Giving Thanks for Michigan’s Rich Bounty

by Dianna Stamplfer

Michigan is often referred to as the “Mitten of Plenty” – and as we head into the fall harvest season it’s the perfect time to reflect and give thanks for the state’s thriving agricultural bounty.

Did you know that when it comes to agriculture, Michigan is second only to California in terms of overall diversity? We produce more than 200 commodities here in the Great Lakes State – generating more than $90 billion for the state’s economy. Behind manufacturing, agriculture is our #2 industry (and closely tied to our #3 industry – tourism).

Supporting local growers not only keeps their family farms in operation, it delivers a better product to the consumer and contributes to the state’s economic future.

“If every Michigan family spent just $10 a week on locally-grown foods, it would keep nearly $40 million working right here in the state,” says Don Koivisto, Director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture.

There is no time better than Thanksgiving to dig into the rich world of Michigan produce!

Get things started with some dishes of freshly roasted nuts from Koeze in Grand Rapids or Kar’s in Detroit. For appetizer platters, look to Schuler’s Bar Scheeze, Pinconning, Zingerman’s or the award-winning raclette from Leelanau Cheese Co., along with summer sausage and meats from Kowalski or Koegel’s and crackers from Keebler.  Pickles from McClure’s, Mandigo, Heintz and Vlasic also support the made-in-Michigan theme.

The star of the Thanksgiving feast is, of course, the turkey! Some 16 Michigan turkey producers raise approximately 4.6 million Tom turkeys on more than 40 family-owned farms each year.

One of the premier names when it comes to turkey is Butterball – a company started in Grand Rapids by Leo Peters in the 1950s. While turkey operations have moved out of state, the local company today is the largest national dairy supplier of specialty and premium butter in North America – sourcing countless international hotels and even providing the embossed “M” butter for McDonald’s.

If you prefer ham for Thanksgiving, you might be interested to know that Michigan’s hog production totaled 556 million pounds back in 2007, ranking us #14 in the nation. Cass County – down near the state line – ranks as the #1 county in Michigan for the number of hogs raised each year.


Michigan is ranked second in the country
for the number of acres planted for pumpkins.

Did you know that Honeybaked Ham was founded in Detroit in 1957? Three generations and more than 400 stores later, this traditional ham has become a key part of holiday celebrations around the country.

Now, time for the sides.

Michigan ranks #7 nationally in potato production, contributing $164 million each year to the state’s economy. Collectively, the 90 growers harvest 1.4 billion pounds of round whites and russets, from 43,000 acres.

The key ingredients in stuffing (or dressing, depending which term you prefer) can be sourced locally. Look to local bakeries for the bread, choosing from a variety of flavors and styles.

Celery was introduced to Michigan (and the United States) in 1856 when a Scotsman named George Taylor brought seeds from his native land and planted them in the fertile soils of Kalamazoo and Portage. Soon, he was sourcing to the Burdick Hotel (today, the Radisson Plaza Hotel in downtown Kalamazoo) and the farming operation quickly grew.

Today, Portage is known as the “Celery City” and is home to the Celery Flats Historical Area, where a memorial marker to George Taylor proudly stands. Overall, Michigan ranks #3 in the production of celery – with 27 growers sourcing from about 1800 acres primarily in Kalamazoo, Allegan and Ottawa counties.

If chestnuts are part of your dressing recipe, you’ll be happy to know that there are nearly 40 growers in Michigan – more than any other state. According to the Michigan Chestnut Growers Inc., last year growers collectively sold 80,000 pounds of sweet chestnuts. Even as a stand-alone, roasted chestnuts bring an additional flavor to your holiday meal.

Forego the canned cranberries this year and opt instead for fresh fruit! Michigan ranks #6 nationally, with almost 250 acres of cranberries generating about 40,000 barrels. Several small farms operate in the Upper Peninsula. Whitefish Point, along the Lake Superior shoreline, is considered the “Cranberry Capital of Michigan” and is home to Centennial Cranberry Farm – Michigan’s only historic cranberry farm. Other operations can be found in Cheboygan County, along the Lake Huron shoreline, and in five counties along the southern Lake Michigan coastline.

The culmination of the traditional dinner comes when the pumpkin pie is served. Michigan is ranked second in the country for the number of acres planted for pumpkins. In 2010, Michigan growers dedicated 7,400 acres to pumpkins (for processing and for ornamental Jack-o-lanterns) with 92.5 million pounds harvested.

Don’t forget the ice cream with that pie! Michigan ranks #5 nationally in annual ice cream production, with vanilla the top flavor (an ideal pairing for pumpkin pie). Among the top producers are Country Fresh, Hudsonville – maker of the Pure Michigan Caramel Apple flavor, and even Palazzolo Artisan Gelato and Sorbetto, for truly unique flavors.

Of course, locally-made wine and craft beer makes the perfect pairing for your Thanksgiving dinner.

Michigan ranks #13 for wine production, with some 94 wineries spread out throughout both peninsulas. Master Sommelier Claudia Tyagi suggests a nice Michigan Riesling or Chardonnay to compliment a turkey dinner.

When it comes to craft beer, Michigan ranks #5 with more than 100 breweries throughout the state. Beervangelist Fred Bueltmann from New Holland Brewing Company suggests one of Michigan’s harvest ales – some of which are even brewed with Michigan hops – as a flavorful pairing for turkey. Try a brown or amber ale with ham, kicking off the nutty, sweet flavors on your plate.

“Hops are aromatic and herbaceous and play well with the whole family of flavors on the Thanksgiving table,” Bueltmann says. “IPAs are great too. In fact, I brine my turkey in an IP beer brine every year.”

For more information about Michigan’s thriving agricultural industry, visit

Photograph of Dianna Stampfler.


Dianna Stampfler is a long-time promoter of Michigan and a proud (and hungry) supporter of the state’s vast culinary and agricultural offerings. Find her online at