TURKEY — Turkey, Texas is a small town. It’s located on the edge of the Caprock in southwestern Hall County, about 100 miles northeast of Lubbock and southeast of Amarillo, and boasts just more than 300 residents.
Known for being the hometown of musician Bob Wills and a birthplace of western swing, the unique community is festooned with imagery of turkeys and fiddles. As you drive into town from the west along State Highway 86, you can look to the left to see a humble turkey statue in front of the volunteer fire department. A glance to the right reveals a silver fiddle jetting into the sky, serving as a monument to the King of Western Swing that called the town home.
Drive a bit further on 86, and you pass a boutique, a coffee shop and a couple of restaurants. A block or so north on one of the town’s dirt streets takes you to the popular Hotel Turkey, known for its live music offerings, while a diversion to the south takes you to the Bob Wills Museum and the old high school that plays host to his annual namesake festival.
What you won’t see as you drive through Turkey is a grocery store. Residents don’t plan on picking up their town’s namesake bird locally ahead of Thanksgiving.
Residents in Turkey, like those in the rest of Hall County and neighboring Briscoe County, live in the middle of a “food desert” — a low-income census tract with low access to food, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In rural areas, this means residents generally live more than 10 miles from a supermarket.
Turkey’s general store closed in 2009, leaving Turkey folks with no place to buy fresh food.
“All we have here in Turkey is Allsup’s,” Mayor Christy Yates said.
The Allsup’s convenience store sits in the middle of town, where State Highway 86 intersects with State Highway 70. Inside Allsup’s, like in many convenience stores, shoppers can find a small selection of dry goods and a few vegetables at premium prices.
Inside the store, a 30-ounce jar of Kraft mayonnaise costs $7.49. A small, mostly-empty produce case contains a few bell peppers packaged for $5.
Quitaque, just over the Briscoe County line to the west, has a small grocery store with a few more fresh items including meat, but Yates said selection is limited and prices are higher. The lack of options makes it tough for folks in both counties to get groceries, especially those with limited resources or mobility. That makes preparing for holidays like Thanksgiving — and feeding one’s family the rest of the year — a challenge.
“Some people go to Quitaque; a lot of people go to Childress or Plainview, and some people make the trip to Lubbock or Amarillo,” Yates said. “We do have some people that are homebound and they rely on their neighbors to go pick stuff up for them.”
A round trip to any of the latter four towns takes two to three hours at least, making grocery shopping an all-day affair for those with the means to travel, Yates said. And for those without the means to travel far, getting certain fresh foods might not even be possible.
“I think as a society in general, we are so, I hate to say, spoiled,” said Whitney Walker, agency relations coordinator at High Plains Food Bank. “Our access to groceries has just become even more convenient lately when you live in a more metropolitan area.
“I think we forget that in these small towns where it’s just your local grocery store, if they can’t get tomatoes that month, then they’re just not going to have tomatoes,” she added. “And then with that, to make a profit back, they have to put things on their shelf at a higher dollar value that most people probably couldn’t afford.”
Walker suggested the issue could lie in economies of scale. Grocers serve fewer customers in small, rural towns, meaning profit margins are thinner than they would be in a larger city. Rural grocery stores often operate on razor-thin margins, sometimes even at a loss, leading to higher prices and, too often, eventual closure. That’s what happened to Turkey’s grocery store in 2009.
But while a grocery store is not something you might see in a town like Turkey, the High Plains Food Bank and other agencies like Tri-County Meals in Quitaque are working to make sure food-insecure people in Hall and Briscoe counties are fed.
“We do have a food pantry in Quitaque, and we also get donations from the food bank. They come once a month,” Yates said. “Our Tri-County Meals helps a lot also. They deliver meals on wheels three times a week, so our homebound people are able to get a good meal three days a week, at least.”
Walker said the food pantry in Briscoe County is less than a year old and the first there in the history of the food bank, making progress in the battle against food insecurity amid rural food deserts.
“Everyone in Briscoe County now has access … to be able to go to this pantry and, at least once a month, they get fresh vegetables and any kind of perishable foods,” Walker said. “And of course, that is all free of cost.”