Food for thought: I got a call on Friday from Arnie Riebli, a fourth-generation Sonoma County farmer and co-owner of Petaluma-based Sunrise Farms, one of the top egg producers in the state. We talked about the front-page story about the Thode family raising heritage turkeys on their Sebastopol ranch.

“I know I’m not objective about the whole thing,” he said. “But I read the news media every day. Animal agriculture is under attack. And then I read about . . . 70 turkeys selling for $7.50 a pound and in other parts of the country people are going hungry.”


Arnie Riebli of Sunrise Farms in Petaluma

His question: Are we being realistic about our expectations of food production and what people can afford?

It’s a fair concern. At $7.50 a pound, a 15-pound turkey is going to cost $112.50. Who has that kind of money? A Safeway ad this week was offering turkeys for 88 cents a pound.

Riebli doesn’t raise turkeys, and he said he has nothing against a family that wants to raise heritage turkeys as a hobby. He just gets concerned when people see stories like this as a solution to society’s food needs.

“As a farmer, I have a moral and ethical responsibility to supply food at a reasonable cost to the average consumer. But that’s not the average consumer,” he said. “I think we are starting to have delusions of grandeur of that things really are.”

Arnie told me that Sunrise Farms, which produces a million eggs a day, seven days a week, is working with David Goodman of the Redwood Empire Food Bank to provide food banks all over the state with low-cost eggs.

 “We truly understand the need that his out there,” said Riebli. “But then I get beat over the head because there is a vocal minority out that believes that I’m just Simon Legree who doesn’t care about the welfare of his animals.” That’s just not true, he said.

“I’m having a hard time trying to understand what society really wants.” 
I  don’t blame him.

I can appreciate someone who raises heritage turkeys. But I’m more thankful for those who produce the food I can afford each day – especially those here in Sonoma County – and are willing to put up with verbal abuse and occasional attacks by vandals to do it.

– Paul Gullixson

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