Northwest Colorado Food Coalition: Where does your holiday meal come from? |

Northwest Colorado Food Coalition: Where does your holiday meal come from?

Libby Christensen
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

This holiday season we will often find ourselves celebrating with family around a calorie-laden feast. But do you ever stop to wonder the origins of the heaps of vegetables, fowls and sweets that we pass around the table. 

Two recent studies have provided tools to visualize the complex system that connects producers, distributors, retailers and consumers. 

Esri, which specializes in geographic information systems, created a number of maps illustrating commodity production by county using data from the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture in 2017. And it turns out that the U.S. plays a role in providing not just the bird, but also the sides eaten along with the feast.

Turkey production in the U.S. is a nearly $4 billon industry — 245 million turkeys were produced in 2018 alone. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Minnesota raises more turkeys than any other state, followed by North Carolina, Arkansas and Indiana. If you are looking for local sources of meat, check out the Community Agriculture Alliance Market at, which features over 60 producers from Northwest Colorado. 

Cranberries grow on low-lying vines in beds layered with sand, peat, gravel and clay. Cranberry sauce, which Americans eat more than 5 million pounds of each holiday season, comes almost entirely from Wisconsin, New Jersey, Washington, Oregon and Massachusetts.

Esri has also mapped six other traditional side dishes: sweet potatoes, potatoes, green beans, Brussels sprouts, pumpkins and pecans. View the maps at

A second study by researchers from the University of Illinois and Kansas State University took the analysis of the food system one step further. Using government data, the researchers mapped the flow of food within and between counties in the U.S. The network identifies the most important nodes, or links, in the food system. The nation’s top county for both inflow and outflow is Los Angeles County, which has a major U.S. port, plus huge volumes of processing and consumption. 

As the food system becomes more complex and global in nature, we can, sometimes, become more disconnected from where our food comes from. Consider joining for the Northwest Colorado Food Coalition’s meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 11, in the Trout Creek Room in the Routt County Courthouse Annex from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The meeting is a potluck, so bring a dish to share. 

Libby Christensen is the family consumer sciences extension agent for Colorado State University Routt County Extension Office.

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