COOPER COUNTY - Thanksgiving will look different this year. Many are shifting from the traditional holiday to smaller family gatherings and cooking smaller turkeys. This year, 68% of families plan to celebratat least somewhat differentlyaccording to a survey conducted by Numerator.

Vanette Gibbs sacrificed her Thanksgiving traditions for the safety of her loved ones this year. Gibbs, a nurse at the MU Health Care Division of Infectious Diseases, was asked to stay as healthy as possible this holiday season by sacrificing visits with extended family.

“Gathering among a large group, bringing my kids in from all different cities and avenues of life where they are in their cluster, bringing home their germs,” Gibbs said.“They're probably safe, and easy to be with. But, I haven't been with them. And I need to stay as healthy as possible in order to do my job.

Nursing keeps Gibbs occupied most days and visiting the Columbia Farmers Market (CFM) is one of her favorite pastimes on her limited days off.

“I might not get to come to the farmers market again til next year. I’m very busy and honor what I need to do, but today I got to escape,” Gibbs said on a recent Saturday.It’s like going to Disney World for me.

Gibbs is not the only one spending the Thanksgiving holiday with only their immediate family this year. According to a SmartCommerce study, respondents who planned to visit family or friends decreased by 31% since last year. But, that has not stopped consumers from cooking their Thanksgiving turkey.

Turkeys are largely bought in grocery stores, but there are other options.

Cody Hopkins is a farmer and CEO of the Grass Roots Farmers' Cooperative. The national group prides itself on advocating fora decentralized food system.

“Our goal is to help small-scale family livestock farmers that are focused on grass-fed and pasture-raised livestock production,” Hopkins said. “This year we'll work with about 40 to 45 farms. So, we're still small potatoes in the livestock world.”

The Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative saw an increase in customers during the pandemic.

“It’s been all good problems, I would say, Hopkins said. We've increased by between 200 and 300% in sales this year compared to last year."

In July, the cooperative began adjusting schedules to receive smaller birds or harvest them earlier for the Thanksgiving holiday.Customers began asking about Thanksgiving turkeys in September, but the cooperative did not offer them until October. To their surprise, they sold out of turkeys in the 16-to-18-pound range.

“I just assumed people will be gathering with their larger families or, you know, are excited about leftovers,” Hopkins said.

"Cold leftover turkey is one of the best things in the world as far as I’m concerned,” said Steve Kilfoil, also shopping recently at CFM. He plans to celebrate with just his wife this year and questioned whether or not he would purchase one.

“Even if I don’t get the turkey, I might make a giant pile of stuffing or something,” he said.

Kilfoil prefers organically raised poultry because they have a profound taste.

“They’re lean and tender and it’s a richer, juicy flavor, Kilfoil said. "I just find the commercial chicken in comparison is fairly bland and kind of dry.”

And he is not alone in this sentiment. According to Wakefield Research, 49% of adults prefer organic birds.

“There is a growing group of customers and conscientious consumers out there, that want to be able to know more about where their food is coming from,” said Hopkins.

Hopkins believes that it is important for there to be a direct link between farmer and customer.

And that’s something that’s been lost,Hopkins said.“That’s an important piece of the transparency so that customers can really trust what they’re supporting.”

Both Gibbs and Kilfoil plan to make small dinners for their spouses, with Gibbs working on Thanksgiving night and Kilfoillooking forward to the leftovers that will inevitably fill his fridge.

During a year filled with uncertainty, families are adapting their holiday traditions to match life during a pandemic.

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