in the garden | Locally sourced Thanksgiving | Gardening

As Thanksgiving approaches, many of us stock up on ingredients for our favorite dishes so we can contribute to the family feast. The Thanksgiving meal is traditionally a celebration of the harvest of the year, making it a great time to focus on the bountiful harvest right here in Illinois.

“Buying local for your Thanksgiving meal means you’ll have the freshest produce, meat, and baked goods possible. You also keep your local money and support your neighboring food producers and processors, ”says Erin Harper, local food systems and small farm educator for the University of Illinois Extension.

With our incredibly productive soils and favorable growing season, there are many crops grown in central Illinois that can be part of your Thanksgiving meal. It’s a great way to support agricultural production in Illinois and provide you with better quality produce than what you typically find in the grocery store.

“Some produce travels thousands of miles to reach our shelves and must be harvested before ripening to survive the trip,” notes Harper. “Locally produced vegetables are often harvested the day they are sold, providing a much fresher choice. “

Beyond the great taste and freshness of local fruits and vegetables, they can also be more nutritious since local producers are able to harvest the crops at their peak. Many crops that are harvested early for shipment, before reaching maximum maturity, do not contain as many nutrients as those harvested at the ideal time.

Additionally, local producers can significantly reduce shipping time, which allows more time for maturation and can reduce the carbon footprint associated with their products. By consuming less fossil fuels in the shipping process, local products can help address the global climate crisis.

Buying local also creates demand for these products in our region, which helps develop a more reliable supply chain to support the delivery of more local products in the future. In the long term, a greater supply of locally grown produce will help our region adapt to the impacts of climate change by establishing a more developed distribution and supply system here in Illinois.

Currently, much of the produce we consume here in Illinois is grown in areas with drier climates and more vulnerable to the negative impacts of global warming, such as the Central Valley in California. Our Midwestern climate is expected to be more stable than these other producing areas. By creating a strong supply chain for local products, we will have a more reliable supply of these products in the future.

“Farmers’ markets, farm stands, food co-ops and specialty shops are great places to find the selection of local produce available now in our area,” says Harper.

Although the outdoor farmers’ markets are closed for the season, more and more market managers are extending their season by going indoors for the winter. The Illinois Farmers Market Association has a great “Find a Market” tool that features an interactive map with market information for the entire state of Illinois. Check out the tool at ilfma.org to find a market near you.

As a “buy local” enthusiast, I have been delighted to see so many new local products appear in recent years. Numerous of these products make wonderful additions to the Thanksgiving feast.

There is an ever-growing list of locally produced meats, including turkeys. Some producers even offer to deliver their product cooked and prepared, which saves time.

Local bakeries are growing in number, offering an impressive selection of local baked goods, from rolls and breads to Thanksgiving pies, which can complement your meal.

Locally produced honey continues to be widely available, providing a fine alternative to non-local sweetening products.

There are also a variety of other products to complement your Thanksgiving meal, such as locally roasted coffees, wine and beer, dairy products, and cut flowers for the perfect Thanksgiving centerpiece.

This Thanksgiving season, take a look at local produce and help give thanks for our local harvest by supporting the growers, growers and processors who make our local produce economy so great.

Ryan Pankau is a Horticultural Educator with UI Extension, serving Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties. This column also appears on his “Garden Scoop” blog at go.illinois.edu/GardenScoopBlog.


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Terri S. Tomasini