With Thanksgiving right around the corner, many of us are stocking up on all the ingredients for our favorite dishes so we can contribute to the family feast. The Thanksgiving meal has traditionally been a celebration of the year’s harvest, making it a great time to focus on the bountiful harvest that has occurred right here in Illinois.
“Shopping local for your Thanksgiving meal means you will have the freshest produce, meat, and baked goods possible. You are also keeping your money local and supporting your neighboring food producers and processors,” says Erin Harper who is a Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator for Illinois Extension.
Locally grown is tasty and can be more nutritious
With our phenomenally productive soils and favorable growing season, there are numerous crops grown right here in central Illinois that can be part of your Thanksgiving meal. Its is a great way to support agricultural production in Illinois and provides you higher quality products than might typically be found at the grocery store.
“Some produce travels thousands of miles to reach our store shelves and have to be harvested before ripening to survive the trip,” notes Harper. “Locally produced
vegetables are often harvested the day they are sold, offering a much fresher choice.”
Beyond the great-tasting freshness of local fruits and veggies, they can also be more nutritious, since local growers are able to harvest crops at their peak. Many fruits and vegetables that are harvested early for shipping, before reaching peak ripeness, also don’t contain as many nutrients as crops harvested at the ideal time.
Local products can help lower your carbon footprint
In addition, local growers can greatly reduce shipping time, which allows more time for ripening, but can also lower the carbon footprint associated with their products. By consuming less fossil fuels in the shipping process, local products can help with the global climate crisis.
Shopping local also builds a demand for these products in our area which helps to develop a more reliable supply chain to support the delivery of more local products in the future. In the long term, a larger supply of locally grown products will help our area adapt to the impacts of climate change by establishing more well-developed distribution system and supply here in Illinois.
Currently a large amount of the produce we consume here in Illinois is grown in areas with drier climates that are more vulnerable to the negative impacts of a warming climate, such as the Central Valley in California. Our Midwestern climate is predicted to be more stable than these other production areas. By building a robust supply chain for local products, we stand to have a more reliable supply of these goods in the future.
Where can you find locally produced goods?
“Farmer’s Markets, farm stands, Food Coops, and specialty shops are great places to find the selection of local products available now in our area,” says Harper.
Although outdoor Farmer’s Markets may have wrapped up for the season, more and more market managers are extending their season by going indoors for the winter. The Illinois Farmer’s Market Association has a great “Find a Market” tool that features an interactive map with market information for entire state of Illinois. Check out the tool at www.ilfma.org to find a market near you.
As demand for local products has increased, many grocery stores are starting to stock shelves with a growing variety of local goods. If you aren't finding these products, be sure to ask because every request helps to reinforce the demand for locally produced items.
Beyond produce, what are some other local products?
As a “buy local” enthusiast myself, I have been thrilled to see so many new local products popping up in recent years. Many of these products make wonderful additions to the Thanksgiving feast.
There is an ever-growing list of locally produced meats, including turkeys. Some producers even offer to deliver their product cooked and prepared, which really helps save on time. Local bakeries have been growing in numbers, offering an awesome selection of local baked goods, from rolls and breads to thanksgiving pies that can nicely complete your meal. Locally produced honey continues to be widely available, offering a nice alternative to non-local sweetening products.
There are a variety of other products to complement your Thanksgiving meal as well, such as locally roasted coffees, wineries and breweries, dairy products, and even cut flowers for the perfect Thanksgiving Day centerpiece.
This Thanksgiving Season take a look around for local products and help give thanks to our local harvest by supporting the growers, producers and processors that make our economy of local products so great.