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Will your dinner (or drinks) travel farther than you this Thanksgiving?


Food is a part of our everyday lives, but how often do we think about where it came from? Having a large country has its perks, such as having a region to grow almost any crop we could want. However, many of your favorite dishes may be able to be grown locally if you prefer knowing exactly where your meal originated. Let’s examine where some of the most popular food and drink may travel from this holiday season to make it to your table.

Are you one of the millions of Americans who contribute to the biggest bar night of the year? That’s right, more people go out the night before Thanksgiving than any other night. If you’re planning on having an adult beverage or two, take a moment to thank a farmer for the main ingredients! Below are the crops that are required for some of the most popular drinks.

Beer: You can count on malt barley and hops to be present in whichever beer you choose. Hops and barley are both grown throughout the country and the world, and selected based on quality and flavor attributes. The Northwestern U.S. produces most of the hops and grains used for domestic beer production.

Vodka: Although vodka can technically be made from many fruits or sugar sources, the majority is made from the U.S.’s No. 1 vegetable crop: potatoes. Unsurprisingly, Idaho leads the country in potato production.

Whiskey (or “whisky,” for the Canadians): Rye, corn, barley, and wheat may all be used to make this classic libation. For those wondering the difference between whiskey and bourbon, bourbon must meet the following criteria:

  • Must be made in the United States.
  • Must contain 51 percent corn.
  • Must be aged in new oak charred barrels.
  • Must be distilled to no more than 160 proof and entered into the barrel at 125 proof.
  • Must be bottled at no less than 80 proof.
  • Must not contain any added flavoring, coloring or other additives.

Once Thanksgiving Day rolls around we have one thing on our mind: food. Being involved with agriculture makes me appreciate all the hard work that goes into every delicious dish that has become associated with the holiday. Read on to see if you or your family can guess where each of these foods is most likely produced.

Turkey: Although commercial sales are recorded in every state but Hawaii, the most turkey production occurs Minnesota, Arkansas, the Carolinas, or Virginia. Small farms exist in every state, but the major producers (hundreds of thousands of birds) need access to lots of corn and soybean for feed.

Sweet potatoes: This crop prefers long, hot summers and are grown almost exclusively in the southern half of the U.S. The majority are from North Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, or California.

Cranberries: In contrast to sweet potatoes, cranberries grow best in northern climates. This is due the winter dormancy period required for growth. And since production typically occurs in natural wetlands due to the extreme demand for water, almost all U.S. cranberries come from Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Oregon, or Washington

Green beans: Top states include Wisconsin, Florida, Oregon, Michigan, New York, and Georgia. However, many other states have over 1,000 acres planted per year as well. The areas with the most production typically occur because of their proximity to processing factories, since green beans can grow well throughout much of the U.S.

Pumpkin pie: Do you make sure to save room for this classic Thanksgiving dessert, even though you just finished eating yourself into a food coma? Well there’s at least a 90 percent chance that your pumpkin pie filling came from Illinois, which produces about a half a billion pounds of pumpkins per year!

Regardless of which foods make the cut in your family’s Thanksgiving traditions, take some time to be thankful for how easily we can access them in this country. The fact that we can pick up our favorite foods from around the country, or even world, at our local grocery store is truly amazing. Happy Thanksgiving!

Michael Swoish is a Michigan State alum who’s currently pursuing his Ph.D. in soil science at Virginia Tech. Michael has taught classes on precision agriculture and has traveled the country to get as much dirt time as possible.

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