Why You Should Eat Local for Thanksgiving

by Georgie Smith, farmergeorgewrites@gmail.com

A classic Thanksgiving ‘Horn of Plenty’

America’s national gluttony day is just a month away. Which begs the question, are you planning to ‘eat local’ for Thanksgiving?

The Pilgrim’s Did It, Shouldn’t You?

There are many holidays with a tradition and culture of food. The Christmas Fruitcake. The Easter Ham. The Labor Day Potato Salad. And of course, many holiday foods based on religion, culture and simply family tradition. 

In my family, it’s not Christmas dinner without Grandma Janet’s green-bean casserole recipe – bring on the only reason of the year to purchase ‘French’s Fried Onions.’

But there is no holiday that is all about eating, like Thanksgiving is.

It only makes sense. The pilgrims of Colonial America weren’t having a big pig-out just because they were bored and looking to par-TEEE. They were celebrating life. And their ability to continue with it. Which had a very direct connection to the availability of food. 

Even in America of today, with a shamefully high percentage of American’s struggling to afford to put food in the table, the problem isn’t the LACK of the food, but the ability to purchase it. 

But in Colonial American days, it didn’t matter if you had the nicest log cabin on the block. If you didn’t grow and ‘put by’ enough food before winter, there was a strong chance you wouldn’t make it through til spring. 

So, when those early American’s put together that grand feast, it wasn’t just about a fun time spent with family and friends. It was a celebration of life, and the food that they had gathered to help them keep living it. The food their community had grown, through the hard work and toil of the season. 

The Pilgrim’s didn’t need to talk about eating local food, the only food they HAD was local. 

The Best of the Local Food Harvest Takes Time

If you’ve never grown your own garden, you may not realize that some of the sweetest, flavorful and satisfying foods of the season are those that take not just days, but MONTHS, to grow. 

Winter squash? That amazing pumpkin pie (sorry to burst you bubble, but all pumpkins are technically ‘squash’ we just like to call the orange ones ‘pumpkins) made from squash/pumpkin varietals like Winter Luxury, Sugar Pie or even the famous “Long Island Cheese,” took a good 120 to 160 days (depending on the cultivar) to grow, convert starch to sugars and ripen to their full potential. 

A beautiful assortment of winter squash – aka ‘pumpkins’

Winter Roots? Parsnips and rutabagas, two often overlooked but astounding (and traditional) fall harvest crops, must be seeded about mid-May, carefully tended for weeds, protected from voracious insects, and watered as needed, before they reveal their earthy sweetness sometime around mid-October.

Brussel Sprouts? That tiny cabbage that invokes either love or hate, can be grown for earlier in the season but really, they don’t come into their own until temperatures drop, cooler weather prevails and that prompts their slightly bitter starches to turn to sugar. Creating small green ‘cabbage candy.’ 

Onions and Leeks? Onions take time to grow, mature and then additional curing time. And leeks, those wrist-thick white stalks that serve as the foundation of so many amazing harvest and winter meals? They need a least a good six months growing time, or longer, to reach their peak leek performance.

Turkey? It doesn’t just pop-out of the egg, 20 lbs fat and ready to go. First the farmer had to grow the turkeys that procreated your Thanksgiving turkey. Gather the eggs, hatch the poults (word of the day! A ‘poult’ is a baby turkey) and care for the delicate young turkeys for anywhere from four to eight months before those birds are large enough to grace a Thanksgiving day table.

Raising a late November turkey really starts the year BEFORE your Thanksgiving meal. 

A Day to Slow-Down and Savor Great Local Food

In our modern-day world, how often do we spend all day (and the days before) planning what we will eat, then take the time to sit down and enjoy it?

Say what you will about the dearth of the family daily dinner, but it is the reality of our busy lives, cue the preponderance of fast, convenient food options.  A survey all the way back in 2003 found that almost half of American’s sat down for a family meal less than three times a week, and many not at all. 

The fact of the matter, great food takes time to think about, time to cook and time to enjoy.  And because food is so abundantly available to us, we don’t take the time to do those things as often or as well as we should.  Simply put, we take food for granted.

Just setting a beautiful dinner table…how often do we do that these days?

Which is why is even more important to slow down, enjoy and savor not just the time of a great recipe, but using the best, locally-sourced ingredients you can find. How many days of the year do you get the time to do just that?

Enjoy the Local Food Bounty, While You Can

The Pilgrim’s felt the this keenly, of course. But it is still true to an extent for local food. 

Unless you are living in a warm-winter climate, end of November is about the time most local farmers and local markets are ‘shutting down’ for the season. Some interepid farm entrepreneurs carry on, bringing stored goods and greenhouse grown products to the occasional winter market. 

But the reality is, not only do their fields need a winter break, most farmers do too.  

The slow-down of winter is a much-needed break for most farmers

Farming is one of the most physically and mentally intense jobs around. Everything starts in early spring, and a farmer has only the weather, their ingenuity, perservance and the relationship of the sun in its rotation of the earth, to ensure a successful season. 

By the end of November, they’re dragging. Think about it, how often do you see farmers taking a ‘summer vacation with the family?’ It’s a matter of ‘making hay while the sun shines’ and for most farmers that is generally about an eight-month period of non-stop, April through November, insanity.

So, while there is increasingly availability of winter-time local foods, don’t count on it to the extent and abundance of the summer-time bounty. Farmers need time off too. 

How To Source Your Local Food Thanksgiving

You source your local food Thanksgiving meal by planning it now! If you wait til the Wednesday before to find those locally grown parsnips, purchase a pasture-raised turkey and grab a bag of those precious, precious Brussel’s sprouts, you may be out of luck. 

First of all, many seasonal farmer’s markets have shut down by Thanksgiving, as well as farm stands. And, depending on availability, selection may be getting slim (locally raised turkeys are often in short supply for Thanksgiving). 

So, your best bet is some planning, and research. Many farms, including Garden Treasures, offer special “Thanksgiving Shares.”  Essentially a box brimming full of the best of the year’s bounty, and traditional Thanksgiving Day ingredients.  

Have You Signed Up for Garden Treasures Thanksgiving Harvest Share Yet?

A one-time only ‘share’ featuring the best of the season, perfect for Thanksgiving dinner. Several convenient pick-up times.

Click HERE to reserve your box NOW!

There are often one-day, or special holiday ‘markets’ that you may find local farms at. One last ‘hoorah’ selling off the season’s bounty. You can also stock up now on many of the food items that you can easily store for the month or so til Thanksgiving time. Read more about how to do that easily HERE.  

Don’t miss out on the local local food markets of the season.

Don’t get so obsessed about ‘eating local’ that you drive yourself crazy trying to have an ‘all-local’ meal. Sure, it’s fun the brag that ‘everything on the table’ came from a local source (or, like farmers tend to do, we grew ourselves). But, in reality, just being ‘as local as you can be’ is plenty good enough.

Sometimes, in our quest for ‘perfection’ we lose sight of the big picture. I may use green beans grown locally and canned over summer for my Grandma’s ‘Green Bean Casserole,’ but those dried onion strips have to come in that French’s container, or it’s just not the same (and Grandma Janet rolls over in her grave). We all know that the early American’s hoarded like gold, their precious bag of sugar, imported from the sugar cane plantations of the far-away Caribbean.

The main thing is, eat as local as you can, support your neighborhood farmer because they sure will appreciate it and enjoy this precious time with your family, friends and a bounty of incredible food! 

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