Meet The Farmers Who Grew Your Thanksgiving

A Thanksgiving plate is more than a collection of fall foods. It’s also a way to give thanks to the farmers who spent months growing the vegetables, fruit, and main dishes that bring us comfort each year. On this episode of Growing Local, we’ll meet the farmers who grew your holiday feast.

Let’s start the meal with a cozy autumn soup featuring winter squash from Candy Mountain Farm in Murphy, North Carolina. Frances Juhlin says it was a good year in her squash patch.

“Our basic variety that we always grow is butternut squash because of its ease of growing. We have this space over at the neighbors’ that allows us to put in something like potatoes or winter squash and just kind of let them go and not require daily maintenance,” Frances says.

Frances and her farming partner Stephen Juhlin tried out some new varieties this year with their CSA customers in mind.

“We tried a new variety of acorn squash from Johnny’s Selected Seed called Starry Night. We try to do something different each week with those squashes. One of my customers, a new one, said, ‘Oh, it’s great because I can use it for decoration and I can eat it at Thanksgiving,’” Frances says.

Now that the soup course is just a memory, it’s time to fill up a big plate of vegetables and main dishes. Grandma always said “eat your greens” so let’s start there.

Eileen Droescher from Ol’ Turtle Farm in Marion says that summer rains resulted in an outstanding crop of greens. She grows almost every vegetable you’d need for a holiday dinner, including brassicas, onions, and root vegetables.

“It’s really inspiring to start something from a seed and see what it can produce,” Eileen says.

The kale from her farm would be great in a fresh salad with dried cranberries and nuts. And the collards can be cooked down until they’re soft and tender.

Those greens look right at home next to another fall favorite—carrots. The colder weather makes carrots even sweeter as they convert some of their starches into sugar to protect themselves from freezing at night. This produces a sweeter carrot that’s perfect for a holiday feast.

Shiloh Avery and Jason Roehrig from Tumbling Shoals Farm in Wilkes County usually keep things simple when they cook carrots at home, but they whip up something special for their families during the holidays.

“Roasted is our favorite way; even just roasting them whole. Now our families are a little more traditional, so they are maybe a little more skeptical of that. They’ll politely try it. What our families do is a glazed carrot, and we’ve had some really good glazed carrot recipes, like with pomegranate molasses. We had to make that ourselves, the pomegranate molasses, and it goes over the carrots,” Shiloh says.

Now that the vegetables have been passed around the table, it’s time for the main event. While turkey is traditional, there are lots of other local showstoppers like leg of lamb, a standing rib roast, or trout fillets. There is also an array of vegetarian and vegan main dishes to choose from, like individual acorn squashes filled with wild rice and nuts, butternut squash lasagna, or pumpkin risotto.

If you do want turkey on your table, a local bird can provide excellent flavor and the peace of mind of knowing that the turkey was raised humanely. At some farms, like Winding Stair Farm in Franklin, the turkeys spend their entire lives outdoors.

“Turkeys take a lot of a lot of time and they eat a lot of food. Even being pasture raised and out here eating bugs and grass all day long, they still go through a lot of a lot of feed,” says Stacy Bredendieck.

When we visited her farm last year, the turkeys were very active, running and even flying through the pastures.

“I think the people who are interested in buying food from this farm are really interested in the idea of locally raised food. It’s humanely raised; it’s locally raised; it’s organically raised. And I think there’s the story of us personally looking after these birds all year long. It’s a way to have a bird that’s had a great life and a fantastic place to live. They’re well cared for all the way through,” Stacy says.

No matter what’s on your holiday plate or who you share your meal with, take a moment to thank the farmers who made the feast possible. Find local farms that offer Thanksgiving staples in ASAP’s Local Food Guide:

Aired: November 16, 2020

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