Are we really thankful on Thanksgiving?

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday that results in the busiest travel days of the year, as people venture out to spend the day with family and friends.  But today, it seems that a lot of the significance of the holiday has been lost to the idea of eating until we’re sick and fighting crowds to score holiday deals.  It’s sad really, since this holiday was a time to be thankful for basically, survival.  As states:

“Today’s national Thanksgiving celebration is a blend of two traditions: the New England custom of rejoicing after a successful harvest, based on ancient English harvest festivals; and the Puritan Thanksgiving, a solemn religious observance combining prayer and feasting.”

In those times, we were reliant on the harvest, otherwise we would go hungry.  Today we can simply go to the grocery store and buy any item we would like, seasonal or not.  Though many thanksgiving dishes still revolve around seasonal produce and meats, not many families are going out and hunting wild turkeys, or digging sweet potatoes, and picking pumpkins.  Sugar was too expensive, and the pilgrims did not have flour to bake cakes and make pie crusts. We’ve lost site of the origin of our food, and maybe this is where some of the value of the holiday has been lost.  Many feel now that as a culture we have lost our connection to the land, and in turn, a connection to the world around us.  Dazzled by smart-phones, tablets, and TV’s we’ve sacrificed conversation, bonding, and knowledge sharing.

From personal experience, and many farmers i’m sure can relate, there is something magical gained from the hard work put into growing food and raising animals.  The profession is based upon so many uncontrollable factors, that when there is a bountiful harvest, you can’t help but be proud and thankful.  Farming is not simply a profession though, it is a way of life.  You cannot take a day off from farming, the land is basically your child.

Even if you do not farm you probably recognize the ability of food to bring people together.  If your holiday is anything like mine, the kitchen is the busiest room in the house, as everyone gathers around to catch up on each others lives, as the kids run circles around the house.  This relationship with food and culture should be a part of every day life.  Wouldn’t it be nice to share a meal with your family every day?  (Some family members more than others, maybe).  Should it really take a holiday to bring us together and appreciate what we are thankful for?

Take note of how food is centerfold for family and cultural ties.  Thanksgiving could be a way of life, in a way.  Purchasing seasonal is a way to come to realization about the bounty of the harvest, and gain an appreciation for the nourishment we receive from our food.  Having dinner around the table with our family allows us to reinforce bonds and provide each other support.  So, this Thanksgiving take time to be thankful for the bounty that we as a nation have, and the costs of having that food affordable and easily accessible, and make it a goal to share at least one meal a week around the table.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Cooking Local and Seasonal for Thanksgiving

This week marks the last Columbus tailgate market until the spring.  It is also the weekend before Thanksgiving, and a great time to stock up on necessities for your Thanksgiving feast.  The market accepts EBT and Debit, and even doubles your EBT dollars (spend $10.00 on your EBT card, you recieve $20.00 in tokens).

Often there is a perception that purchasing from the farmers market is more expensive than your local grocery, but in actuality, when things have had a good season, they can be much more affordable when purchased from a local farmer.  Additionally, local produce often boasts greater flavor and nutrition since it has not spent a week on a truck, and is often harvested the day before.  Once produce has been harvested, it begins to lose nutrients, so the sooner it is eaten after harvest, the greater the vitamin and mineral content.

At the Columbus market you will find kale, turnips, sweet potatoes, apples, artisan breads, honey, cider, butternut squash….and the list goes on an on.  Many of these items can be purchased ahead of time and will keep until Thanksgiving.  Local breads can be frozen and defrosted the night before the meal, and there are so many great ones to try!  So, for your Thanksgiving gathering how about trying a local, seasonal recipe that will impress your family with your magnificent cooking skills.

Below I have posted a few recipe ideas I found that seemed simple, tasty, and had a majority of their ingredients in season now.  Local meats and eggs can be found at the market or at the Mill Spring Farm Store.  Feel free to post your favorite recipe in the comments below!

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are good on their own, but if you’re looking for a unique way to utilize them in your meal, here are a few ideas.

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes: Here is a twist on a twice baked potato that is usually made with russets (typically a late spring/summer crop)

Sweet Potato and Sausage Soup:  This soup would be a good hearty addition to your meal, and could utilize local sausage and sweet potatoes.

Butternut Squash

Butternut squash can be used for sweet or savory dishes.  It is great roasted with a little honey and cinnamon, or made into a pie or soup.  Here are a couple recipes I thought would be good for Thanksgiving.

Spicy Butternut Squash Meatloaf:

Traditional Butternut Squash Soup:  this is always a favorite, and is pretty simple.  It’s sweet and savory and gives you a lot of soup for very little money.


Of course you have apple pies, apple cobbler, apple crumble, etc.  I decided I would post another option for utilizing apples which would add a healthy, light side to your meal.

Apple Grape and Celery Salad:


Kale is so nutritious and versatile.  You can make really any kind of variation of a kale salad you would like.  I wanted to post my recipe, but I realized I play it by ear and have no idea how much of any ingredient I use.  Below is a recipe that is similar to mine.  The cinnamon is surprisingly delicious.  (I usually roast my pecans in the oven with coconut oil, honey, cinnamon, and cayenne)  They’re tasty on their own, but really make the salad complete.


Turnips are one of those forgotten vegetables, that are actually amazing!  They are great simply roasted with other root vegetables, or added to soups, roasted meats, etc.  Here is a simple recipe to give a try.

Cider Glazed Roots with Cinnamon and Walnuts:

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are a personal favorite of mine.  The bitterness that is associated with the vegetable can be taken out by quickly blanching the heads before cooking them.  This recipe looks so good, and is another semi-healthy option.

Brussels Sprout Apple and Bacon Hash:|/275510/brussels-sprout-recipes/@center/276955/seasonal-produce-recipe-guide|953631

Acorn Squash

Acorn squash is as versatile as butternut, and I personally like them cut in half and roasted with brown sugar or maple syrup.  You can also make an acorn squash pie!  Here are some recipes I thought looked tasty.

Acorn Squash and Kale Soup:|/275063/acorn-squash-recipes/@center/276955/seasonal-produce-recipe-guide|257064

Baked Acorn Squash with Brown Sugar|/275063/acorn-squash-recipes/@center/276955/seasonal-produce-recipe-guide|261881


I hope these recipes have inspired you to include at least one seasonal recipe to your Thanksgiving meal!  Don’t forget about the final Columbus Tailgate Market this Saturday, November 22nd from 9 am-12 pm in front of the the Courthouse.  See you there!




Adventures in Poultry Processing with Polk County High

When I was about 12, I remember riding behind a large truck packed with chickens, each in individual cages.  Upon realizing these chickens were not going to a happy place, and to my mother’s dismay, I began to panic and sob about wanting to set the birds free.  Prior to this experience, I always thought my sister-in-law was cruel for slaughtering her own chickens, but when I returned home that day, after an hour ride behind that chicken truck, I told her “At least your chickens have a happy life!”  At a young age I was exposed to the stark contrast between factory farmed and locally produced meat, I just didn’t realize it until years later, when I became active in the local food movement.  For those who did not grow up on farms, they often don’t think about their meat when they buy it at a restaurant or local grocery store.  Agricultural education is becoming an important part of youth education, and at Polk County High School students are fortunate enough to have one such program, where they can learn how food gets from the field to the table.

In my opinion, if you eat meat, you should know where it comes from.  In the age of antibiotic-resistance, pink slime, and growth hormones, buying local seems to be the only way to be assured your meat is not tainted by some ingredient of non-animal origin.  From the economic perspective you keep the money local.  From the ethical position, often these animals have a much better life than their relatives in large feed lots, or enclosed sheds.  It just makes sense.  Until recently, I knew I needed to learn about meat processing, I just had not been given the opportunity, or (more appropriately) outwardly searched for it .   As an AmeriCorps member at the Agricultural Economic office, I was able to spend the day with students in the Polk County High Animal Science 2 class, as they gained hands-on experience in poultry processing.



“Just don’t look at them”

I told myself as the truck pulled up with it’s bed full of about 20 chickens.  It was drizzling and cloudy,  fitting for my apprehension about taking part in a day of poultry processing.  The chickens were raised as part of a grant for the Animal Science classrooms at Polk County High School, which allowed for the purchase of equipment and supplies to raise and process two types of poultry.  The program provides students with both in-class and hands on educational experiences in animal husbandry and horticulture.  This day we would be processing the broilers the students raised in addition to heritage breed Turkeys produced on a local farm in the area.

The students were surprisingly eager to gain first-hand experience in what they had covered in class, and after the rain subsided, they began to unload chickens from the trucks.  To start, the students participated in each station but as the day progressed it was clear that different students had a niche for different stations.

Warning, the next part may not be for the faint of heart.  I’m going to tell you the process, because some people are curious!

I always thought you just chop their head off right??  Nope.  The chickens are placed upside down in metal cones where they are bled out.  If you just chop of the head, the blood does not get pumped out, which affects the quality of the meat.

The students beginning the turkey processing.

After the chickens have been bled out, they are placed in water that is 150* Fahrenheit and swirled around for about 6 seconds in the water, pulled out for about 4 seconds, and this process is repeated about 5 times, or until the tail feathers can be easily plucked.

Chickens are dunked in water that is heated to 150 degrees.

Next the chicken’s feet are removed and set aside for stock.  The rest of the meat goes to a plucking machine; which, to be blunt, is kind of like a rock tumbler for chickens.  Once most of their feathers have been removed by the machine, the birds are moved to a table where the rest of their feathers and heads are removed by hand.

Two students are removing any feathers left behind.

Once all the feathers are removed, the chicken is then moved to the evisceration table, where  its innards are removed.  The gizzard, liver, heart, and neck are saved, and the rest is discarded.  This part ended up being a station I spent a good amount of time at.  I quickly learned that careful precision quickly distracts one from the actual task at hand, and the repetition of the process was scored in my head for the rest of the day.

The last station is quality control, where any last feathers are removed and the chickens are cleaned.  They are then placed in plastic bags with a small hole in the top and tied off with a zip-tie.  The bags are dunked quickly in scalding water to shrink wrap the plastic, and then placed on ice.

The entire process moves very quickly, and by the end of the day I was exhausted.  From this experience I learned why local meat has a higher price tag, and why it is good to acknowledge the animal that gave it’s life for your meal.  It is an experience I’m happy to have under my belt, and it’s great that the high school students gain this knowledge early on.

Pastured Pork Class – November 20th

Join us for a FREE class with Cooperative Extension folks from NC A&T University and Transylvania County talking about Pastured Pork production.  This class will offer tips and info for new and seasoned pork producers alike. Call the Ag Center with any questions at 828-436-0029.

Outdoor Swine Production