Columnist Claire Morenon: Finding Connection this Thanksgiving Through Celebrating the Harvest
Daily Hampshire Gazette, November 23, 2020
The social and emotional costs of the coronavirus pandemic have been immense, and the arrival of Thanksgiving throws those losses into sharp relief. In other years, Thanksgiving is a moment when the entire nation pauses, gathers with friends and family and celebrates over a meal that honors the harvest.
This year, as COVID-19 cases spike across the country and public health experts plead with us not to gather, it’s clear that holiday traditions meet a real human need for connection and celebration, even in dark times. The pandemic has taken so many lives, erased so many jobs and put enormous strain on families. While minor in the face of all that suffering, the adjustments required of us right now still ache.
People have come up with creative ways to make the holiday feel special while staying COVID-safe, like cooking with distant family members via Zoom or setting up food-delivery trains where nearby households each cook part of the Thanksgiving meal to share. Of course, many of these solutions revolve around food because food is so central to the holiday.
The modern Thanksgiving is based on a series of myths that obscure the violent colonization of this land and genocide of Indigenous people, and for that reason many people choose not to celebrate it or, instead of giving thanks, honor it as a Day of Mourning. That brutal history can’t be denied, and I am focusing this month on learning more about the true history and listening to Native perspectives on the holiday.
Still, there is something in it that resonates with me: This is a harvest celebration. Honoring the harvest is a tradition that connects us to all of human history, even as our diets and our lives have become increasingly disconnected from the rhythms of the agricultural calendar. The Thanksgiving meal — the turkey, which is native to the Americas, the potatoes for mashing, the apples for pie, the hardy greens and Brussels sprouts — reflects our local harvest, and that holds deep significance.
This year, choosing local food for your Thanksgiving table means even more because of the heroic way that local farms have responded to the pandemic. COVID-19 hit our part of the world just as most farmers were gearing up for the growing season, disrupting end-of-winter farmers markets, maple sugaring season and any certainty about the future. Local farms quickly implemented safety precautions behind the scenes and built new systems, such as curbside pickup and online ordering, to ensure that customers would have safe access to food. Even as the national food system faltered — with COVID-related shutdowns at enormous meat processing plants and supply-chain disruptions throughout the system — local farmers did what they always do: fed our local communities.
We are entering into another period of uncertainty as winter arrives, with COVID cases on the rise and new restrictions looming. Farmers are making plans for this coming season and the next year with trepidation. Winter farmers markets are still figuring out their plans (although there are some bright spots of certainty: Easthampton’s indoor winter market is up and running on Sundays through December, and on Dec. 5 the Winter Farmers’ Market at the Hampshire Mall in Hadley and the Holyoke Winter Farmers’ Market at the Holyoke War Memorial will open for the season!).
During this pandemic holiday season and the long dark days of winter, it’s going to be more important than ever to figure out how to stay connected to loved ones and to figure out how we maintain a sense of community connection when the most community-minded action available to us is withdrawing into our own homes. Hunger is on the rise because of the pandemic, so if you’re in a position to do so, one important step you can take is to support organizations that are fighting hunger — through Monte’s March which is raising money today for the Food Bank of Western Mass, or through your nearest food pantry, religious organization or other local effort.
For many of us, that community connection is an important benefit of purchasing local food right now, enhancing the bonds we feel to the web of farms that grew and made the products, the vulnerable neighbors for whom we are shopping and the members of our families or “pods” that will enjoy the resulting meal. Visit CISA’s website, buylocalfood.org, to find an up-to-date list of farmers markets and farm stands that are open all winter long, along with grocery stores, restaurants and other food businesses that support local farms. There you’ll find ingredients for the nourishing roasts, stews, bakes and everything else hearty that you crave during the coldest months, grown with care by your farmer neighbors.
Claire Morenon is communications manager at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture).