Do you know where your food comes from? Have you considered the care that goes into your Thanksgiving plate? Not by the hands that cooked it, but the farmers growing your food.

One of the nation’s leading food and farm advocates, Michele Payn-Knoper, says that farmers in America today are actually a minority group that represents about 1.5% of the U.S. population. The majority of Americans haven’t been on a farm in more than five years and most people are living and eating each and every day without knowing where their food really comes from.

“Get to know a farmer,” she says. “You’ll be amazed and gratified to know the real people who are at the very source of the food we all eat.”

Michele offers a look at where some of the favorite items on the menus for the upcoming holiday meals actually come from.

The Best Food in America Comes from Good People

By Michele Payn-Knoper

Turkeys – Grand Rapids, Michigan

A plump, juicy turkey is the traditional centerpiece of most tables. Harley Sietsema is a family farmer in Michigan who wants to be sure that turkey is safe, delicious and affordable. In the course of farming for more than five decades, he has seen practices evolve to keep turkeys more comfortable and healthier.

Sietsema built a business that is self-sustaining and local. Sietsema Farms grow the majority of grains his turkeys need to be healthy, added an elevator to process the grain into feed, helped start a co-op with other farmers to process the meat humanely and most recently built a biomass system that converts turkey litter into to energy that powers the grain elevator.

Harley’s two sons, daughter and grandchildren all farm with him in the family business.

Dairy – Fresno, California

Love the richness that milk adds your mashed potatoes, real butter on your dinner roll or whipped cream on your pie? These tasty dairy products come from milk, produced on dairy farms across the U.S. under tight regulations. For example, all Grade A milk is tested to be antibiotic free multiple times before it ever hits the dairy case. Californian Barbara Martin is one of the dairy farmers caring for cows 365 days per year.

Martin farms with her husband of 26 years in the San Joaquin Valley. She is a mom that that cares deeply about her family, their farm, their dairy cattle and helping feed people. Due to the historically low milk prices of the last two years and a desire to connect with customers, Martin recently began making cheese under the “Dairy Goddess Cheese” label.

One of the most common questions is about how the cows are treated. Consider this; dairy farmers work with their animals every day – you can’t do that unless you have deep appreciation for cows. And, as far as mistreatment, it’s logical that cows have to be content or they don’t give milk. Any mother who has breast fed can attest to that – milk doesn’t come out if stress is involved. The same is true with cows.

Potatoes – Fargo, North Dakota

Mashed potatoes are a favorite of young and old.

Black Gold farms is a family-owned and operated business that took started on a ten acre plot of land by the Halverson family in the Red River Valley more than 80 years ago.

Eric Halverson says that technology has had a major influence on the farm potato operations and is now utilized in everything from optical sorting machines, to tractors that steer by GPS, to the facilities that potatoes are stored in.

Potatoes have the best nutritional value for the dollar compared to any other food. Black Gold today is a is global food production company that farms in eleven states and is the largest supplier of potatoes to the largest potato chip company in the United States. If you love Frito’s then you love Black Gold potatoes.

Black Gold ships more than 500 billion pounds of potatoes each year.

Wheat – Bread – Kansas City, Kansas

Homemade dinner rolls or a fresh loaf of bread are popular items on our table. Flour made from wheat is the staple ingredient in breads and is mostly raised in the plains states.

Darin Grimm is one of the modern day family farmers who grows wheat in Kansas, along with sunflowers, corn, soybeans and beef cattle.

Grimm farms with his father, serves on his childrens’ school board and is active in a variety of national organizations that help farmers, such as the AgChat Foundation.

Pumpkin – Chicago, Illinois

Pumpkin pie is the crowning glory or most Thanksgiving meals.

Those pumpkins don’t just appear magically in a can; they are grown by farmers like Rick Vance in Illinois, which is the top pumpkin producing state in the US and that provides 90-95% of the nation’s processed pumpkins.

Vance 3,500 acre family farm also grows green beans, sweet corn, soybeans, poplcorn, peas, field corn and seed corn.

Cranberries – Freehold, Massachusetts (south of Boston)

Cranberries offer a tangy burst of color on your Thanksgiving plate, not to mention the health benefits. This fruit dates back to use by Native Americans, who used cranberries for medicine and preserving meats.

The Freetown Farm LLC Cranberry Farm during the fall harvest, in southeastern Massachusetts. The fall harvest season coincides with the peak of the trees changing color and beautiful foliage.

Dawn Gates-Allen is the mother in charge on the multi-generational 90 acre farm with 27 acres of cranberry bogs.

Her twin teenage daughters are shown here with two friends in one of the cranberry bogs are the fifth generation to be involved in the family farm.

Their farm now makes significant utilization of technology. The cranberry bogs are so isolated that they don’t have electricity. So they now use solar power to keep batteries charged so they can monitor the bogs, soil moisture and temperature remotely and irrigate automatically to correctly supplement what nature brings in just the correct manner.

Learn where your food comes from!

One of the best ways to understand food production – and the challenges – is to know the people behind your food plate. Talk to the people working the land and taking care of animals. Farmers care deeply – and they feed their families the same food you eat.

Get to know a farmer. Learn more at

Michele Payn-Knoper grew up on a farm in Michigan and has become one of the nation’s leading farm and food advocates. She is on a personal mission to help people understand the connection between the farmers who grow food and the people who enjoy it.

She has created the Gate to Plate program to help connect those two groups and teach them more about how food is created and delivered to Americans.