On Thanksgiving, friends, families and communities come together across America to give thanks and celebrate the autumn harvest. I love the opportunity to reflect on all that I am grateful for, including the hard-working farmers and ranchers who provide the delicious and nutritious food for the Thanksgiving table. I also enjoy making my favorite traditional dishes with fresh, local ingredients that support the farmers and ranchers in my own community.
Secretary Vilsack has identified local and regional food systems as one of four pillars of USDA’s work to help revitalize the rural economy, create jobs and improve access to fresh, healthy food for millions of Americans. Buying local supports the farmers and small businesses in your community, making it the perfect way to say thank you.
My agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), hosts USDA’s Local Food Directories for farmers markets, food hubs, community-supported agriculture operations and on-farm markets. These valuable online tools connect local food consumers and producers with an easy, one-stop resource that provides convenient access to directions, operating times, product offerings and more information about various sources of local foods. For example, you can find information about USDA’s own Farmers Market. Friday is the last day of the season for our market, located along 12th Street SW, in between Jefferson Drive and Independence Avenue in Washington, DC. I hope you’ll stop by if you’re in the DC metro area!
Since 2009, our Farmers Market Promotion Program has funded over 630 projects nationwide to grow and expand farmers markets and other direct marketing opportunities. Many projects have helped farmers markets remain open through the late fall or even year-round, enabling consumers to buy fresh, locally produced food for your holiday meals. For example, you might find locally-raised meats and poultry, cheeses, ciders, Brussels sprouts, pumpkins, squashes, apples and pears at your local market. Other ingredients – like kohlrabi, purple cauliflower and rutabaga – can add a twist to those family side dishes and make new favorite recipes.
Another Thanksgiving and holiday tradition for many of us is volunteering to help our local communities – joining food drives or helping provide meals for the hungry. Since 2009, our People’s Gardens have donated 3.9 million pounds of fresh produce, helping put food on tables across the nation. And last year, through our bonus purchases, AMS provided over 92 million pounds of turkey to USDA food programs, including charitable institutions that help provide nutritious meals for those in need.
So as we sit down for Thanksgiving dinner and count our many blessings, I hope that we all remember to give special thanks for our local farmers and ranchers who bring such delicious variety to our plates on Thanksgiving—and throughout the year!