Where Does Your Food Come From?

Meet some of the farmers who bring you those traditional Thanksgiving foods each year, and discover how learning where your food comes from improves the taste.

Turkey takes center stage during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Turkey takes center stage during the Thanksgiving holiday.


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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 by the farmers growing your food.

One of the nation’s leading food and farm advocates, Michele Payn-Knoper, says that farmers in America today are actually a minority group that represents about 1.5 percent 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.

“Get to know a farmer,” she says. “You’ll be amazed and gratified to know the real people who are at the very source of the food we all eat.”

Michele offers a look at where some of the favorite items on the menus for the upcoming holiday meals actually come from:


Turkeys – Grand Rapids, Michigan

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 grow 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.


Dairy – Fresno, California

Love the richness that milk adds to 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 United States 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 who cares deeply about her family, their farm, their dairy cattle and helping feed people. Due to 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.


Potatoes – Fargo, North Dakota

Mashed potatoes are a favorite of young and old.

Black Gold farms is a family-owned and operated business that was started on a 10-acre plot of land by the Halverson family in the Red River Valley more than 80 years ago.

Eric Halverson says that technology has had a major influence on the farm potato operations and is now utilized in everything from optical sorting machines, to tractors that steer by GPS, to the facilities in which the potatoes are stored.

Potatoes have the best nutritional value for the dollar compared to any other food. Black Gold today is a global food production company that farms in 11 states and is the largest supplier of potatoes to the largest potato chip company in the United States. If you love Frito’s then you love Black Gold potatoes.

Black Gold ships more than 500 billion pounds of potatoes each year.


Wheat Bread – Kansas City, Kansas

Homemade dinner rolls or a fresh loaf of bread are popular items on our table. Flour made from wheat is the staple ingredient in breads and is mostly raised in the plains states.

Darin Grimm is one of the modern day family farmers who grow wheat in Kansas, along with sunflowers, corn, soybeans and beef cattle.

Grimm farms with his father, serves on his children’s school board and is active in a variety of national organizations that help farmers, such as the AgChat Foundation.


Pumpkin – Chicago, Illinois

Pumpkin pie is the crowning glory or most Thanksgiving meals.

Those pumpkins don’t just appear magically in a can; they are grown by farmers like Rick Vance in Illinois, which, as the top pumpkin producing state in the United States, provides 90 to 95 percent of the nation’s processed pumpkins.

Vance’s 3,500-acre family farm also grows green beans, sweet corn, soybeans, popcorn, peas, field corn and seed corn.



Cranberries – Freehold, Massachusetts (south of Boston)

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

The Freetown Farm LLC Cranberry Farm, in southeastern Massachusetts, is a multi-generational, 90-acre farm with 27 acres of cranberry bogs.

Dawn Gates-Allen is the mother in charge, and her twin teenage daughters, shown here with two friends in one of the cranberry bogs, are the fifth generation to be involved in the family farm.

Their farm now makes significant utilization of technology. The cranberry bogs are so isolated that there isn’t electricity available. So the family now uses 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.



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.

Get to know a farmer. Learn more at Payn-Knoper’s website, Cause Matters.

Michele Payn-Knoper grew up on a farm in Michigan and has become one of the nation’s leading farm and food advocates. She is on a personal mission to help people understand the connection between the farmers who grow food and the people who enjoy it.

She created the Gate to Plate program to help connect those two groups and teach them more about how food is created and delivered to Americans.

Try one of these holiday dinner recipes from ‘Straight from the Farm’ (recipes from Michele Payn-Knoper’s kitchen).


French Bread

2 ccups water

1 package yeast

1 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoon salt

5 1/2 cups flour

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add salt, sugar, flour. Let rise until doubled. Shape. Rise 1 hour. Bake at 425°F for 25 to 35 minutes until loaves are golden. Yields 2 loaves.


Pumpkin Custard

3/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon pumpkin spice

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 eggs

2 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups milk

1 can (15 ounces) canned pumpkin

Mix together in blender, pour into individual cups or bowl. Put cups/bowl in pan with 1 to 2 inches boiling water in bottom. Bake at 400°F until set (approx 45 minutes for large bowl). You can also use this to make a pumpkin pie – just add custard to a pie crust.


Cranberry-Waldorf Molded Salad

1 small package (3 ounces) lemon-flavor gelatin

2 cups boiling water

2 cups fresh cranberries

1 large (about 3/4 pound) orange, peeled and seeded

1 large (about 1/2 pound) red apple, cored

3/4 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup chopped almonds

Creamy yogurt dressing (recipe follows)

Mix gelatin with boiling water, stirring until dissolved; chill until thick, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, coarsely chop cranberries; chop orange and apple into about 1/4-inch cubes. Mix fruit with thickened gelatin; add celery and nuts. Spoon into a 5- to 6-cup mold or fancy glass bowl. Chill for at least 4 hours or until the next day.

Remove salad from mold, dip mold in warm water and wait until salad breaks away from side of mold when gently shaken, about 2 minutes. Invert serving platter on top of mold. Holding tightly together, flip mold over onto platter; remove mold. Or serve salad directly from fancy bowl. Offer yogurt dressing to add as desired.


Creamy Yogurt Dressing

Combing 1 cup nonfat unflavored yogurt, 2 tablespoons honey and 1 tablespoon grated orange peel. Chill until ready to use, up to 2 days.

(from Sunset Magazine 1994)


Mashed Potatoes

Peeled potatoes, boiled until tender

Warmed milk

Chicken broth

Sour cream

Mozzarella cheese



For a 2-quart saucepan of boiled potatoes, add approximately 1 cup warmed milk, 1 can chicken broth, 1/2 cup sour cream and 1 cup mozzarella cheese. Add salt and butter to taste. This recipe can be altered to taste, just adjust ingredients. You can also add a package of ranch dip mix for additional zest.


Grilled Turkey

1 turkey (about 1 pound per 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°F grill for 3 to 4 hours for 12 pound-plus bird, 2 1/2 to 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!