Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I like that it is fairly low-key, centers around a meal of comfort food enjoyed with family, and focuses on being thankful. Like many families, mine cannot start Thanksgiving dinner without going around the table and sharing what we are thankful for. I never tire of this tradition.
Among the many things shared each year is the amazing food on the table. It takes an army of farmers across the country that work hard throughout the year caring for animals and tending crops needed for our Thanksgiving feast.
We are all thankful for food and farmers on Thanksgiving, but have you ever thought about where the ingredients for your Thanksgiving dinner grow?
Top Producing States of Thanksgiving Favorites
Turkey – Minnesota
Our neighbor to the north is the top turkey producing state, and 75% of the turkeys raised there end up in grocery stores and restaurants in the other 49 states. Most whole turkeys we purchase are hens. Nearly all turkey farmers in Iowa raise toms which are primarily used to make deli meat, turkey sausage, and other tasty turkey products.
- The Iowa Turkey Federation has a new resource perfect for Thanksgiving lessons in elementary classrooms. My Family’s Farm is a non-fiction children’s book featuring a 6-year-old and his family’s turkey farm in Central Iowa. Check out the digital version of the book, or order your own free copy while supplies last.
Cranberry Sauce (Cranberries) – Wisconsin
Almost 60% of the U.S. cranberry crop comes from Wisconsin. Cranberries are also grown by farmers in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and Maine. Cranberry beds are flooded with water at harvest time, but for most of the year the plants grow in dry fields just like any other crop.
- Check out this PBS Curiosity Quest video to see how fresh cranberries are harvested on the Habelman Farm. This one Wisconsin farm grows about a third of the world’s fresh cranberry supply.
Stuffing and Rolls (Wheat) – Kansas
Nearly one-fifth of all wheat grown in the United States is grown in Kansas, so it’s fitting that it’s often called the Breadbasket of America. Hard red winter wheat, most commonly grown in the prairie states, is planted in the fall, goes dormant when the weather becomes cold, and continues to grow the following spring. It is harvested in the late spring and early summer.
- Want to help your students learn more? The Wheat Foods Council has a simple presentation, perfect for classroom use. It takes students on the journey of wheat, from seed to bread, pizza crust, or pasta.
Mashed Potatoes (Potatoes) – Idaho
Idaho’s rich volcanic soil, ample mountain-fed irrigation, and a growing season of warm days and cool nights makes it perfect for growing potatoes. Each year the average American eats about 130 pounds of potatoes. Now that’s a lot of spuds!
- Test your potato IQ with this fun quiz from the Idaho Potato Commission.
Green Beans – Wisconsin
Wisconsin might be famous for cheese, but we also have Wisconsin to thank for green beans, sometimes called string beans and snap beans. The main difference between green beans and dried beans like, navy beans, is that they are picked before the seeds mature and shell becomes hard and brittle.
- Want to learn more about green beans? This lesson includes information and activities that make science and social studies connections.
Sweet Potatoes – North Carolina
Sweet potatoes are one of the most nutritious foods on many Thanksgiving tables, without butter and marshmallows of course! This super food is high in fiber, packed with vitamins, and fat and cholesterol free. Despite their name, sweet potatoes are not closely related to regular potatoes. Sweet potatoes are roots. Potatoes are underground stems, or tubers.
- Want to keep learning? Visit the North Carolina Sweet Potato commission’s website to order free posters, student handouts, or the Sweet Potato Investigation teacher’s guide. You will also find many lessons that you can download and use today.
Pumpkin Pie (Pumpkins) – Illinois
Morton, Illinois is the self-proclaimed pumpkin capital of the world. And rightfully so. Morton is home to Libby’s pumpkin processing plant. Ninety percent of pumpkins grown in the U.S. are raised within a 90-mile radius.
- Thanks to a short video created by Libby’s you can take yours students on a virtual tour of a pumpkin field from planting through harvest and see how Libby’s processes 500,000 pumpkins each day during peak season.
We have Iowa famers to thank too! Corn grown on Iowa farms is used to make corn syrup often used to sweeten pecan pie, cranberry sauce, and sweet potatoes. Corn is also used to make corn starch that thickens gravy. Vegetable oil made from soybeans is the primary ingredient in spreadable margarine served with rolls. Iowa farmers also grow the corn and soybeans fed to turkeys in Minnesota and across the country. The eggs in your stuffing and pumpkin pie likely came from Iowa too, as did the bacon in your green beans. (If you don’t put bacon in your green beans, you should start.)
If you are a teacher, take a few minutes to show your students where their Thanksgiving dinner is grown on a U.S. map before dismissing for Thanksgiving. They will be excited to share this “food for thought” with family and friends on Thanksgiving Day!