Thanksgiving is a nearly 400-year-old harvest tradition. It’s a time to be grateful and share the bounty of the season. It’s a time for the blessings of family, friends and food.
Last week one of the biggest national turkey producers announced that there would be a shortage of average-sized and larger fresh birds. Families likely found plenty of smaller or frozen turkeys to prepare for dinner tables.
A couple years ago nearly 250 million turkeys were raised in the U.S. Six states produced two-thirds of all turkeys. Minnesota alone raised more than 46 million turkeys.
Neighboring Wisconsin grew more than half of the cranberries and more than a third of the snap beans for the nation. Illinois produced nearly half of the pumpkins consumed in the U.S. Sweet potatoes primarily come from North Carolina.
When it comes to wheat, the staff of life comes from Montana. Over a third of the nation’s staple ingredient for bread, buns and pie is grown on farmlands in Kansas, Montana and North Dakota.
Montana farmers produce about 200 million bushels of wheat. Some economists predict a slowdown for Montana growers and ranchers. Montana’s wheat growers enjoy good prices. And that’s likely to continue. Montana produces a lot of the world’s best wheat.
Kalispell students are likely grateful for the national service program called FoodCorps.
Chrissie McMullan founded the Montana FoodCorps. She previously founded the University of Montana Farm to College program, which is a growing success for Missoula area agriculture. FoodCorps grew in Montana and merged with the national service program. It’s now in 15 states and 300 schools.
Local FoodCorps’ service volunteer Jessica Manly is serving in the Kalispell Public Schools and the Flathead Farm to School program. Manly is one of hundreds of service volunteers expanding student’s food nutrition education.
Manly works with people like Jennifer Montague, who is the director of food services for Kalispell schools. This year Montague included new menu items like turkey wraps, hummus and bean tacos.
Montague is making sure that more of the menu is cooked from scratch with a bigger amount of food sourced from local Montana farmers and ranchers. Recently the Whitefish Park Side Credit Union donated $6,000 to the Flathead Farm to School Program. Montague said, “That is enough to build six new gardens.”
Montague acknowledges that her work is successful because of community support and volunteers like Manly who serve up nutritious snacks like kale smoothies and lentil hummus to middle school students.
Katie Wheeler was the previous FoodCorps service person. Wheeler and Montague worked with Kalispell’s Lower Valley Meat Processing to secure the needed hamburger patty maker. Now thousands of dollars help area ranchers as more of the district’s 2,000 weekly hamburgers are processed in Kalispell.
Public school kitchens in Kalispell and Whitefish are also expanding with voters supporting new equipment and new facilities.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released the first Farm to School Census and cited over $350 million of the nation’s $10 billion school lunch program was sourced locally. Nearly 40,000 schools across the nation participated.
Farmers and ranchers produce a lot of food in Montana. Most of it is exported, but plenty is again available locally here in the valley.
Congress appears intent to cut federal anti-hunger programs for the second time this year. The Flathead’s food banks will be busy during the upcoming holiday season. The Flathead Food Bank, Columbia Falls Food Bank and North Valley Food Bank ecollect holiday food to be given as meals to local poor people year-round.
The hunger for food is always great during the holidays. From a farmer’s perspective, the past growing seasons have not always been as good as 2013. Give thanks to what we have.
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