By TEREASA NIMS
Sunday Times Newspapers
LIVONIA — Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds added to the slow-cooked sauce, or plum tomatoes instead of the beefier varieties: the secrets of Italian cooking are many.
There’s even one for turkey farming.
“There is nothing like fresh turkey for Thanksgiving,” said Sheila Morris, of Southgate. “I had a difficult time ordering the first year.”
Yet, after some thought and tasting it, she decided it was the way to continue.
“They are free-range and not caged,” Morris said.
However, Morris’ boyfriend’s grandfather ordered from Roperti’s Turkey Farm, 34700 Five Mile Road, his father did also and it was a tradition her boyfriend follows.
“I was a bit startled that day before leaving for work and he said, ‘Don’t forget to order the turkey.’ I was like, ‘I don’t think (the store) takes orders,'” Morris said. “I think you just go there and pick your frozen turkey.’”
Morris said her boyfriend shot her a glance as if she lost her mind and then he explained the tradition.
In 1942, Thomas Roperti moved from Dearborn to start a six-acre farm in Livonia. The modest beginning of a couple of cows and a smattering of chickens and pigs quickly grew to 25 head of cattle.
After a few years of supplying milk to Twin Pines, Roperti’s health declined. Coupled with his son’s military enlistment, his poor health made the farm too arduous to continue. As he sold off the cattle, he hoped to chance upon a new career.
Then a friend suggested, “You should raise turkeys.”
And so, in 1948, the Roperti Turkey Farm began. A small start of 50 turkeys grew to 100, then 500. This year, the count is 4,400 at the farm.
The family run farm now has its fourth generation on board. Roperti’s daughter, and owner, Christine Roperti said that her family isn’t the only one who has been at the farm for a while.
“We have a lot of multi-generation buyers,” she said. “I’ve heard it often from our customers — their parents brought them here when they were growing up, and now they’re bringing their kids.”
What about Roperti’s turkeys keeps bringing everyone back? The turkey farm’s bright orange flyers make it clear, “Remember, fresh is not the secret. The secret is what they’ve been fed.”
“We’re still using my father’s recipe. You have to have the best corn and grains. We used to rent 80 acres to grow all the feed on,” Roperti said, sighing wearily at the memory. “But I buy all the feed now.”
Though Five Mile Road is roomy and lush, one’s eyes can’t help but do a double-take as the scenery changes from houses and spacious yards to a sea of white feathers and a barn. While a few turkeys might grate neighbors with gobbles, the perk of having over 4,000 of them is the surprisingly low, non-abrasive hum their clucks create.
The turkeys can be seen from the sides of the property, but the Ropertis are diligent in lining the front fence with sunflowers.
When asked how the neighbors feel about the farm, Roperti picks a standing card up from her kitchen counter, beaming as she reads it.
“A neighbor I don’t even know sent this lovely card,” she said.
In it, the neighbor thanks her for the gorgeous sunflower row on display every year, and asserts the turkey farm makes their neighborhood a unique one and only adds to the charm of the area.
As Thanksgiving nears, activity at the farm heightens.
“All the turkeys are processed a day ahead of pickup,” Rupert said. “Between Saturday and Tuesday, before Thanksgiving, we’ll process over 4,000 turkeys. It’s a lot. But we hire 45 people for those four days. They’ve been with us for a long time. Most of them take off time from their regular jobs to work the four days here. But they’ll do it every year for us. And everyone gets a turkey.”
Taking a breath and eyeing the barn, Roperti is already steeling herself for the long days ahead.
Roperti may not be tall, but she’s a spitfire, and her direct words hit their mark.
“We buy the chicks from Holland, Michigan, in August,” she said. “They’re taken care of, they get excellent corn and grains. Obviously free range. The stuff at the store is hot dogs and we’re filet mignon, and that’s not bragging, that’s just the way it is.”
Roperti’s Turkey Farm is open until Dec. 23. Thanksgiving orders can be picked up Nov. 21 to 23. Each turkey includes cooking instructions and a few of Christine Rupert’s stuffing and gravy tips.
The Roperti family, however, won’t be joining in the turkey feast.
“Are you kidding? Oh my goodness, by Thanksgiving, we are turkied out,” Roperti said. “Everyone is tired out by Thanksgiving morning here, so we’ll sleep in, then the family will come over that evening. I make filet mignon, lobster and crab. My niece in Florida sends me the crab and I send her a turkey.”
Once rested, Roperti plans on using the off season to maybe go to the gym a bit more and enjoy the downtime until June, when the sunflowers get planted and the grounds prepared for next year’s feathered visitors.
To learn more about Roperti’s Turkey Farm, go to www.freewebs.com/ropertis.
(Tereasa Nims can be reached at [email protected].)