When the Thanksgiving table is set this year, check if something is missing. It may be the care that local farmers, ranchers, bakers and cooks put into their work.
For four years, Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator Kelly Allsup has challenged herself to buy mostly fresh, local ingredients for her family’s meal.
“Buying local foods has become a new Thanksgiving tradition,” Allsup says. “In past years, we have feasted on sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, carrots, cheese, honey, eggs, and herbs as well as breads and desserts from local bakeries.”
Supporting regional food providers is good for you and your community. It encourages economic growth, benefits the environment and promotes a safer food supply.
Locally grown foods also have more nutrients since they have a shorter time between being harvested and reaching the consumer. Produce grown locally travels an average of 56 miles to market while conventionally grown food travels 1,494 miles, according to a 2003 Iowa State University study.
Allsup encourages people to consider a few local options when shopping for Thanksgiving.
Finding locally grown fresh produce can be difficult in Illinois in November. Some towns have pop-up markets for Thanksgiving and roadside stands may be an option. If you’ve developed a relationship with a farmer at a market, consider contacting them in advance about an order.
It's likely too late to track down a locally-sourced turkey or ham this year, but next summer ask around at your local farmers market about ordering a locally raised bird in advance.
Honey can be swapped for sugar in many recipes. Honey made by local bees has minerals, vitamins and is a natural energy booster and can be found at markets and natural food stores.
Shoppers may also unintentionally end up with local foods on the table. Whether buying gourds for decorations, canned pumpkin or a premade pie, the source squash is likely from Illinois. About 90% to 95% of the processed pumpkins in the U.S. are grown in Illinois.