The Origins of Holiday Food

By tina / September 7, 2011

Have you considered the care that goes into your holiday plate? Not by the hands that cooked it, but the farmers growing your food. One of the nation’s leading food and farm advocates, Michele Payn-Knoper, creator of the Gate to Plate program, says that farmers in America today are actually a minority group that represents about 1.5 percent of the United States 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. Michele offers a look at some of the more positive ways our favorite holiday menu items are produced:

Harley Sistema and family.

Turkeys: Grand Rapids, Michigan

A plump, juicy turkey is the traditional holiday food 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. He 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 to energy that powers the grain elevator. Harley’s two sons, daughter and grandchildren all farm with him in the family business.

Barbara Martin and family.

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 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.

Potato in bloom.

Potatoes: Fargo, North Dakota

Mashed potatoes are a favorite of young and old. Black Gold farms is a family-owned and operated business that 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 that potatoes are stored in. Potatoes have the best nutritional value for the dollar compared with any other food. Black Gold today is a global food production company that farms in eleven states and is the largest supplier of potatoes to the largest potato chip company in the United States. Black Gold ships more than 500 billion pounds of potatoes each year.

Grimm family.

Wheat: 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 grows wheat in Kansas, along with sunflowers, corn, soybeans, and beef cattle. Grimm farms with his father, serves on his childrens’ school board and is active in a variety of national organizations that help farmers, such as the AgChat Foundation.

Rick Vance

Pumpkin: Chicago, Illinois

Pumpkin pie is the crowning glory of 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 United States and that 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, peas, field corn, and seed corn.

Dawn Gates-Allen and her twin daughters.

Cranberries: Freehold, Massachusetts

Cranberries offer a tangy burst of color on your Thanksgiving plate, not to mention the health benefits. This fruit dates back to the Native Americans, who used cranberries for medicine and preserving meats. The Freetown Farm LLC Cranberry Farm during the fall harvest, in southeastern Massachusetts is a 90-acre farm with 27 acres of cranberry bogs. The fall harvest season coincides with the peak of the trees changing color and beautiful foliage. Dawn Gates-Allen is the mother in charge on the multi-generational farm. Her twin teenage daughters, shown above, are the fifth generation to be involved in the family farm.

The cranberry bogs are so isolated that they don’t have electricity. So 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.

Get to know a farmer. Learn more at

Make savory holiday recipes from Michele Payn-Knoper’s ‘Straight from the Farm’ Holiday Turkey Dinner Recipes:

French Bread

Pumpkin Custard

Mashed Potatoes

Grilled Turkey



Latest posts by tina (see all)