Honoring the animal
Foothills farm aims to provide healthy, humane meat for the community
At Turkey Tail Farm, everything has its purpose. For example, oyster mushrooms, a flagship of the farm, are grown on rice straw. When it’s finished producing, that rice straw, filled with the proteins and amino acids from the mushrooms, gets fed to the chickens and hogs. Then the manure is used in the flower garden or to fertilize the fields.
“It’s an example of a lot of little things working together,” said Cheetah Tchudi, who runs the farm with his wife, Samantha Zangrilli.
“The mushrooms make the chickens super fat and delicious,” Zangrilli added. The couple were giving the CN&R a tour of their farm, which spans 40 acres in Yankee Hill. Because much of the terrain is covered in brush, there’s a lot of maintenance—and moving around of animals—to be done. Until this summer, Zangrilli and Tchudi tended to the farm when they weren’t working their day jobs in Chico—Tchudi was the organic gardener at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., and Zangrilli was a manager at California Organic Flowers.
“Now we’re really going for it,” Tchudi said with a smile.
His parents bought the Turkey Tail property in 2008 and it’s taken time to build it into a full, working farm. At first, they used conservation contracts to help clean up the land and set up sustainable grazing to keep it that way, Tchudi said. His parents live on the property, where his mom, Susan Tchudi, runs Everything Herbal, which specializes in herbal salves, salts and scrubs. She and husband Stephen are hosts of “Ecotopia” on KZFR.
With Tchudi’s background in conservation ecology and sustainable agriculture, and Zangrilli’s degree in environmental politics, the two bring a mix of practical, hands-on experience and a desire to live off the land in a way that benefits humans, animals and the Earth. As first-generation farmers, they’re learning a lot as they go. Zangrilli pointed to Tchudi’s expertise in wrangling their three sheepdogs.
“He’s a shepherd and I’m a shepherdess,” she said. “I’m at a point now where I’ve done it for so long, I can put up an electric net really fast—super high and super fast, and no animals are escaping. I hate it when animals escape.”
The farm is home to 80 ducks, what Zangrilli lovingly calls her “paddling,” which produce three to four dozen eggs a day; 18 lambs, which are raised for meat; 19 ewes, a ram and a wether; five hogs; three piglets; and up to 300 chickens. No, there are no turkeys at Turkey Tail Farm.
“Cheetah is a mushroom guy, a micrologist,” Zangrilli explained. “He saw turkey tail mushrooms growing on all of the oaks out here—so, that’s where he got the name from.”
Tchudi and Zangrilli sell the fruits of their labor at the Thursday Night Market in Chico and have no plans to expand to other markets. Even so, they plan on selling about 900 chickens this year.
“Cheetah and I really chose to be farmers so we can provide a healthy option for our community members when it comes to meat,” Zangrilli said. “A healthy product that’s been humanely raised, because so much of our meat today is adulterated and produced not in a loving or caring way. We honor the process of nature and the life of the animal, and hope it creates nutrient-rich meat for our community members.”
This year, with working at the farm full-time and having recently hired a farm hand to help out, Tchudi and Zangrilli are concentrating more on selling subscriptions to farm shares than selling at market. For $40 a week—a full share—subscribers typically receive a whole chicken, a cut of lamb, a dozen duck eggs, some mushrooms and a bouquet of flowers. Customers can also sign on for half-shares. Each subscription lasts three months.