For several good reasons, I’m planning to make Thanksgiving dinner this year with only locally produced foods. Make that “mostly” locally produced: we have’t found an olive or coffee bean that can be grown in Zone 5, so I’m making an exception for olive oil and coffee beans. And I’m not producing my own salt, although in theory I could: friends on Vinalhaven have made salt by evaporating seawater in black plastic-lined trays in their greenhouse, but I’m not there yet. To further define “local,” I include most of northern New England, so I can purchase some Massachusetts-grown mushrooms and salad greens and Vermont cheeses, but much of what I’ll be using comes from local farmers markets or our own woods and garden by way of the freezer.

The first reason to go local is that, like many others, we will probably have a very small, intimate dinner, so that means it will be a simple one. No need to include exotics like artichokes or even walnuts or pomegranates. It won’t be as lavish an affair, but it will be festive, nonetheless.

The second reason to have a local Thanksgiving was inspired by a graph showing the demographics of the recent presidential election, with its wide red swath that encompassed most of the grain belt. It made me sad to think of so many farmers trapped in an agriculture system they haven’t had much say in. Dating back to the days of Earl Butz, secretary of agriculture under both Nixon and Ford, farmers have been convinced that they’ll survive if they either maximize profits or minimize loss, that by maximizing production, a producer is also able to reduce input costs per unit (per acre). Butz advised farmers to plant “from fence row to fence row,” to maximize production and reduce cost per unit. He is also credited with telling farmers to “get big or get out,” a controversial phrase not just because supporters of family farms find it objectionable, but also because getting big isn’t great advice for minimizing loss in times of lower commodity prices. Add to the problem of lower commodity prices the stranglehold of large corporations like Walmart, which nationwide captures $1 in $4 that Americans spend on groceries, giving it near-total market control. Walmart can manipulate food producers and keep a bigger cut of consumer spending for itself. For every dollar Americans spend on groceries, farmers are now receiving less than 15 cents, the smallest portion since the U.S. Department of Agriculture began tracking this data in 1993. Ironically, many of the communities hardest hit by falling incomes for farmers and food workers are in the Midwest, the region that is also home to many of Walmart’s most concentrated local grocery markets. In other words, some of the people most harmed by Walmart’s market power may have little choice but to shop there.

It’s a huge system and a hugely broken one, but all over the country there are groups advocating for smaller farms and organic and sustainable agriculture. The late Russell Libby, executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association for 17 years, often spoke about his “Ten Dollars a Week” concept: the idea that communities could thrive if every household spent that amount on locally produced food, rather than buying from supermarket chains. He was adamant that Maine could produce 80% of its own food. Since Libby’s death in 2012, U.S. census figures indicate Maine lost 10% of farmland and 573 farms in the five years ending in 2017, the most recent figures available. But the news wasn’t all bad: The number of small farms — one to nine acres in size — increased slightly, as did the number of farms that are larger than 2,000 acres. The census data also shows a 53% increase in the value of food sold directly to consumers, such as at farmers markets. So in solidarity with family farms that are struggling, not because of political parties but because of wrong-headed policies, and with gratitude for Maine organic farmers and Libby’s vision for self-reliance, I’m going to set a local table on Thanksgiving.

The third and final inspiration for a local spread is that I arrived home from a family visit to find a turkey hanging by its feet in the woodshed. The fully feathered hen was intact, waiting for me to pluck it, which I did. I’ve made hundreds of pheasants ready for the freezer, although they were one-third the size of the turkey and had been field-dressed (gutted), ready for skinning, not plucking, but I’d done a turkey a few years ago, so I set to work. Preparing a bird for the table for me is part anatomy lesson and part pride in making the end product look like it came straight from the butcher. I had the dubious honor of removing the gorgeous fan of tail feathers in incredible shades of black, grey and iridescent bronze, the amazingly strong wings with their blade-like feathers barred in black, white and brown, the scaly legs with toenails that can slice bark from trees or dig furiously through fallen leaves for forage, and (gulp) the head, which we will not dwell upon. Most impressive was the thick grey down that protected the bottom and nether regions of the bird. No wonder turkeys can roost in trees without frostbitten undercarriages. Eventually I produced a naked bird that needed only a bit of tweezer and knife work before it went into the freezer with heart, liver and neck neatly wrapped and placed inside the body cavity.

So there was the lodestone of the local feast. The root cellar has onions and potatoes, carrots and beets, leeks and garlic and Brussels sprouts. Corn and green beans are in the freezer, while pumpkins and squashes came from the farmers market, flour from Maine Grains. Butter, milk, yogurt and cream are all available through local dairies. We’re good to go. I’m going to once again make a traditional green bean casserole, not a favorite of mine, but it “must” make an appearance. With no canned beans, no canned soup or canned French-fried onions, it’s not half-bad.

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Onion Topping:
2 medium yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
14 cup flour
2 Tbsp. dry breadcrumbs
12 tsp. salt
18 tsp. freshly ground pepper
oil for deep-frying
Toss onions with flour, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Heat a 12-inch or so of oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet. Add some onions in a single layer, and fry until a light golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon, let oil drain back into the skillet, then spread onions out on paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining onions. Set aside.
Green Beans:
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and boil 112 pounds prepared green beans for five minutes. Drain beans and set aside. Thawed frozen are also fine.
Mushroom Sauce:
3 Tbsp. butter
12 oz. mushrooms, thinly sliced
12 tsp. salt
18tsp. freshly ground pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tbsp. flour
112 cups vegetable or chicken broth
12 cup cream or milk
Melt butter in the bottom of a 12-inch cast iron skillet. Add mushrooms, salt and pepper and sauté until they start releasing their liquid. Add garlic and cook one minute more. Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and stir until they’re fully coated. Stir in broth, 14 cup at a time. Simmer mixture for a minute, then add cream and bring back to a simmer, cooking until sauce thickens a bit, stirring frequently.

To assemble casserole, add green beans to sauce and stir until they are coated. Sprinkle crispy onions over the top. Bake for 15 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling and onions are a shade darker.