The great turkey shortage of 2022 is real. Thanksgiving tables won’t be groaning under the weight of a 20+ lbs turkey with all the trimmings. But do not despair, your local stores have got you covered – with smaller birds and delicious alternatives.

Why the shortage?

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, aka bird flu, has decimated commercial flocks in the US. Just like human flu, bird flu strains vary in strength and infectiousness. For 2022, the CDC reports 310 counties in 44 states with outbreaks, affecting 49,001,035 birds. [source: H5N1 bird flu detection page]

Will available turkeys be safe to eat?

All turkeys found in retail stores are either inspected by the USDA or by State systems which have standards equivalent to the federal government. Organic birds must meet additional certifications.

Local stores, local food to the rescue

With three weeks to go, local stores are adapting to the situation. We checked in with local grocery store staff who shared what the situation is right now – and offered tips for a great meal as well.

At SPD in Nevada City, Matt has a limited supply of frozen turkeys, all under 16 lbs. Fresh turkeys will be available, up to 19 lbs in size, but no larger birds. Of course the meat department carries their usual full selection of beef, pork, lamb, chicken and don’t forget the seafood.

SPD in Grass Valley is very much in the same boat. Turkey supply is at its lowest in a decade, 24% down from last year, according to Glenn. Fresh Norbest turkeys will be available, albeit a limited supply. Small birds are available for reservation, and Glenn suggests alternatives like pheasant, duck, goose, or a dip into their great seafood selection.

California Organics in Nevada City will receive only a fraction of the organic turkeys they ordered, according to owner Eric. He suggests alternatives like meatloaf, chicken or salmon and recommends their nutloaf as a vegetarian option. Round it out with local produce which are plentiful and in season.

Natural Selections in Grass Valley and Mother Truckers in North San Juan both said only a small percentage of ordered natural or organic turkeys will be available from their supplier. Once the quantities are known, the signup sheets will be posted at the stores. Eli and Jack recommend alternatives like a vegetarian en croute loaf, or an organic chicken if the bird on the table is a must have. Seasonal produce and fruits abound, get creative!

Rebecca Torpie, the Marketing Director for BriarPatch Food Co-op, shared “Luckily, natural and organic turkeys are not being hit as hard as conventional birds. We have great relationships with our vendors and we’re confident that we’ll get a good supply for the holidays. However, this shortage isn’t just local, it’s nationwide and is certainly affecting all markets. During the early days of the pandemic, we encouraged early shopping to ease traffic in the store and started a $5 off turkey flash sale the week before Thanksgiving. We’re encouraging folks to shop early again this year for their bird and pantry products to enjoy the best customer experience. Turkeys will become available Nov. 17th.”

Start your prep

Let’s face it, cooking a new dish for Thanksgiving can be intimidating. Why not try out a new recipe in the coming weeks? Talk to your meat or deli counter pros and let them help you out. Thanksgiving will be just fine, giant bird or not.

Want to share a recipe? Please, email us and we’d love to see photos of your culinary creations as well. Between now and Thanksgiving we will share cooking tips and recipes to make your holiday as stress-free as possible.