Pat Dodson places his turkey order in September. "Over the years, we've definitely seen an increase in sales for fresh and organic [turkeys]." (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

Pat Dodson places his turkey order in September. “Over the years, we’ve definitely seen an increase in sales for fresh and organic [turkeys].” (Mike Hicks/KCAW photo)

In Sitka, protein is not hard to come by. There are spiral hams at AC Lakeside, and Seamart’s got tofurkey. There’s fish in every freezer in town. But when Thanksgiving comes around, one bird rules them all. So who’s responsible for getting all those turkeys from barge to table?

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When I visited Sea Mart to ask if they were Sitka’s main turkey supplier, Ted Kubaki didn’t skip a beat in saying, “We rule the roost on that. We certainly do.”

Kubaki has been working in the meat department since April, so this is his first Thanksgiving as a butcher. He was skeptical at first.

“Going wow, ‘We ordered way too many turkeys. We just have towers and towers and towers of frozen turkeys,'” said Kubaki. “And now you go in the freezer and they’re not there. They’re gone.”

There’s frozen turkeys, fresh turkeys, organic turkeys, 10 lb. ones and 27 lb. ones you can barely wrap your arms around. Kubaki suggested I meet with his boss to get a sense of the turkey supply chain.

Justin Albe uses a forklift to maneuver the freight into the warehouse for sorting and pricing. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

Justin Albe uses a forklift to maneuver the freight into the warehouse for sorting and pricing. (Mike Hicks/KCAW photo)

Pat Dodson has been the Meat Manager of Sea Mart for the past 14 years. He motioned to a stack of frozen Butter Balls and said, “These actually came in about the middle of October and that just gives us enough time to start pricing and preparing before the rush hits.”

We walk into a meat freezer the size of a small bedroom. There’s an ax to chop your way out if you get locked inside. A lot of Dodson’s orders come from community organizations buying in bulk.

“This is an order for Sitka Medical which we’re going to deliver today,” Dodson said while pointing to a stack of boxes. “There’s a total of 24 turkeys.”

Sitka Tribe of Alaska ordered 50. Allen Marine ordered 75. Orders this big take a lot of advance planning. Dodson said, “There’s time frames and I try to warn them, you know, ‘You have to let me know a little sooner because and it takes a little while to get here.’”


The chill van carries a crate directly off the Alaska Marine Lines barge. Sea Mart’s main grocery supplier is Unified Grocers in Seattle. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

Days in fact. The last barge bearing turkeys arrived in Sitka from Seattle at 2:30AM on Monday. Trucks are hustling the turkeys directly to the store and one arrives. Justin Albe is the grocery manager. He raises a giant metal gate, while the truck slowly backs in.

KCAW: This kind of feels like in Star Trek when a space ship docks.

Albe: It kind of does at times.  

Between Sea Mart and Lakeside, meat managers ordered about 37,000 lbs. of turkeys, both fresh and frozen. No one’s done a head count, but assuming the average turkey is 15 lbs, that’s nearly 2,500 turkeys slaughtered elsewhere and barged to Baranof Island for the holiday season.

The Kauffman's raised their Thanksgiving turkey. Hungry came as a chick in the mail and was raised them in the backyard. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

The Kauffman’s raised Hungry, their Thanksgiving turkey. “It’s interesting to see them grow from chicks to quite handsome birds, with tails that fluff out like a peacock.” (Photo courtesy of Bridget Kauffman)

That’s how the vast majority of turkeys get here. Except for Bridget Kauffman’s turkey. “It came in the mail,” she said. “We put it in the yard. We fed it. We’ve butchered it and it’s going into the oven.”

Kauffman and her husband Ted Laufenberg have been raising poultry in their backyard for years. Kaufman didn’t get personally attached to this turkey, which they named Hungry. But she said that raising him makes Thanksgiving Day all more meaningful.

Hungry, after he was butchered. “I just wanted to know what I was eating,” said Kauffman, who has been raising poultry for years. (Photo courtesy of Bridget Kauffman)

“I feel better eating a bird that I know the food it’s been eating,” said Kauffman. “That it hasn’t been locked up in a tiny box. That it’s been able to run around. It has had a good life.”

Under Laufenberg and Kauffman’s care, Hungry grew to 35 lbs and will be shared by nearly 40 people this coming Thursday.

Back at SeaMart, Ted Kubacki, who is a former chef, says all the fuss over turkey is never really about turkey, at all. A father of four, he knows that you’re piling a lot more on your plate at Thanksgiving.

“Random memory triggers come from flavor and scent more than vision,” Kubaki said. “You smell a scent, you think back to grandma’s kitchen. You taste something and you go, ‘Wow, that’s just like my grandfather used to make that.’ It makes you remember perhaps people that are gone, homes that are gone, your past and you know, where you’re from.”

And knowing where you’re from, and maybe where your food came from, is especially important on Thanksgiving Day.