a field standpoint, it is no different than having cows out there,” he said. “Our 1,000 turkeys will be the equivalent of 12 cows.”
Elizabeth Willingham, who lives beside the property, said she is optimistic but still has concerns, a major one being the traffic on Jarmans Gap Road.
“It’s a tight area, with runners and cyclists on the road,” said Willingham. “Imagining additional employees, delivery and pickup traffic is a concern because it is a little country dirt road and I don’t want to see anyone get hurt.”
Willingham said she would like to see the Virginia Department of Transportation pursue increased maintenance, signage, a slower speed limit and monitoring of whether the one-lane bridge can withstand additional traffic.
“I have an incredible quality of life here and I don’t want anything to threaten that while I acknowledge that farms are supposed to happen in the designated agriculture area,” she said.
Culver said there would be little truck traffic because the processing takes place on the farm.
The Culvers lived in Europe for six years, where Judd got to know the Kelly Turkeys farmers. Both Culvers have degrees in agriculture and Judd previously worked in the poultry business.
The couple left Europe and tested out the Kelly market in the Shenandoah Valley for three years before settling in Crozet with their two young sons in 2014.
They said they chose Albemarle because their oldest son, Afton, is autistic and they wanted to be near the Virginia Institute of Autism.
“We can have our dream farm and be in a wonderful place for our kids,” said Cari Culver. “It’s heaven for them to be outside all the time, along with great schools and recourses for a special-needs child.”
The turkeys will be on the farm by June and ready for holiday purchase six months later. With an expensive feed supply for six months, the turkeys run about $12.55 per pound, meaning at least $100 a turkey.
“It’s not going to be something you eat every day,” said Cari Culver. “They are definitely a special-occasion turkey.”
Kelly plans to bring 33 new jobs to the area, most being temporary as it’s a seasonal operation.
The Culvers said the county has been very supportive and they are excited to bring the free-range operation to the area.
“It’s a beautiful part of the world,” said Judd Culver. “We are good stewards of the land and will make it a beautiful showcase.”