Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks for our blessings. It's also a time to celebrate the harvest. The variety of fresh, homegrown foods would not be readily available without the hard work of local farmers.

The benefits of eating locally grown foods are many.

Michael Porter, owner of Porter Farms in Elba, discusses the benefits of joining Community Supported Agriculture farms (CSAs).

"It's fresher, you know who grows it, where it's grown, [the customer and the farmer] they have a connection," he said. "I think it's a learning process for us and members of the CSA."

"The idea behind a CSA is simple: individuals share the cost, risk and bounty of growing food in an environmentally friendly fashion," according to the Porter Farms website.

A typical CSA sells shares of produce that are distributed weekly at various designated locations such as private homes, churches or businesses. The season runs about 22 weeks, from June until November. Members pay for the season up front and then receive a bag of fresh local produce that is harvested each week.

Porter Farms currently has approximately 1,000 members from Buffalo, Rochester and the Genesee/Batavia areas who enjoy a bounty of more than 30 varieties of organic, fresh produce during the growing season.

When asked how young people can learn more about the growing process, Porter says, "I think it's good for people to know where their food is produced, especially young children, they just don't make the connection. They assume the food just comes from the supermarket."

Emily Krucenski, a sophomore at Holy Angels Academy, had her first taste of spaghetti squash this fall when her mother Kathy prepared it for dinner without telling the family that it was a vegetable.

"The first time I had it, my mom told me it was noodles, and I like noodles," Emily said, adding that she liked it so much that she has since asked to have spaghetti squash as a snack.

Emily's family belongs to the Promised Land, a CSA in Alden. They enjoy the wide variety of fresh local produce available to them each week. This has allowed Emily to try vegetables she hasn't had before, such as yellow and purple beans.

As an athlete, Emily says that [eating healthy] "affects your performance and it keeps you strong and fit. I want to stay in shape for the sports I do." When asked if she feels good about herself when she makes good snack choices, she replied, "Yes, it makes me feel better about not eating a bunch of fattier foods like chips, candy and soda, and it gives me a self-esteem boost."

Eveline Hartz of Eveline's Food and Health Connection guides her clients' food choices with a flexible agenda.

"We [need to] find out which diet works for each person. We need to get back to eating whole foods," said Hartz.

Hartz adds that [teens] should be concerned with good eating at all times of their lives because their bodies are growing and brains are developing.

"You need the whole foods to nourish yourself," she said. In order to maintain a healthy weight or to lose weight, she suggests drinking plenty of water, exercise (yoga, crunches, weight lifting, pull-ups) and "avoid all sodas and diet drinks."

Hartz offers ideas for healthy snacks: cut up carrots and broccoli with hummus as well as brownies made with garbanzo beans (see recipes below).

Another option for obtaining fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables is the neighborhood farmers' market.

Laura Smead, a college student and seasonal employee, discussed the benefits of supporting these local markets.

"I think people should support their community and farmers [who] work hard to grow delicious, fresh food," she said, adding, "people have the opportunity to ask questions about the different produce, and possibly sample things they've never tried before."

Laura said she enjoys the delicious produce offered at these markets.

"I feel the difference when I'm eating a healthy diet. I have more energy and can concentrate better in school, and feel better overall."

The freshest produce can be grown right in your own backyard. First lady Michelle Obama has inspired people to get back to growing vegetables at home by planting a vegetable garden on the South Lawn of the White House.

This is the first edible garden since Eleanor Roosevelt's "Victory Garden" during World War II. Obama's book, "American Grown: How the White House Kitchen Garden Inspires Families, Schools and Communities," will be released in April 2012.

Alexa Zak, a sophomore at Sweet home High School, discussed the results of growing vegetables at home.

"The end result is that you have all [of] these products that you feel that you've given life to," she said.

Alexa said that she has grown cucumbers, watermelons, carrots and radishes in her backyard.

"It's very gratifying to know that you grew something. It makes you so proud. It prepares teens for the future when they have to take care of someone [else] or their family," she said.

Eliza Lefebvre is a sophomore at Sweet Home High School.

> Hummus

10 ounces (raw) greens -- chopped (spinach works well)

2 cups drained chickpeas (soak dried chickpeas the night before, cook according to package directions)

1/3 cup lemon juice

1 tablespoon tahini

4-6 cloves garlic

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

Add ingredients to blender, process until smooth. Add water if too thick for blender.

Serve with fresh-cut vegetables.

> Brownies (gluten-free recipe)

2 cups garbanzo beans, drained

4 eggs

280 grams good quality dark chocolate (1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips) 2/3 cup maple syrup

Melt chocolate in a double boiler or in a dish in the microwave for 2 minutes.

Add eggs, maple syrup and garbanzo beans in small batches to a blender or food processor.

Whip after each ingredient is added, until smooth. Slowly add chocolate to mixture, keeping mixture smooth. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add mixture to an 8x8 buttered pan. Bake for 40 minutes.