Talking turkey in the ’burbs
Woman behind Roperti’s makes case her birds are atop the pecking order
MARNEY RICH KEENAN
According to the American Farm Bureau Association, turkey will be served on an estimated 46 millionThanksgiving tables across the country this year.
According to the petite firecracker who runs Roperti's Turkey Farm in Livonia, the only turkeys on Thanksgiving tables sure to be extraordinary are the ones she raises here on a 5-acre plot of land smack in the middle of suburbia."There is a world of difference between my turkeys and what's in the store," Christine Roperti opined recently, her dark brown eyes sparkling with determined enthusiasm. "I'm telling you, you can go and get Amish. Or you can go to Whole Foods and get organic. Or you can go to Hiller's and get fresh. You can go anywhere you want. But they will never taste like my turkeys. Never."
It's no wonder Roperti is so proud. For more than half a century, beginning with her Italian immigrant parents Tom and Mary, Roperti's has raised turkeys in the same location. Now, second-and third-generation Ropertis work here.
Roperti says her Wilford White turkeys are so superior because of what they eat. They are fed a diet of "corn, wheat and oats mixed with a mash concentrate of vitamins and proteins." And, too, they are free to roam outside instead of being cooped up in a barn.
"During the Lions game when they cut to a break and show the turkeys? Those are MY turkeys on TV. Millions of viewers have seen MY turkeys."
This year, Roperti will sell 4,000 turkeys in four days. During those same four days, she hires about 40 employees. "People have been with me, 15, 25 years or more," she says. "It gets nutsy, nutsy around here, let me tell you."
As usual, Roperti will get little to no sleep. "For four days before Thanksgiving, I usually average about three to four hours," she says.
People driving by Five Mile may be startled into slowing down when they come upon the sea of white turkeys sandwiched in between two subdivisions. Soon that field will empty as her husband, Wesley Bates, and two sons, Tony and Tommy, begin what is discreetly called "the production line" in the white barn. The turkeys are killed by an electric volt in the "red room," and hung upside down for draining, thus the moniker "the red room."
Next is the scalding room where vats of water heated to 150 degrees helps to loosen the feathers. This is followed by "the picker:" a machine that sloughs off 99 percent of the feathers. Any remaining feathers are
hand-tweezed with pliers. In the dressing room, six men do nothing but gut and clean the inside of the turkey.
Placed in one of 14 huge steel tubs, the turkeys are doused with continuously running cold water. Finally, the turkey is bagged, weighed and put in the cooler in rows: small, medium and large.
"I'm telling you," says Roperti, (and by now "I'm telling you," is making you smile). "There is not one job on this farm that's easy. Not one."
By the time Thanksgiving arrives, Roperti says her family is so sick of turkey she wouldn't dare serve it. Instead, she serves filet mignon, homemade gnocchi and crab claws and key lime pie, the latter two she
exchanges for a turkey from a niece in Hollywood, Fla.
Like last year, Roperti expects to be sold out of turkeys by Dec. 23. Then, they will clean the dressing rooms, rake the fields, bolt the barn until next August when she picks up the 9-week-old turkeys from her
grower in Holland and starts all over again.
"It's such a great tradition," Roperti says. "I love seeing all my customers carrying home their turkeys. Let me tell you: they are going to have one great meal."
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|By HANK SCHALLER||11/18/2002|
|November 18, 2002 |
LIVONIA - Don't tell Christine Roperti how juicy the white meat on your Butterball turkey was last Thanksgiving. "The white meat on our turkeys is very moist," boasted Roperti, 57, whose parents, Tom and Mary Roperti, opened Roperti's Turkey Farm when milking 40 head of dairy cattle for the Twin Pines Farm Dairy became too much of a chore.
|"We wouldn't be in business since 1948 if we had dry white meat." |
"My father had a buddy who raised chickens and turkeys, and he suggested that my father get in the turkey business," she recalled. "He got rid of the cows in 1947 and started raising turkeys in 1948. We started with 50 turkeys, then went to 100, 200 and 500, and now we raise 4,500 turkeys a year.
"When we started raising turkeys, there were farms all over Livonia," she said. "Now we may be the only farm left."
For 54 years, turkeys raised by three generations of the Roperti family have been a Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner tradition for hundreds of families in the Detroit area. Some customers have been depending on the Ropertis for their holiday gobblers for 30 years or more.
"We used to grow all our own corn, wheat and oats on 250 acres, including two large fields near Six Mile and Haggerty roads, where a shopping center now stands," Roperti recalled.
The family now purchases the grain it feeds its large Wilford White turkeys, but otherwise the five-acre family farm at 34700 Five Mile Road continues operating as it has for years.
"Wilfords are a large breed of turkeys that are very breasty and very meaty," Roperti said. "I get the turkeys when they are 8 to 9 weeks old and weigh about 2 pounds from my grower in Zeeland. I pick up the turkeys around the last week in August so I can sell them from Oct. 1 to Dec. 23."
The secret to good tasting turkeys is the right diet, she said.
In fact, the company motto on fliers distributed in neighborhoods in Oakland and Wayne counties tells customers of the importance of what a turkey is fed: "Remember, fresh is not the secret. The secret is what they've been fed."
"Animals are what they eat, and that goes for turkeys, too," Roperti explained.
"Our turkeys are fed corn, wheat and oats that are mixed with a high-protein mash from the time they arrive (until) the last two weeks before they are killed, when they are fed nothing but corn.
"The larger turkey farms can't feed the turkeys the way I can because they can't get their money back," she said. "Some allow their turkeys to graze, feed them fish meal or anything that's cheap."
The busiest time of the year for the Ropertis is the four-day period immediately before Thanksgiving, when about 4,000 of the turkeys are killed and dressed by the family and a seasonal staff of 35 employees who set up a production line.
"For those four days before Thanksgiving, I'm working 17, 18 or 19 hours a day," she said. "I just can't sleep any more than four or five hours when we get to that time of the year."
During these hectic times, Christine runs the store; her oldest son, Tony, is in charge of killing the turkeys in the "red room"; her husband, Wesley Bates, runs the scalding and defeathering room; her youngest son, Tom, runs the dressing table; and Tom's wife, Ferida, acts as the farm's secretary.
Besides getting turkeys ready for the roaster or deep fryer, the family also sells turkey smoked for 12 hours right on the premises, using apple and cherry wood with a little wet hickory thrown on top.
Ironically, when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, the Roperti family takes a pass on turkey.
"My family has seen too many turkeys at that point and would hang me up like a dead turkey if I put turkey on the table," Roperti said. "Thanksgiving is sort of a party for us.
"For Thanksgiving, we have filet mignon, lobster and stone crabs and key lime pie that my niece sends up here every year from Florida," she said. "She sends us the stone crabs and key lime pie in exchange for a turkey, of course."
|©The Daily Oakland Press 2004|