New Jersey Ag News
Thousands of turkeys keep DiPaola busy for holidays
By RICHARD SKELLY
HAMILTON TOWNSHIP, Mercer County (Sept. 15, 2016) — From a busy stretch of Edinburgh Road/Old Trenton Road, were it not for the big welcoming sign in front, it’s not easy to know there was a turkey farm 1,000 yards down a long driveway in the middle of an otherwise very suburban neighborhood.
Farm owner Art DiPaola Jr., declined a college education, and after graduating high school, went to work full-time for his father, the late Art DiPaola, who founded the turkey farm.
DiPaola’s father was born and raised in the Chambersburg area of Trenton.
Although he said he’s not planning on becoming Certified Organic, DiPaola follows a lot of organic principles at his farm. He offers his turkeys a normal and free ranging existence in a series of large barns at the back of his property and doesn’t feed any antibiotics.
Show up at his retail store in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and you’ll see that hundreds of area people agree: He offers an array of whole turkeys, turkey breasts, turkey sausage and turkey burgers.
“For some reason, my father always enjoyed animals,” DiPaola said. “Where he grew up on the corner of Mifflin and Franklin Street in Chambersburg, he started playing around with some chickens and pheasants in his early teens. Later on, he started developing more of an interest in raising turkeys for people in the neighborhood and sold them at Thanksgiving. It evolved into a business.”
Many of the barns that still stand on the property Art Jr. now occupies were built by his father in 1948.
“My father worked hard and he maintained a job at Trenton Pottery for many years and did this as a side business,” DiPaola said.
“Over the years this business has grown into its present day operations, which are different than what my father started. At one time, we were raising more than 80,000 turkeys a year in the late 70’s and early 80’s,” he said, adding he and his father leased other properties in southern New Jersey to handle all that production.
Now, he said, “we still have a very significant holiday business and we’re raising 10,000 to 15,000 turkeys a year. We also manufacture a lot of products that people use from turkey, like sausage and turkey burgers.”
The six-acre tract of land, nestled in between houses and a nearby park, extends far in back, and DiPaola, his daughter, Kristin, and other employees put a premium on sanitary conditions.
His father also built a huge walk-in freezer inside one of the buildings on the property, not far from the retail store.
“We’re very cautious, we sanitize our feed coming in and out of the turkey houses, keep the bedding dry, the water clean, it’s a lot of common sense steps.”
He recalled one year back in the early 1980’s when his father was still alive, “we had this kind of extreme heat we’re having here today and one year I remember we lost 2,900 turkeys at one of our barns in south Jersey.”
DiPaola lives on Edinburgh Road / Route 535 in front of the property, so he is never far away from his thousands of turkeys and can quickly address any problems that may crop up.
Each year in early July, DiPaola gets a shipment of thousands of week-old hatchlings from a supplier in Canada, where they are closely monitored and kept warm at night by a series of heaters if temperatures dip too low, as they sometimes can, even in summer.
Walking inside his brooding barn, he said, “they need some heat when they’re first hatched. As they grow more, we’ll move some of them to the grow-out barn.”
As the restaurant demand for whole turkeys has slackened off in favor of things like turkey breasts and legs, “we’ve had to evolve with the times, too. What we’re mainly doing now is a lot of turkey products: turkey breasts, ground turkey, turkey burgers, and we sell a lot of that right here at this store and in New York City as well.”
Aside from good signage out front, DiPaola Turkey Farm also has a very effective website for sales and he credits daughter Kristin for this. He added he hopes his four grandchildren will take an interest in keeping the business going. Although they’re all under 10 years of age, he said they all love tending to the turkeys.
“My grandkids are here a lot, they seem to like to be hands-on, and I’d like to think in the future they’ll want to consider this as a livelihood. That would make them fourth generation turkey farmers,” he said.
DiPaola employs eight to 12 full-time employees and a bevy of seasonal part-timers as Thanksgiving approaches.
Asked how he taught his daughter Kristin the many variables involved in raising free range, natural turkeys, DiPaola said he didn’t have to teach her much; she learned the way he did, by observing and doing.
“Kids like to watch and learn. I grew up with my father in the business and I watched and learned a lot from him,” he said. “It’s the same thing with my daughter, and she is doing an awful lot with this business, she’s part of this team effort. I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
Around Thanksgiving, Christmas and the holidays, “we don’t always sell out of turkeys, so we donate quite a few to the township of Hamilton to the school system, and I will freeze a lot of product during the winter.”
DiPaola said loyal customers who rave about his turkeys and turkey products are a big part of the joy of doing this for a living.
“But running this business is the same basic principles in life; you have to rise above the same challenges in life, you have relationships,” DiPaola said. “I have to manage people, and that’s not an easy thing to do, yet at the same time, it’s also very rewarding.
“Someone with a Ph.D. at the end of her name told me something 25 years ago: ‘The things that give us the most joy in life are the same things that give us the most frustration and stress.’ ”