This Thanksgiving, Thank Midwest Farmers for Your Feast

Nov 23, 2017

For Thanksgiving, Lake Effect is examining the many roles food plays in our lives - both for the holiday and beyond our yearly feast. From learning about the continental history of Thanksgiving foods to fighting cancer with produce, there is a lot we can thank food for in our lives.

Local farmer and contributor Dave Kozlowski produces many of the foods we will enjoy on our dinner tables today, and while this time of year is a celebration of the season's bounty, it's also "bittersweet" for a farmer. "We only have a 180 day at most growing season here, so at some point things need to come to an end," he says.

Now that it's nearing the end of November, Pinehold Gardens is getting the last of the crops out of the field that cannot stand up to the freeze-thaw patterns of the season and preparing the land for next year.

While the more hearty crops such as kale, cabbages, and winter radishes can remain a while longer in the fields, Kozlowski makes sure the "needy, prima donna" summer crops are taken care of. "I used to let fields lay fallow," he notes. "I no longer do that because I can't trust that the spring is going to allow enough drying time to get in early. So I actually plow fields in the fall."

Although hundreds of pounds of cabbages are being stored and the irrigation system is dismantled for the winter, "there's still a lot of work to do" on a farm according to Kozlowski. "Even though we aren't harvesting as much, there's still the idea of putting the farm to bed. But it's also the time to look forward to the next year. We're starting to look at how we can improve on things...opening doors to new possibilities, and we'll be doing a lot of that this winter."

Although Kozlowski says that never again will he take irrigation for granted, "overall we're fairly satisfied with the way things went this year, despite the drought."

Even farmers get to relax and enjoy a Thanksgiving meal, and Kozlowski is looking forward to a huge side of his favorite vegetable - brussel sprouts. But no matter what you have on your table, he notes a large majority of it is made possible thanks to Midwest farmers.

Credit Pinehold Gardens / facebook.com

"Everybody that sits down to a Thanksgiving dinner in Wisconsin can probably point to or probably should thank Wisconsin farmers, because a good part of what is in their food or on their table could have come from Wisconsin - or at least the Midwest."

According to Kozlowski, very little of a Thanksgiving dinner is going to be imported since most of the produce is grown here in the United States. However, he wonders if we should stick to such strict tradition in our food choices since not all produce is harvested in close proximity.

"The tradition has been the turkey and potatoes - all upper-Midwest or New England kind of foods," says Kozlowski. "Is that traditional dinner so fitting for California or Arizona?"

If our meals become over-reliant on produce shipped in from places like California, he says, we should create farming systems that are more reliant on closer regions for a sustainable future.

"As far as produce goes there's nothing there that (Wisconsin farmers) can't grow," notes Kozlowski (with the exception of citrus). "It's just a matter of do we want to grow corn and soybean or do we want to grow watermelons and broccoli?"

What concerns him more is that Americans are eating more highly processed foods compared to simply processed foods such as frozen vegetables and canned produce.

"What concerns me more than that is...we're importing a lot of this processed foods," adds Kozlowski. He says that only two percent of imported foods are actually inspected by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so it is up to consumers to be mindful about what they decide to purchase and eat.

Kozlowski suggests that by growing, harvesting, and selling produce closer to major metropolitan areas, we can create a resilient regional food system in the United States. This is especially important as wild fires, droughts, water, and available land become increasingly unpredictable.

"The government, the manufacturers, the large farmers, the small farmers, and the consumer - we will all play a role in this," says Kozlowski. But to start, we can make sure to enjoy some Wisconsin cranberries and green beans, Idaho potatoes, and perhaps even try some brussel sprouts.