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Agriculture at the Thanksgiving Table

No holiday revolves around eating like Thanksgiving, so it’s the perfect time for everyone to think about the source of all that food on the holiday table. Was the turkey raised in Minnesota? Were the sweet potatoes grown in North Carolina? Did the cherries in the pie come from Wisconsin and the pecans from Georgia?

In the 1950s, Kiwanis International and the National Farm-City Council put forward the idea of establishing a special week to recognize farmers, since many consumers were becoming so removed from the farm. In 1956, Congress declared the week of Thanksgiving to be National Farm-City Week, in order to recognize that urbanization isn’t possible without farms. In 1988, the American Farm Bureau began coordinating activities for the week.

This year, National Farm-City Week begins on Friday, November 17, and runs through Thanksgiving on November 23. It will be celebrated around the country with farmer appreciation lunches, farm tours, classroom activities, and more.

Of course, Successful Farming magazine has been celebrating the important role farmers and ranchers play in Thanksgiving – and every meal – since 1902. Click here to browse a collection of beautiful and nostalgic Thanksgiving covers from the early 1900s.

Creating Traditions

Whether celebrating Thanksgiving on the farm or in the heart of the city, it’s the traditions that make the holiday special. “Traditions can evoke memories that lead to good feelings connected to those things, like Grandma’s special apple pie at Thanksgiving,” says Maudie Kelly, a human development specialist with the University of Missouri Extension.

“A very important aspect of traditions is that they help us create a family history that may be passed on through generations. Family photos of us doing the same thing year after year can help us and our children feel connected to the generations who came before us,” Kelly says. “Family rituals give us a great chance to teach family values and to define what our family means. So many lessons are learned from simple activities that include discussion in a relaxed, happy atmosphere.”

National Tradition with a Personal Twist

A Thanksgiving tradition that we have shared as a nation since 1947 is the delivery of live turkeys to the White House each year. The birds were originally destined to become Thanksgiving dinner, but in 1989, President George H.W. Bush began the new tradition of granting the birds a presidential pardon.

This year, the national bird was raised near Alexandria, Minnesota, by Carl and Sharlene Wittenburg. They will deliver the turkey and an alternate bird to President Trump at the White House the week of Thanksgiving. Carl Wittenburg is the chairman of the National Turkey Federation. The Minnesota Turkey Growers Association has put together a fun website featuring video of Wittenburg’s flock and more information on turkey farms.

In 1950, the official Thanksgiving turkey was delivered to President Harry S. Truman by Mr. and Mrs. Warren Johnson, the grandparents of retired Successful Farming Executive Editor Betsy Freese. Warren Johnson was president of the National Turkey Federation that year.

At Johnson’s small turkey farm in Oxford, Pennsylvania, all the processing was done on site and by hand with local labor. “On Pop-Pop’s farm, turkeys walked 100 feet from their pen to the processing plant,” Freese says. “They were the finest Thanksgiving turkeys on earth.”

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