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The Thanksgiving tradition dates back 400 years, and has quite the history.

The Farmers’ Market will be closed tomorrow, the 25th, to celebrate the Fall Harvest, farmers, and Farmers’ Markets on Thanksgiving.

Tomorrow we will celebrate the 400th anniversary of what has been called the “first” Thanksgiving, but would you be surprised to find out that it wasn’t the first Thanksgiving in America? In fact, it wasn’t even called thanksgiving, officially, until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed, entreating all Americans to ask God to, “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” He scheduled Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November. In the dark time of the Civil War Abraham Lincoln finally granted Sarah Josepha Hale’s 36-year-old request for a national Thanksgiving Day to promote unity. She had launched her campaign 36 years earlier while she published countless editorials and wrote scores of letters to governors, senators, presidents and other politicians, earning her the nickname the “Mother of Thanksgiving.” On October 3, 1863, during the Civil War, Lincoln answered her call and proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving to be celebrated on Thursday, November 26.

We have been taught, since it seems like forever, that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in October of 1621 when the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts, were startled to see 90 of the Wampanoag indigenous local Indians appear at the settlement’s gate. Over the next few days, the two groups socialized without incident. While it was basically a rather disorderly affair, due to many circumstances, it sealed a short-lived treaty between the settlers and the Wampanoag.

Unfortunately, tensions between the Wampanoag tribe and English settlers that had been smoldering for 55 years over competing land claims, the grazing of colonial livestock on hunting and fishing grounds, interracial insensitivities, and English cultural encroachment on Native America, erupted in war in 1675 when a fatal incident started the King Philip’s War. Ultimately Metacom, known as King Philip by the settlers, the son of Massasoit, who had greeted the first colonists of New England at Plymouth in 1621, would be killed in August of 1676 after many battles and high casualties on both sides.

As for the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth in 1621, it may have been the “first” for the Pilgrims in America, but 10,000 years ago, the Wampanoag Indians in Massachusetts celebrated the roots of Thanksgiving with a Fall celebration usually at the Harvest moon. A festival known as the “Green Corn Festival” was a time for a traditional meal, prayer service, and celebration of “the three sisters” of the Indigenous diet: beans, corn, and squash.

Mark Allen, a longtime Native activist said, “At that time, our people would gather for the fall celebration. Our people were normally scattered through the territory or landscape: fishermen, hunters, people going up to the hills to get maple syrup. We would all come home for these celebrations and we would bring our goods that we had gotten to share it in a communal setting.” As part of the tradition of the Green Corn Festival, it was a time of sharing the food with outsiders who have no food. By coincidence, the Pilgrims living in Plymouth in 1621, close by, were welcomed by the Wampanoag tribe’s chief, Massasoit, to share their food in October of that year. “We saw that our brethren Europeans were struggling. They were invited to join in our Thanksgiving Green Corn celebration. That is how the first Thanksgiving came to be,” Mark Allen said.

But, as is usually the case, history is written by the victors and not the people who have been conquered. Sage Philips, a member of the Penobscot nation and a student at the University of Connecticut, asked her grandfather, after having been taught the history of her people’s relations with the English settlers and then the “first” Thanksgiving from the victor’s side in school, “Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving?” Her grandfather responded, she said, “we’re not celebrating that original meal. We’re celebrating the fact that we can sit together and have a meal today.”

It might surprise you that the name “Massachusetts” is an Algonquian Indian word? It comes from the Wampanoag word “Massachuset”, which means “by the range of hills.” The names of 27 other states also originate from native American words.

Every year on the fourth Thursday of November people gather around the table with their families and friends to celebrate, be thankful, and eat food. However, many do not realize that Thanksgiving started to celebrate the harvest and other blessings of the past year.

In 1863, when Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving, there were a little more than 2 million farms in America and most of those were built strictly to sustain one’s immediate family. For many farmers, Thanksgiving signifies a rekindling of family unity after a long day outside the home during harvest.

By 1900 the number of farms had grown to about 5.7 million, in no small part due to westward expansion. At that time, it was estimated that each family farm could feed only about 2.5 people. By 1960 the number of farms actually dropped in number as farming was left for a more urban style of living. Interestingly, the efficiency of each farm had increased to the point where a farm could now feed 25.8 people. Today the number of farms has dwindled down to about 2.1 million farms, but each farm can now feed 155 people. There are still small farms that essentially are family farms, but many of the existing farms now are commercial enterprises designed to feed the masses, as they say.

America’s “first” harvest back in 1621 that sparked Thanksgiving celebrations was a long time ago, but we wouldn’t even have a Thanksgiving if there were not a fall harvest created by farmers. The fact that farmers produce a fall harvest is what needs to be celebrated at Thanksgiving. We also need to keep in mind at this time of the year that fall harvests in America have been occurring each year since the first Green Corn Festival of the Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts.

While the Thanksgiving of 1621 undoubtedly looked much different than what we expect at Thanksgiving nowadays for our family gatherings, we pay homage to the year-round work put in by farmers to produce the food we put on our tables.

Just to give you an idea of what it takes to put together the meals that will be consumed at Thanksgiving. I have put together a snapshot of item quantities. 46 million turkeys, 80 million pounds of cranberries, 214 million pounds of potatoes, 50 million pounds of sweet potatoes, 483,000 pounds of pumpkin, 77 million pounds of ham, and 40.5 million rolls will be bought.

As a holiday built around food, Thanksgiving is a serious affair in the farmers market community. During a time when most people choose to rest and relax before the Christmas rush, Thanksgiving means a shift in business operations for those whose produce and meats, dairy, and baked goods are featured at the dinner table.

As farmer Al Courchesne of Frog Hollow Farms in Brentwood, CA says, “During this time of gratitude for the land and the fall harvest, there’s no better place to have Thanksgiving than on a farm.”

So, as you plan your own Thanksgiving rituals, whether football and feasting, jogging before dinner, or napping after pie; we suggest you also connect with the holiday’s roots by giving thanks for the land, the food, and your local farmers, particularly the farmers of our local Farmers’ Market if you purchased any of your family’s meal from them, —all the essential ingredients for your heartwarming and nourishing celebrations.

Unfortunately, Thanksgiving will be a little more costly this year than most in the past. In 2019 the price for a turkey was $.88 per pound, so the cost of an Arizona family meal for 10, was around $43.00 for the turkey dinner with all the trimmings. The price for a turkey has almost doubled. I paid $1.48 a pound at Walmart. This year that same meal will cost around $50.00.

Farmers’ Markets allow you to source your Thanksgiving meal locally, where the food isn’t shipped thousands of miles, if it gets here at all with the food supply chain shortages. This supports our local farmers, and offers tastier, more nutritious food. It is picked ripe, allowing it to be eaten soon after it is harvested. This process retains more nutrients and flavor than food picked unripe and stored for a longer period. Incidentally, market studies have shown that farmers’ market prices are very competitive with grocery stores, so, you might even save a little going local.

Sweet potatoes, squash, beets, onions, leafy greens, brussels sprouts, carrots, pumpkins, garlic, honey, meats, cheese, eggs, and apples are just a few Thanksgiving ingredients you can find at the farmers’ market. At this time of year, think about cool-season vegetables like root crops, brassica transplants (think cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower), and leafy greens.

Why not start a new Thanksgiving tradition for your family and buy local foods at the Farmers’ Market for your family meal? It supports local food providers making it good for you and your community. It also encourages economic growth, benefits the environment and promotes a safer food supply.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

We are looking forward to seeing you all at this coming week’s Market. For more information on all our vendors and the products they will be bringing, please see this week’s Farmers’ Market newsletter at www.sierravistafarmersmarkets.com. Also, check out our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/sierravistafarmersmarket/.

Submitted by “Uncle” Ralph Wildermuth