Giving Thanks to Farmer-Heroes

This week as turkeys roast and glasses toast, let us give thanks to the farmers who connect our menus from field to plate.

by John D. Ivanko
PHOTO: Tim Sackton/Flickr

This week as turkeys roast and glasses toast, let us give thanks to the farmers who connect our menus from field to plate. Perhaps more than any other holiday on the calendar, Thanksgiving is—or at least should be—the equivalent to a ticker-tape parade for farmer-heroes who make our feasts possible.

For those of us with urban farms, backyard or community gardens, or a few rural acres, Thanksgiving can mark our seasonal transition from outdoor duties to those quieter winter months inside, when we dive into the abundance of root-cellared, frozen or canned produce—to enjoy the taste of the fruits of our labor.

So how are some of our farmer-heroes spending their Thanksgiving? We asked them, and here’s what they said:

Using Fresh, Not Processed, Ingredients

“For us, it’s all about the stuffing,” says Logan Peterman with a smile. He and his wife, Katie, run Laughing Sprout Family Farm in central Wisconsin.

While they keep a mostly vegetarian diet, they do cook a turkey for visiting family on Thanksgiving. Satisfying their preference for vegetables, however, they prepare a vegetable-based stuffing to showcase their fall crops.

“I think too many people think stuffing has to come out of a pre-made, processed box,” Peterman, says. “Stuffing is surprisingly easy to make. In addition to the dry, hardened bread, I’ll add onions, celery and carrots, and season with sage, thyme and garlic—showcasing the harvest from our farm.”

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Showcasing Their Roots

“My family is Greek. My mother was born in Patras, so our menu often looks a little different than typical American fare,” explains Neysa King, a young farmer outside Austin, Texas, who shares her beginning-growing experience through her blog, Dissertation to Dirt. “There’s the turkey, of course, but in addition, we always have spanakopita, spinach and cheese baked inside filo dough, along with Greek-style potatoes baked with olive oil, white wine and oregano.”

But King and her husband, Travis Czerw, will also bring new flavors to the family table when they head to her mom’s house in Dallas this week: “Roasted root vegetables were never something my mother made until I began farming and bringing home delicious and sweet beets, carrots and turnips. Now roasted roots are a standard at our Thanksgiving table.”

Keeping Active

Beth Osmund who runs Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm, the first meat CSA (community-supported agriculture) serving Chicago, shelves her boots and Carhartts at Thanksgiving and puts on running shoes.

“We’re starting a fresh tradition this year by participating in a local 3-mile Turkey Trot run/walk as a family,” Osmund shares. “Both my husband and I along with our three sons have been training together in order to keep our activity levels up as the weather cools off. The race is on Thanksgiving morning, so we’ll get some good exercise before relishing that pasture-raised turkey from farm.”

Setting Her Own Rules

Who said you must eat turkey on Thanksgiving? That’s exactly what Kriss Marion of Circle M Farm in southern Wisconsin asked. She and her family celebrate Thanksgiving a week early.

“We open our doors a week before Thanksgiving and have friends and family over for a traditional meal, including my one of the farm-raised heritage-breed turkeys and favorite squash soup with our heirloom winter squash,” explains Marion. “Our actual Thanksgiving day is a very quiet, informal gathering with just my husband and kids, where we’ll kick back with no responsibilities in the kitchen, hang out in our pajamas, and maybe pop into town and go out to eat. It’s fun and super-relaxing to have a totally free day like this—just what we need after the busy summer running our CSA.”

Marion really plays by her own rules: “For that early Thanksgiving meal with family and friends, if we sell all our turkeys to our CSA members, I’ll just cook chicken and ham instead.”

So have a tasty Thanksgiving however you celebrate the food and the farmers who make it possible. Check back next week for techniques and recipes for one of our favorite classic holiday dishes: Eggs Benedict.

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