The Farmers' Feast: Unconventional Thanksgiving Traditions from the Farm | CUESA

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November 20, 2015

The Farmers' Feast: Unconventional Thanksgiving Traditions from the Farm

Thanksgiving is built on homemade traditions. It is the one time of year when our quirky family dinners are cherished with fondness, during which we are assumed, and even expected, to fall into rituals set forth in years past.

Everyone has their own mealtime customs, farmers included. We spoke with some Ferry Plaza farmers to hear about their unique Thanksgiving traditions and what they’re most grateful for this holiday season.

Thanksgiving on Farm Time

As a food-centric holiday, Thanksgiving is a serious affair in the farmers market community. During a period most of us block off for rest and relaxation, Thanksgiving means a shift in business operations for those whose produce is featured at the dinner table.

“Everyone [in the market] has their holiday,” says John Garrone of Far West Fungi, while weighing a paper bag of portobellos for a customer. “Egg farmers have Easter, flower farmers have Valentine’s Day. Well, Thanksgiving is our holiday. It’s probably the biggest of the holidays for mushrooms.”

Dan Lehrer of Little Apple Treats experiences the holiday rush both before and after Thanksgiving. “Last year we went right to work after Thanksgiving dinner,” he says. “Because the next day is Black Friday, and we had orders to ship out.”

Since Little Apple launched their apple caramels, granola, and other value-added products, their holidays are dictated by the gifting season, rather than the harvest. “Our busiest three weeks of the year are between Thanksgiving and December 20,” Dan explains.

Not every farm’s calendar is guided by the holidays, however. Peppers, for instance, are not typically associated with the Thanksgiving table, which, for David Winsberg of Happy Quail Farms, means his family can enjoy a peaceful holiday. “We’ve always taken a four-day break. We close everything and take it easy. Generally this time of year is so cold, that if we don’t pick for four days, it’s like, eh, it’s all going to still be there on Monday.”

Beyond the Bird

While many follow family ritual, others find tradition in improvisation, particularly when it comes to food. “Our tradition is doing things differently,” says John Lagier of Lagier Ranches. “Last Thanksgiving we put stuff in our La Caja China—a Cuban roasting box that’s wooden, lined with metal. It does a killer job roasting pork. Sometimes we bring out the alembic to distill a little something.”

For Bill Crepps of Everything Under the Sun, Thanksgiving is a time to experiment with produce from his farm. “What we sometimes do is take Delicata squash, stuff it with spinach, mushroom, and cheese, and then bake it,” he describes. This new Thanksgiving staple emerged out of a need for a meat-free dish, when one year a vegetarian guest came to the table. “I was thinking, ‘What could we do that would be sort of fancy?’ It came out really good and it’s kind of fun.”

Truly Farm-to-Table

During this time of gratitude for the land and the fall harvest, Farmer Al Courchesne of Frog Hollow Farm sums it up perfectly: “There’s no better place to have Thanksgiving than on a farm.”

In addition to featuring the farm’s Warren pears in their salad and pumpkins in their pumpkin pie, Farmer Al and his dinner guests also take advantage of the farm’s natural surroundings as a means of connecting with the land before feasting on its bounty. “We love to go on walks in the orchard,” he says. “On Thanksgiving, the weather is always beautiful. The fall colors are in; the trees are turning gold, copper, and yellow.”

Lee James of Tierra Vegetables adds an additional catch to her feast on the farm: she tries to use only ingredients they grow and raise. “There were a couple of years when we raised some turkeys, and that was really fun because the meal was nearly 100% our stuff,” she says with a smile. “We used our cornmeal and made cornmeal pie crust. We used our own eggs, though we did buy a little bit of milk. But virtually nothing else.”

“Everything we can bring to the table from our farm, we do,” Janet Brown of Allstar Organics chimes in. “That’s part of it: eating what we have. And giving thanks for that.”

If there is one tradition we all share this holiday, it’s the expression of gratitude, which is particularly poignant for farmers who work the land 365 days a year. And even when the holiday season may, for some, represent long hours and hectic operations, “Still, it’s a time for me to be grateful for another year on the farm,” says Dan of Little Apple Treats. “Every year is a learning experience. And even though it’s a tremendous amount of work, I’m really happy that I get to say that I’ve done it for another year.”

So as you plan your own Thanksgiving rituals, whether football and feasting, jogging before dinner, or napping after pie, we suggest you also connect with the holiday’s roots by giving thanks for the land, the food, and your local farmers—all essential ingredients for your heartwarming and nourishing celebrations.  

Hear more about holiday traditions at our cookbook author panel discussionHonoring Food Traditions and Establishing New Ones” at the CUESA Mission Rock Farmers Market Pop-Up at The Yard this Sunday, November 22. And while you’re at it, gather all the fixings for your Thanksgiving feast, traditional or otherwise! See our market schedule and menu ideas.

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CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) is dedicated to growing thriving communities through the power and joy of local food. Learn More »