Bring homegrown foods to the table this Thankgiving

URBANA, Ill. – Celebrating the year’s harvest with a Thanksgiving feast has been an American tradition for more than 400 years. Whether homegrown or from a farmers market, the demand for locally sourced foods is on the rise.

This Thanksgiving, University of Illinois Extension is encouraging those setting the table leave room for local foods to improve the quality of the meal while also supporting producers. Jenna Smith, Extension nutrition and wellness educator and registered dietitian, says when food doesn’t travel as far it has an impact on both the environment and the flavor.

“Locally grown food isn’t shipped thousands of miles, which reduces the carbon footprint, supports our local farmers, and offers tastier, more nutritious food,” Smith says. “When food doesn’t have to travel far, it can be picked ripe, and eaten soon after harvest, retaining more nutrients and flavor than food picked unripe and stored for a longer period.”

For four years, Extension Horticulture Educator Kelly Allsup has made it her mission to locally source her family’s entire Thanksgiving meal in what has now become a new tradition.

“My vegetarian family is excited to see all the fresh vegetables and the possibilities for delectable dishes,” says Allsup.

Transitioning from a traditional store-bought Thanksgiving meal to a locally sourced one can be a challenge. Start small and choose whatever works best for your celebration. Allsup says a pumpkin centerpiece or a jar of local honey are small ways to give thanks to the farmers and producers in your community this holiday season.

The first step to finding local foods is to track down in-season fruit and vegetables at the farmers market or buy directly from a local grower. Some may even deliver. Sweet potatoes, winter squash, beets, onions, garlic, leafy greens, broccoli, apples, carrots, and horseradish, are just a few examples of seasonal produce currently available. Pumpkins are a top Illinois crop so there will be plenty available at the market to cook or to use as decoration.

Markets are a great place to find popcorn, jams, jellies, salsas, or baked goods such as rolls or desserts. Consider getting a jar of honey to sweeten dishes. Dried flowers bouquets or wreaths may also be available to decorate the table.

When it comes to the turkey, Nick Frillman, Extension local food systems and small farms educator, suggest thinking about buying a heritage breed bird or pasture-raised turkey. “Before you go out and buy a grocery store turkey, consider your local family farm operation,” Frillman says.

At $4 to $6 dollars a pound, a family can enjoy a turkey that was raised by Illinois farmers for about half the cost per pound of a decent steak.

“Buy a local turkey this Thanksgiving, and taste the difference for yourself,” Frillman says. “You’ll know after the first bite that your money was well spent.”

SOURCES: Kelly Allsup, Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator; Jenna Smith, Illinois Extension Nutrition and Wellness Educator; Nick Frillman, Illinois Extension Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator.

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.