Published Nov 11, 2019

5 Foods to Buy Locally this Thanksgiving

By Liz Kolbe

As Iowans, we owe a depth of thanks and respect to the fertile soils around and under us, and to those who are mindful stewards of Iowa’s land and water. One way to clearly show and share your appreciation is by supporting farmers offering local food. Thanksgiving is dedicated to cooking, eating, and gratitude for family, friends, health and community.

Local food can be defined in several different ways. Academically, I like this definition of local food: “Food that is produced and sold in a manner that provides a fair price to the farmer and wages to the workers, supports environmental stewardship, and increases the circulation of money, in farm revenue and expenses, and consumer purchases, within a community or region.” A much simpler way of putting it: “Buy food from people.” 

What better day is there than Thanksgiving to begin or deepen your commitment to buying food from local farmers? Before the deep darkness of winter sets in – and while so much of the year’s bounty has just been harvested – make an effort to fill your fridge, freezer, belly and friends’ bellies with meat, produce and grains grown by your neighbors.

“Good idea,” you might say, “I intend to do that, but where do I find local food?”

Start with PFI’s list of local food producers. The over 120 farmers and businesses listed there are PFI members who provide local food. (Want to add your farm to the directory? Please become a member and complete this form.) Many towns and cities will also host a winter or holiday market – ask around or search Google!

Below is our list of foods you can buy locally to cook for Thanksgiving. We hope you can take some inspiration from the list! 

1. The BIRD(s)

Dan Wilson sits with turkeys on his farm

Dan Wilson relaxing with some turkeys near Paullina.

No matter what else happens during your holiday, for the cook, the drama of Thanksgiving is centered on the turkey. For a local, pastured-raised turkey expect to spend $3.50 to 4.50/lb. The cost is appropriate to the production practices: those feathered fellas take some work (and money!) to raise, butcher and process.

If you need to re-vamp your roasting technique, check out this spatchcock method or go for the fryer. And don’t skip the brine! This one is overly complex in ingredients, but might be fun to try. If you plan to cook and eat alone (or with a smaller group), you can still roast a bird! Just maybe a chicken, instead.

Practical Farmers that sell Thanksgiving turkeys:

pastured turkeys look for food

Heritage turkeys strolling the pasture at Genuine Faux Farm in Tripoli.

2. Those covered in GRAVY

Potatoes getting washed on farm post harvest

Yukon gold potatoes enjoying their trip through the root washer at Grinnell Heritage Farm.

Whether you’re hosting a dinner for 40 or cooking a turkey (or chicken) for the first time, don’t forget: you also have to cook a bunch of side dishes!

“But it’s freezing outside. There must not be any local produce!” FALSE! SO MUCH IS AVAILABLE!

Fruit and vegetable farmers just finished harvesting all of their fall storage crops before the frost, which are now waiting in root cellars and walk-in coolers to be sold. Storage crops that are available right now include: potatoes, carrots, squashes, Brussels sprouts, turnips, cabbage, beets, onions, leeks and garlic to name a few. In the high tunnels farmers are still growing braising greens like collards and kale, and salad greens like spinach and lettuce. And don’t forget about mushrooms!

freshly harvested carrots

Carrots just harvested at Grade A Gardens in Johnston.

Recipe ideas:

  • Haven’t had a Brussels sprout since your mom boiled them until the house smelled like a sock? Try them again! This recipe is great with oyster mushrooms or bacon. For lighter fare, try this Brussels sprout salad with local apples and cheese!
  • Delicata squash: We could have a whole blog on squash. But consider adding delicata to your Thanksgiving menu. No need to peel either – the skin is excellent! Here’s the easy roasting method. For the more adventurous, you can even roast the rounds with the seeds in.
  • Need some lighter fare? Make a green salad, like this one. Use local greens, apples and cheese!

3. SWEET Thangs

Sweet potato harvest

Sweet potato harvest at Red Granite Farm near Boone.

Local marshmallows atop your sweet potatoes may never be in the cards, but certainly the sweet potatoes could be grown nearby! If you’ve never made pumpkin pie from a fresh pumpkin, this could be your year to try! Look for a pie variety of pumpkin – they are smaller and sweeter. If you’re making an apple pie – local apples are abundant and in varieties like Jonathan, Ida Red and Enterprise (and dozens of others). If pie baking is outside your domain, many orchards sell frozen pies. You might try applesauce instead, or add apples to your salads, stuffing and cranberry relish. And don’t forget about honey, walnuts, chestnuts and frozen aronia berries to add to your pies and crumbles!

apple orchard farmers market stand

Marcus Johnson of Buffalo Ridge Orchard in Central City set up for apple sales.

4. Cheese with Jam and Bread (and butter)

Isn’t that how the song goes?

Blue gate farm ground cherry jam

Ground cherry jam from Blue Gate Farm in Chariton.

Not all local food is a raw ingredient! Cheese, butter, jam, pickles, salsa, hot sauce, prosciutto, bread and rolls – the list goes on. Iowa has many award-winning cheese producers, ranging from aged cheddar-styles to funky blues, to sheep feta and goat chevre that can complement dishes and serve as appetizers. Elevate your grape-jelly game with a local jam made from wild plums or ground cherries, or even local concord grapes. Find a home-baker to make your dinner rolls (we do this for PFI events all the time), or make your own using locally-grown grains from small millers like Early Morning Harvest.

Recipe ideas:

wheatsfield local bread grain baker

Nate Kemperman, bread-baker at Wheatsfield Co-op in Ames.

Lost lake farm local cheese selection

Cheese selections from Lost Lake Farm near Jewell.

local butter

Butter from WW Homestead Dairy near Waukon.

5. Out with the old, in with the ‘tude.

Gratitude, that is! Celebrate the season of gratitude by allowing yourself to be generous with family, friends, your community and yourself.