The Best Food in America Comes from Good People (guest post)

Please welcome Michele Payn-Knoper, one of the nation’s leading farm and food advocates. She is a passionate keynote speaker, a mom and a connector for those interested in translating farm to food. She founded #FoodChat on Twitter in April 2009 and invites you to participate Tuesdays, 8-10 p.m Eastern. Find out more, including the full story of the farmers working to bring food to your plate, at Cause Matters.

Do you know where your food comes from? Have you considered the care that goes into your Thanksgiving plate? Not by the hands that cooked it, but the farmers growing your food.

I’d encourage you to consider that farmers in America today are actually a minority group that represents about 1.5% of the U.S. population. The majority of Americans haven’t been on a farm in more than five years and most people are living and eating each and every day without knowing where their food really comes from.

Three quick action steps you can take to better understand your food source:

  1. Get to know a farmer; you’ll be amazed and gratified to know the real people from working farms that are the very source of the food we eat.
  2. Participate in saying thank you to the many hands behind your foodplate this Thanksgiving. FoodThanks is a great way to do this easily through Facebook, Twitter, blogging or Linkedin.
  3. Share what you learn. Whether visiting a modern day farm, participating in the foodthanks, or simply learning from farm stories and recipes below – help educate your own community.

More on the food, the farmers and the recipes…

Heritage Turkeys
Heritage Turkeys

Turkey done right!

A plump, juicy turkey is the traditional centerpiece of most tables. Harley Sietsema is a family farmer in Michigan who wants to be sure that turkey is safe, delicious and affordable.  In the course of farming for more than five decades, he has seen practices evolve to keep turkeys more comfortable and healthier.

Sietsema built a business that is self-sustaining and local. Sietsema Farms grows the majority of grains his turkeys need to be healthy, added an elevator to process the grain into feed, helped start a co-op with other farmers to process the meat humanely and most recently built a biomass system that converts turkey litter into energy that powers the grain elevator.

Harley’s two sons, daughter and grandchildren all farm with him in the family business. Learn more about this family’s turkey business.

Have you ever grilled your turkey? It’s simple – and delicious!

1 Turkey (about 1 lb./person)
Fresh herbs (rosemary, basil, thyme and oregano recommended)
Garlic cloves, peeled (to taste)
1 Onion, peeled
Large sheet of foil

Place washed, thawed turkey on foil large enough to fully wrap bird (this sometimes requires seaming two pieces of foil together).  Wash herbs and place in cavities (stems on are O.K.), reserving 2 stems of rosemary. Cube onion and add to both cavities.  Score bird with small paring knife and insert garlic cloves.  Add remaining one rosemary stem on each side of the bird.  Sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper to taste. Wrap foil around bird completely, sealing edges.  Place on 350 degree grill for 3-4 hours for 12 lb.+ bird, 2.5-3 hours for less than that (typically about 3/4 of oven time).  Open foil towards end of baking time for a more golden bird.  Allow to sit for 15 minutes when removed from grill. Remove foil and herbs.  Carve and enjoy!

Dairy Products

Love the richness that milk adds your mashed potatoes, real butter on your dinner roll or whipped cream on your pie?  These tasty dairy products come from milk, produced on dairy farms across the U.S. under tight regulations. For example, all Grade A milk is tested to be antibiotic free multiple times before it ever hits the dairy case. Californian Barbara Martin is one of the dairy farmers caring for cows 365 days per year.

Martin farms with her husband of 26 years in the San Joaquin Valley. She is a mom that that cares deeply about her family, their farm, their dairy cattle and helping feed people. Due to the historically low milk prices of the last two years and a desire to connect with customers, Martin recently began making cheese under the “Dairy Goddess Cheese” label.

One of the most common questions is about how the cows are treated.  Consider this; dairy farmers work with their animals every day – you can’t do that unless you have deep appreciation for cows.  And, as far as mistreatment, it’s logical that cows have to be content or they don’t give milk. Any mother who has breast fed can attest to that – milk doesn’t come out if stress is involved. The same is true with cows, as you can see in Barbara’s full story.

pumpkin season
pumpkin season

Pumpkins Galore!

Pumpkin pie is the crowning glory for most Thanksgiving meals. Those pumpkins don’t just appear magically in a can; they are grown by farmers like Rick Vance in Illinois, which is the top pumpkin producing state in the US and  provides 90-95% of the nation’s processed pumpkins.

Vance’s family farm also grows green beans, sweet corn, soybeans, popcorn, peas, field corn and seed corn.  He has two daughters who make it fit for a queen.

Pumpkins are a favorite of little people in our kitchen, thanks to this recipe for Pumpkin Custard.

3/4 c sugar
1 T pumpkin spice
1/2  tsp cinnamon
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 T cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
2 c milk
15 oz canned pumpkin

Mix together in blender, pour into individual cups or bowl.  Put cups/bowl in pan with approximately 1-2″ boiling water in bottom. Bake @ 400 till set (approx 45 minutes for large bowl).  You can also use this to make a pumpkin pie – just add the custard to a prepared pie crust.

A Mom Making Cranberries

Cranberries offer a tangy burst of color on your Thanksgiving plate, not to mention great health benefits.  This fruit dates back to early use by Native Americans, who used cranberries for medicine and preserving meats.

Dawn Gates-Allen is the mother in charge on the multi-generational 90 acre farm with 27 acres of cranberry bogs. Their farm now makes significant utilization of technology since the bogs are so isolated that they don’t have electricity. They now use solar power to keep batteries charged so they can monitor the bogs, soil moisture and temperature remotely and irrigate automatically to correctly supplement what nature brings in just the correct manner.

See breathtaking pictures of cranberries – and Dawn’s identical twin girls.

Need a wonderful cranberry recipe? My favorite Thanksgiving recipes straight from the farm are here, including French bread and mashed potatoes.

Learn where your food comes from!

One of the best ways to understand food production – and the challenges – is to know the people behind your food plate.  Talk to the people working the land and taking care of animals.  Farmers care deeply – and they feed their families the same food you eat.

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