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How to celebrate a Colorado Thanksgiving feast

Article by Alison Hobbs

Agriculture – November 2003 – Colorado Central Magazine

WE ARE ALL FAMILIAR with the story of the first Thanksgiving. Like many historical events, it is a tale muddled by both fact and myth. But we know it was a day the settlers celebrated with the natives of the region after suffering years of hunger and sickness. In fact, the survival of these newcomers was due to the generosity of a Wampanoag Indian named Squanto who taught them how to live off of the land they had settled on.

Squanto taught the pioneers how to cultivate corn and other new world vegetables. He pointed out poisonous plants and which ones could be used as medicines. He explained how to get sap from maple trees, use fish for fertilizer, and flourish in their new homes. Because of the Wampanoags’ belief in providing help to those in need, those European settlers survived.

But it is no secret that the settlers regarded their Wampanoag teachers as heathens — or that later they took the land away from its native people to build their prophesied “Holy Kingdom.”

If there is one thing this story tells, however, it is that there is something about sharing a harvest that creates fellowship — even amongst unlikely companions.

And that’s a very poignant thought for this Thanksgiving, considering our war-torn globe.

But harvest celebrations can seem bittersweet in this era when small and medium-sized family farms are being dislocated by an industrial and global food system — because most of the feast usually comes from far afield.

Like Squanto, local and regional farmers, ranchers, and herbalists know how to produce healthy food. And I believe that most people are troubled by the “for sale” signs going up in front of family farms and sincerely want to support local farmers and ranchers. But it’s hard to know how to translate such sympathy into effective action.

After all, who doesn’t prefer the taste of fresh-picked food? It’s so much better than produce that’s been preserved, waxed, packaged, stored, shipped, bounced, and handled until it’s mealy or mushy.

Consumers are driven by convenience, however. I know I am, and it takes effort not to give into the ease of buying whatever is on the supermarket shelf (whether it be tropical fruits from South America, or veggies from California).

And other things discourage our acceptance of regional and seasonal foods, too — including appointing a harvest celebration in November when our local harvest comes in September!

But you can create a Thanksgiving feast with food grown in our region — and may even want to include items from your own neighborhood. You merely need to know where to look.

Let’s start by considering what is actually native to our semi-arid alpine and grassland regions — besides sand burrs and jack rabbits. The nomadic tribes’ diet consisted of what could be hunted or gathered: buffalo, wild turkeys, fish, quail, antelope, elk, roots, and piñon nuts.

SINCE THE LATE 1800S, irrigation systems have enabled Colorado farmers to produce high quality fruit. The San Luis Valley produces potatoes and root crops; the Arkansas valley grows onions, chiles, tomatoes and garlic; and the Four Corners region supplies dry beans.

You may have noticed the logo and slogan that reads, “Colorado Proud — Better for You, Better for Colorado.” This is an attempt by the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s public relations firm to promote in-state awareness of Colorado farm products. (Remember the first one, ABC — Always Buy Colorado?)

This is a great effort and it may make a real difference. But usually grocery stores look for the cheapest price offered by the highest volume operations, so smaller family-sized farms often fare poorly despite efforts to improve sales for local producers.

You certainly don’t find local farmers advertised on TV commercials, and sometimes they are not even listed in the phone book. Thus, it can require extra effort to find them. But the rewards are many, including fresh, tasty, healthy food, and an increased connection to your local community and economy.

Begin the research by contacting your local farmers’ market representatives, or nearest health food stores, which may or may not support local growers. Your inquiries may even influence them to do so.

Depending on where you live, you may be able to find a local source for free range eggs (which are higher in healthful omega-3 fatty acids than factory-farmed eggs) or a greenhouse operation that grows winter greens. In the Salida/Buena Vista area, Pony Anstine of Sweet Pea Farms sells her free range eggs at Neighborhood Natural Goods, Simple Foods, and Sunshine Market, or you can contact her directly.

If you are looking for greens to include in your Thanksgiving meal, try Erin Cheadol Oliver’s Eco Farm for organic spinach and baby greens, and even a limited supply of tomatoes (some red!) from her geo-thermal heated greenhouse in Nathrop. She sells to Simple Foods in Salida and Nature’s Pantry in Buena Vista and also encourages visitors.

The Valley Food Co-op in Alamosa sells eggs from Colin and Karen Henderson’s farm El Sagrado. Gosar Ranch Natural Foods out of Monte Vista offers 100% stone ground whole wheat. (This kind of flour gives you the nutritional value of the whole berry and is very hard to come by.) Greg Gosar will ground it to order; and this wheat is actually perishable! You can find this wonderful product at Cid’s and the bakeries in Taos, and in the major natural foods stores like Whole Foods and Alfalfa’s. If your local store doesn’t carry them, you can call Greg directly and he will work out a delivery.

THOUGH THERE ARE NO DAIRIES close to home, both Horizon Organic Dairy and White Wave are Colorado companies. If for some strange reason we haven’t had a killing frost yet, you can try for the last of the chiles from Disanti Farm in Pueblo. Hopefully you have already purchased some and have them put up in your freezer waiting to be cooked.

As far as turkeys go, the Tres Ríos Agricultural Cooperative is the only outfit I could find that carries Colorado turkeys. They are grown by the Wisdom family farm of Haxtun. However, you must order one as soon as possible! But Kathy at Neighborhood Natural Goods is taking orders for both frozen and fresh Shelton’s organic turkey, and Scanga Meat has both fresh and frozen turkey, along with organically certified chicken.

If you want to really go local this year in honor of regional self-sufficiency you have the choice of elk hunting, or fishing in the high lakes, or going vegetarian with something like “Three Sister Stew” or “Stuffed Winter Squash.”

Or you can replace the fowl with organic beef.

Byron Shelton’s Landmark Harvest in Buena Vista offers “grass fed” beef, rather than the factory method of “grain fed.” Meat producers like Shelton presume that the healthier the manner in which an animal is raised, the healthier they are to eat — just like eggs from free-range chickens are healthier — and there’s no surprise in that logic! But in addition to trying to produce food that contains cancer-fighting properties, Shelton employs a “Holistic Management” approach to ranching, which considers the health of the eco-system and the community in every decision he makes. Landmark Harvest is sold at Simple Foods in Salida and Nature’s Pantry in Buena Vista.

In the San Luis Valley, Gosar Ranch Natural Foods in Monte Vista produces organically certified beef and European style sausages, good for turkey dressings.

But I shouldn’t leave out the option of goat, a very healthy option, which you can purchase from The Prairie Fresh Meat Goat Group of Fowler.

As soon as a small or medium-sized farm sells to a distributor or store, the farmer receives less and the consumer pays more. Thus, even corporate distribution companies (like Boulder Fruit Express, which tries to support Colorado farmers as much as possible) are not able to pay small farms what they need to make it. To combat this problem a group of ten family farms from the Rio Grande, Colorado and Arkansas River watersheds of Colorado and New Mexico have joined forces to market and distribute their own organic and chemical-free products such as vegetables, fruits, meats, baked goods, grains, flours, and honey. Together they form the Tres Ríos Agricultural Coöp erative, an economic model that allows the producers to own the marketing and the distribution of their product. In other words they “cut out the middleman.”

BY NOVEMBER THE HARVEST is a little more limited, but they will have quinoa and 35 varieties of potatoes from Paul & Ernie New’s White Mountain Farm in Mosca; free range eggs and pumpkins from Ryan Morris’ Country Roots Farm in Pueblo; grass-fed beef and pork from Dough Wiley’s Larga Vista Ranch in Boone; butternut squash, garlic, red and yellow onions from Dan Hobbs’ Gabacho Farms in Avondale; and winter storage apples from Glenn Austin’s Austin Farms in Paonia.

And for a lot more color on your Thanksgiving table, you can purchase edible flowers from Tom Mc Cracken’s Green Earth Farm in Saguache.

Tres Ríos delivers directly to Simple Foods and the Valley Food Co-op in Alamosa every Wednesday as well as many of the Colorado Springs natural food stores on Tuesdays. Tres Ríos will also deliver directly to groups of people who order a minimum of $150 worth of products. Call the warehouse at 303-293-1990 for more information. With each of the following recipes I do my best to connect you with where to purchase the ingredients regionally. This list is by no means definitive. It is mostly a result of looking at the Salida and Buena Vista area, and it’s also greatly influenced by my connections to family farms and organic producers.

By virtue of scale and economics, many conventional farms (ones that use chemicals) market to corporate food companies and processors. However, you can find local conventional farmers marketing their produce at farmer’s markets and through stores, too. Keep your eyes open for the logo: “Colorado Proud — Better for you. Better for Colorado.”

I hope this makes it easier to sit down at your table trusting that your food is truly nourishing for you and your community. Enjoy the fruit of the land and sky of Colorado and of the hard work of your local farmers and producers. Salud!

Alison Hobbs is a writer and editor for the Tres Ríos Coöperative Newsletter, and has a 10-acre vegetable and seed farm near Pueblo in Avondale.