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A Minnesota Thanksgiving

As sons, daughters, nieces, nephews and grandchildren of all ages look forward to gathering together for a delicious homemade meal this Thanksgiving, they may not realize just how homemade it can be.

Many of the holiday's staples are produced in Minnesota, making it easy for families to support area farmers while giving thanks for everything Minnesota has to offer.

According to the University of Minnesota Extension, the state leads the nation in production of turkey, red potatoes and green peas, in addition to contributing to advancements in wheat, butter, fruit and vegetable production.

By living locally, people may understand where their food is coming from, but many won't understand the work that goes into its production. Here's a closer look at some of what you may find in front of you during your family's Thanksgiving feast:


Rarely is a Thanksgiving meal served without turkey as the primary dish, so it's a good thing the Minnesota turkey industry delivers 46.5 million of the large birds on an annual basis.

To help producers get the highest-performing turkeys for their feed investment, a team of researchers led by Extension poultry specialist Sally Noll is looking into different feed compositions.

"What a young turkey -- or poult -- eats from hatch to two weeks of age has a big impact on future growth," Noll said.

Feed makes up 70 percent of the cost of raising a turkey.


Potatoes can be mashed, scalloped, baked, fried or eaten as chips, making them a convenient dish to throw on the side of any meal.

In the lakes regions of Minnesota, fertile sandy soils are well-suited for potatoes, Extension potato agronomist Andy Robinson said. Also, the heavy black soil of the Red River Valley produces a deeper color and more robust flavor in red potatoes than all other growing locations.

Such conditions help the Minnesota industry produce a variety of potatoes.

"In addition to seed potatoes, we grow all three potato 'types' -- tablestock, processing potatoes and chip potatoes," Robinson said.

To help continue the success of the industry, Robinson is researching how to minimize the exposure of potato fields to herbicides sprayed on nearby fields.

Fruit and vegetables

New technology, such as the high tunnel, has allowed Minnesotans to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables much longer than in the past, resulting in more local foods available for Thanksgiving. High tunnels -- sometimes called hoophouses -- are unheated greenhouses.

"High tunnels can add four to eight weeks to the beginning and two to five weeks to the end of a growing season in Minnesota," Extension horticulture educator Terrance Nennich said.

To help growers learn about technological advancements, Extension conducts outreach in 15 U of M high tunnels.


They may not be the main part of the Thanksgiving meal, but rolls -- wheat or white -- are often a fan-favorite.

Research on the protein content and straw strength of wheat, as well as on high-yield varieties, has helped northwest Minnesota improve its wheat yield by about 1.6 bushels per acre per year since the mid-1990s, Extension specialists said. That means there can be enough rolls this holiday season for Uncle Al to go back for seconds, or even thirds.

The butter that gets spread on those rolls has also seen its share of improvements in the past couple of decades as the quality of Minnesota's milk has increased through an educational campaign led by the state's dairy industry.

"The quality of raw milk has a dramatic effect on the taste and shelf life of the resulting dairy products," Extension dairy specialist Jeff Reneau explained.