Celebrating the year’s crops with a Thanksgiving feast has been a tradition for over 400 years. Likely in 1621, individuals fed their families and communities by growing vegetables in the field. This past summer, Illinois residents went to farmers markets despite pandemic conditions as America continues to demand locally sourced vegetables and increased access to healthy food. 

This Thanksgiving feast will be no different as people rely more on their local farmers to bring the farm to the table. University of Illinois Extension encourages everyone to take the Local Thanksgiving Challenge and source some or all their Thanksgiving meal locally, improving quality of the meal while supporting our producers.

“Locally grown food isn’t shipped thousands of miles, which reduces the carbon footprint, supports our local farmers and offers tastier, more nutritious food. 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,” says, Jenna Smith, Extension nutrition and wellness educator and registered dietitian.

In her fourth year of taking the Local Thanksgiving Challenge, it has become a tradition for Extension Horticulture Educator, Kelly Allsup, to source the entire meal locally. “My vegetarian family is excited to see all the fresh vegetables and the possibilities for delectable dishes,” says Allsup.

Visit your local farmers market

- Sweet potatoes, squash, beets, onions, leafy greens, brussels sprouts, carrots, pumpkins, garlic, honey, meats, cheese, eggs and apples are just a few Thanksgiving ingredients you can find at the market.

- At this time of year, think cool season vegetables like root crops, brassica transplants (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower) and leafy greens.

- Local flower growers will be highlighting some of the flowers they grew this year in dried bouquets and wreaths. 

- Buy local cottage goods like popcorn, jams, jellies, salsas and bakery goods.

- Locally grown food is available for all, no matter the budget. Visit www.ilfma.org/find-a-market/ for a list of Illinois farmers markets and other direct-to-consumer venues accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

- Can’t make it out to a location? Shop online farmers markets that source from local farms.

Visit your local bakery

- Check out a locally owned bakery for breads, rolls, pies and cookies.

Buy local pumpkins

- Pumpkins are a top Illinois crop. An Illinois grower likely produced the pumpkins used in decorations and the pumpkins canned and used in pies. About 90% to 95% of the processed pumpkins in the U.S. are grown in Illinois.

- For decoration, pumpkin towers are created from pumpkins called flat stackers. They come in several colors and add instant holiday charm. 

Buy a local turkey

- Extension Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator, Nick Frillman shares before you go out and buy a grocery store turkey, consider your local family farm by buying a heritage breed and/or pasture-raised turkey for your special meal. Nick adds at $4-6 dollars a pound you can get a turkey that grew up right here in Illinois for about half the cost per pound of a decent steak.

Buy local honey 

- Did you know honeybees visit around two million flowers and fly over 55,000 miles to produce just one pound of honey? The best way to find local honey is to start with your local farmers market or find a local beekeeper. Most state departments of agriculture keep a registry list of certified beekeepers so that you could buy direct from the beekeeper closest to you.

- Transitioning from a traditional store-bought Thanksgiving meal to a locally sourced one can be a challenge. If you cannot purchase your entire menu locally, start small and choose the options that work best for you. A pumpkin centerpiece or a locally purchased jar of honey gives thanks to the farmers and producers in your community this holiday season.

To share your challenge experiences or for questions, contact the Extension team at 309-663-8306 and visit us at go.illinois.edu/LMW. If you will need an accommodation in order to participate, please any of the educators at the number above. Early requests are strongly encouraged to allow sufficient time to meet your access needs.

For more details on these topics and additional programs, frequently visit Extension’s Simply, Quick, and Delicious (go.illinois.edu/SimplyNQD) and Flowers, Fruits, and Frass (http://go.illinois.edu/FlowersFruitsFrass) team blogs.