Thankful for Our Local Food System

golden beets and red beeds
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Last Thanksgiving, my family feasted on sweet potatoes, beets, Brussels sprouts, squash, and apples, all grown here in McLean County. We had a local business smoke our turkey for the holiday; our dessert featured cookies and macaroons and a festive dried flower arrangement from a local baker and florists; and my mom now loves local honey in her tea. We had a traditional feast, local-style.

This Thanksgiving will be the third year of challenging myself to buy local ingredients and shop at local businesses, supporting my community and getting the freshest ingredients possible for the big meal. However, I also wanted to challenge myself, but also lower my carbon footprint.

Will buying local be enough to decrease my carbon footprint? It depends. A “carbon footprint” not only considers the transport, but also the production process and the types of foods you choose.

Livestock can be some of the biggest climate offenders, and that starts before even being shipped to the market. From the methane they produce to the grains they consume, buying local beef and pork may not decrease your carbon footprint, but poultry like chicken and turkey have a lower carbon footprint. According to University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems, “For each serving of beef, there are nearly seven pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents, while one serving of poultry has just over one pound of carbon dioxide equivalents.”

So I will make the vegetables the star of the dinner, and eat meat and cheese in moderation. It is also important to eat fruit and vegetables that are grown organically and in season. So you may have to skip the ham, asparagus and blueberry pie, and opt for turkey, roasted beets and pumpkin pie to ensure the lower carbon footprint. Although everything has its place in the market, even beef (what would gardeners do without composted manure for their tomatoes?) it is best to have a diverse and balanced diet.

Here are some tips to shop local:

Attend the 13th annual Downtown Bloomington Thanksgiving Farmers Market at Grossinger Motors Arena from 9 a.m. to noon Nov. 23 for inspiration. Our neighbors and farmers provide a range of products including fruit, vegetables, herbs, dairy, pork, beef, poultry, pastries and eggs.

Buy local honey instead of using sugar. Visit the farmers market, Green Top Grocery, Common Grounds grocery, or find the Central Illinois Beekeepers Association on Facebook to obtain the sweet stuff locally. Honey has minerals and vitamins, and is a natural energy booster.

Buy your breads, rolls, pies, and cookies from a local bakery. Some will have seasonal specials and hours. Some will have a booth at the Thanksgiving Farmers Market.

Go to a local meat shop or ask your favorite restaurant if they are cooking turkeys.

Buy several pumpkins for the big day. A farmer in Illinois most likely grew those pumpkins that are highlighted in your decorative display, and the pie on your plate.