Larkin Bros continue to grow their poultry business with retail outlet and new frozen products.

If you have ever eaten a Maid Marion’s turkey dinner special (and really, what Islander hasn’t?!), or grabbed a chicken handpie on your way through Albany from The Handpie Company, you’ve coincidentally supported PEI’s largest poultry farm.

What began in 1969 as Larkin and Sons, a small poultry farm, has evolved to become Larkin Bros. The poultry business now raises between 10,000 and 12,000 birds each year for the Island market.

Brothers Harvey and Paul Larkin, along with their wives Rosemary and Linda, respectively, now run the poultry business with the main farm in New Glasgow, PEI. They also own and operate a poultry processing facility with a retail outlet in Crapaud.

farmer in front of barn

Harvey Larkin at the family farm in New Glasgow photo credit: Cheryl Young/Salty

Harvey says the business grew from his father raising turkeys and chickens to an Island-wide business. “One year we had extra turkeys left over, so we started knocking on ADL’s door…they finally agreed to start moving our product to institutions, restaurants. Their trucks are going to all these facilities, so we just sell at a wholesale price and they distribute.”

Along with ADL Foods doing distribution, Harvey himself hops into a truck each week and sets off across the Island to deliver their fresh poultry products. Currently due to quota regulations, their poultry can only be sold on the Island and not exported to other provinces.

The Handpie Co uses Larkins’ poultry in their products. Sarah Bennettto O’Brien is adamant about using local products in all of her handpies, and the fact that Larkins is just down the road is key. “They have excellent customer service and delivery services. When we say we support local, they’re really our first choice. Our chicken pot pie, chicken and broccoli, as well as our holiday handpie that has shredded turkey, that’s all 100 percent Larkin birds.”

Turkeys are raised year round and get fresh grain, water, and bedding daily photo credit: Cheryl Young/Salty

Offering whole birds during Thanksgiving and Christmas has grown into the Larkin Bros producing value-added products for year-round consumption. They now make a line of frozen turkey products like sausages, burgers, meatballs, and ground turkey.

The business worked with Food Island Partnership (FIP) and Canada’s Smartest Kitchen (CSK) to develop the line, perfecting spice mixes for flavours like Hot Italian or Honey Garlic. CSK worked with the business to create nutrition labels, as well as doing a nutritional comparison between a traditional pork sausage and a turkey sausage.

The business is currently working on its HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) certification, which will allow them to sell those value-added food products to stores like Sobeys and Atlantic Superstores. Right now they only supply whole birds to those retailers.

Paul and his wife Linda also run the family restaurant, Chez Yvonne, which was started by his parents, Roland and Yvonne Larkin, 50 years ago. As a seasonal restaurant, they are busier in the summer months, so Harvey and Rosemary tend to be the ones you’ll see at the Farmers’ Market booth in Charlottetown or in the offices and retail store in Crapaud. The brothers deal with the operational side of things and Rosemary describes herself as “more like a CFO, the financial strategic planner”.

Raising poultry is a study in timing and patience. Chicks arrive monthly from Cuddy’s Farm in Strathroy, Ontario. This monthly cycle allows the chicks to grow into varying sizes, as not all families are looking for a 40-pound turkey for Thanksgiving. By staggering the arrival of chicks, a variety of turkeys will be ready for both the Thanksgiving and the Christmas market, from a smaller 12-15 pound bird that may have hatched in August, to a large tom (male turkey) that will be deboned and prepared for many restaurant buffets. The cycle also allows them to offer chickens to their customers throughout the year.

Sometimes that cycle isn’t perfect, but the Larkins insist on only selling birds that they have raised themselves to their market. “If we’re out, we’re out,” Harvey matter-of-factly said, when asked about supplying fresh product to restaurants and institutions.

Each bird raised for market has been grain-fed, with feed that has no animal byproducts. They are also medication and antibiotic free, which is important to both consumers and the Larkins. The birds are housed in large barns, get fresh bedding, fresh air, lots of fresh water, and their feed each day.

The original family farm in New Glasgow has a number of large poultry barns but the Larkins also have other barns scattered within a few minutes’ drive where birds are raised.

In 2018, an opportunity arose to purchase Waddell’s Poultry Plant and Cannery in Crapaud, and the Larkin brothers knew it would be a good fit for their business. They invested in newer equipment and now process between 500 and 700 birds two days a week for market. During the summer months, ten employees work in the plant as well as on the farm, and that will increase to 30 during the busiest season leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The recent move into Crapaud brought a chance to participate in the annual September culinary celebration, PEI Fall Flavours Festival. Chef Irwin MacKinnon approached the business and asked if they’d be interested in a joint Fall Flavours event outside Charlottetown. The Larkins jumped at the chance. Some planning sessions started in January and “Suprême of the South Shore” was hatched.

“Crapaud’s excited about it,” Harvey said of the new culinary event.
“It’s nice to feature poultry,” Rosemary adds. “There hasn’t really been one [event] to feature poultry.”

The Larkins are excited to work with MacKinnon on the event. “Irwin’s a great chef, so we have great faith that he’ll have no trouble helping us pull this off,” Rosemary said.

The name of the event is a play on words, as suprême means highest in quality but also refers to the cut of a chicken breast. Taking place on September 14 in the Crapaud Community Hall, the self-proclaimed “heart of the community”, there will be 125 tickets sold.

Packaging turkey sausages at the processing plant in Crapaud photo credit: Cheryl Young/Salty

The menu is obviously one that is heavy on poultry, with an initial reception featuring appetizers like chicken liver pâté, chicken and pulled turkey tacos, and sausage and turkey meatballs, but there will be Island oysters and mussels for starters too.

The four-course menu will include an Asian-inspired turkey dumpling, a lobster-chicken roll, the star of the night: a roasted Larkin Bros chicken suprême with Island vegetables, and lemon-blueberry dessert to top off the night. MacKinnon will host the evening and work behind the scenes in the kitchen, but the Larkins are fully prepared to step in to help as well.
“I’ve cooked before,” Harvey said. “So I can help in the kitchen.” Rosemary added, “There’s a lot of culinary experience.”

Their daughters work at the Merchantman in Charlottetown, and coupled with a half-century of the family running Chez Yvonne, they are determined that Suprême of the South Shore goes off without a hitch. We’ll watch for it to become an annual can’t-miss-it Fall Flavours event.

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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