In the rural town of Bolivia tucked away in Brunswick County, Maud Kelly raises rare breeds of turkey and provides agritourism at Greenlands Farm.
“I raised quite a bit this year, and it’s the most I’ve ever raised,” said Kelly. “It’s a crazy amount of work. They are really wacky birds. They’re fun, but they are a lot to keep up with. It’s like having 25 toddlers running around.”
Greenlands Farm and its 16-acres have been in Kelly’s family for three generations, which started raising birds in the 1980s before taking a hiatus and resuming in the early 2000s.
Kelly’s farm is among the many that contribute to North Carolina ranking second in the nation for turkey production. A 2022 economic study found that the turkey industry in Brunswick County makes up for $44.1 million in economic activity, creating and supporting 225 jobs. Meanwhile, areas like New Hanover County and Pender County are responsible for $122 million and $21.8 million, respectively.
With Thanksgiving due in a few days, Kelly and Greenlands Farms fulfill orders for fresh birds, as opposed to frozen, as well as specializes in raising more uncommon breeds, like the Heritage Midget White Turkey, which grow to around 8-12 lbs, relatively smaller than what commercial birds measure when mature (12-14 lbs). When it comes to rarer breeds raised on her farm, Kelly assures that “the meat is definitely superb compared to a commercial turkey.”
Of course, providing top quality meat and rearing less common species of livestock does not come cheap. The cost of bird feed alone increased by 15 percent since 2000, coming out to approximately $2,500 per 6 months.
“It’s costing us twice as much to feed them compared to when we first started,” Kelly said. “I call them little pigs on two feet. My other birds don’t eat as nearly as they do.”
Kelly only feeds her birds the highest quality meals with a side helping of love. “We humanely raise them and process them, and they get a few hugs from me here and there, too,” she said. “They are really sweet birds. They are quirky, little birds. Anytime I have a conversation and laugh, they laugh with me.”
Kelly also said, “My birds may be breeders or raised for meat, but they are loved every day by us. I’m a little different than some people. I love my animals no matter what they’re here for.”
Kelly foresees that as the turkey industry will have a firm place in the Wilmington area and its growing economy, particularly farms where guests can see where and how the birds are raised. “There’s a lot of cute, urban farms now,” she said. “It’s nice to see people supporting their local farms.”