Jason Diestel of Diestel Turkey Ranch
Published Feb 02
For more than 60 years, the Diestel family tradition has embraced sustainable and high welfare farming, and that long-held commitment to responsible agriculture is being furthered under the leadership of Jason Diestel, a seasoned yet youthful farmer.
"My family has been raising birds in Sonora, California, for more than five generations. Back then, farming was very different in a lot of ways. The stories, passed down from my great uncle Ernest in the 1920s to my grandpa Jack in the 1950s to my parents, Tim and Joan, were centered around that intuitive relationship the farmer had with the land and, of course, the animals. The birds were given the time to develop at more natural growth rates and with the space and means to meet their needs every single day—extra “room and board” that helped support a very high quality of life for the animals. Farmers closely observed their flocks to ensure that the birds were well taken care of, happy, and healthy. Over time, that one-on-one commitment between farmer and farm, farmer and animal, has diminished, but not at Diestel. Never.
We have always placed the highest premium on the health, including welfare, of the birds. It has been interesting throughout the years because we have not focused on many of the conventional indicators of profitability. Of course, we’ve always understood that it is absolutely imperative that the birds’ health be addressed first and foremost, but, in addition to that, we’ve asked a different question: How can we raise turkeys in a way that minimizes their stress and elevates their quality of life?
There is nothing like a job well done. For me, I think the best part of the day is catching a glimpse of the morning dew on the blades of grass as the sun is rising and seeing the turkeys out there foraging in the cool, early sun. That is the best—when you see for yourself that the animals are happy and content. You know you’ve done a good job. That satisfaction, plus being able to live and promote the traditional values held deeply by our family, makes me proud to be a farmer. I may not drive the fanciest car, but I’m able to get back to my roots, connect with the earth, find balance, and stay connected to nature and the animals.
We have 6 farms certified to Step 3, and we’re incredibly proud of the fact that those are managed with the same commitment and practices that my grandpa Jack held back in 1949. (Grandpa Jack still goes out to the farms from time to time to make sure we’re doing it right!)
As thrilled as we are with our Step 3 farms, we’re humbled to have achieved a Step 5+ rating at our original farm. There, we maintain a holistically planned, multi-species, rotational grazing farm. It is our goal that for every 3 days of use, the pasture rotation receives 21 days of rest before the same species revisits that area to graze once again. On this highly productive 50-acre farm, we raise about 6,000 turkeys seasonally, some cattle, 50 to 100 goats depending on the time of year, a handful of sheep, 500 laying hens for their pastured eggs, and a few pigs. Every animal has a place on the farm. Our primary processing plant is also on this ranch and has been since my grandpa ran it himself.
As we were recognized for the unique quality of our farming practices, we have been able to purchase and even build more ranches. Most of this has taken place in the last 20 years, as the natural and organic food movement started to take off in the United States. In fact, we were the very first to market an organic turkey in 1999.
Our certification to Global Animal Partnership’s 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards has been inspiring. 5-Step is so very unique in that it dynamically promotes higher welfare farming and educates consumers to make a choice with a premium on transparency. On behalf of my entire family, I can say that it makes us proud to be involved in GAP’s groundbreaking efforts, and each of us is excited to see what the future holds for GAP, Diestel, and the animals."