Thanksgiving at Unc Brock Farm in Schaghticoke, New York starts far ahead of most people’s holiday when the first batch of 800 young turkeys join the busy farm menagerie in May. Over the course of the following months, the Brocks rotate the flock daily to fresh pasture under a moveable structure that protects the birds. Throughout fall, they take orders from neighbors and a local meat market, thankful to be able to provide pasture-raised, holiday culinary centerpieces for their community.
Like dairy farming itself, the Brocks fell into raising the birds kind of by accident. “We used to buy local turkeys for our employees and a few friends,” explains Kris Brock. “Then the guy we were buying them from stopped raising them, so we started. It’s gotten bigger every year.”
The turkeys add to the diversity of a farm that already includes meat chickens and laying hens, milking goats, horses and a 200-head dairy cow herd that is an unusual mix of breeds. “We’re not particular. We like all kinds of cows,” says Kris with a laugh. “My favorites are Jersey-Holstein crosses, but we also have Holsteins, Linebacks, Guernseys, Shorthorns and Ayrshires. We even milked a Brahma. They all get along; they don’t know they’re different.”
Kris and her husband, Unc, both grew up around farming. Although their families were not dairy farmers, over the years, each worked on dairy farms. “Unc milked cows and I raised calves for another farm,” Kris explains. “It all kind of morphed into us becoming dairy farmers. We just thought it was a great place to raise a family.”
In October, the Brocks celebrated the 20th anniversary of Unc Brock Farm and they are incredibly thankful—at Thanksgiving and year-round—to have their daughter Val, her husband, Greg, and two-year-old twin granddaughters involved with the family business.
In turn, says Val, “My husband and I are beyond thankful to be able to raise our twin girls and growing family on the farm. I think being raised on the family farm is the best way to instill a great work ethic, pride and love for agriculture right from the beginning.”
In addition to all the farm activities, Kris also runs a busy catering business and a food truck called The Farmer’s Feed Bunk that does the fair, horse shows and private parties and events. Mac and cheese is one of her specialties, as is a baked potato bar with all the toppings. “We even did a Thanksgiving-themed wedding one time,” she recalls.
For their own Thanksgiving, the Brocks always have room for one more at dinner including single friends and farm help with no nearby family. “We open up our house to anyone who doesn’t have someplace to go,” Kris says, noting that she’s cooked a turkey as big as 38 pounds.
“I am so thankful for family on the farm, being able to produce a healthy product for consumers, and to be able to love the job that I get to do every day, whether it be farming or cooking,” Kris says happily.
The star of the holiday at Unc Brock Farm is, of course, one of their own turkeys with a classic bread, onion, celery and butter stuffing. There’s always rich baked corn pudding; Ambrosia salad made with fruit, mini marshmallows and sour cream; and a unique tradition from Kris’s side of the family called scalloped oysters. It involves canned oysters, saltine crackers, melted butter and milk all “baked until the top is nice and crunchy,” Kris explains. “Not everyone likes it in our family,” she says, “but my grandparents always served it and my daughter and I love it.”
Rounding out the feast will be mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, and canned cranberry sauce. No getting fancy with that, Kris says: “People don’t like it when you mess with their cranberry sauce.”
For the final touch, Kris might make her famous graham cracker-crusted, double-layer cream cheese pumpkin pie and, sometimes, a layered trifle like Black Forest or lemon-blueberry. When she was growing up, she recalls, there were always mincemeat and apple pies. Her grandmother was from Vermont, Kris recounts, and “we always had to have cheddar with the apple pie. She always said, ‘Apple pie without the cheese, is like a hug without the squeeze.’”
Try this version of corn casserole, like the one the Brocks always serve at Thanksgiving.
Tight on space in your oven? Use your slow cooker to whip up this luscious sweet potato casserole for Thanksgiving.
Melissa Pasanen is an award-winning Vermont-based journalist and cookbook author with a focus on food, farming, and sustainability. She was the writer for The Cabot Creamery Cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2015).