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Giving Thanks at the Farm
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Written by Suki Wessling   

Each Thanksgiving, my extended family comes together at our family farm. Two grandparents, five grown children, five spouses, eleven grandchildren, assorted pets—and usually a friend or two—come together in Watsonville to give thanks.


We give thanks for the harvest

We give thanks for the California sunshine or

We give thanks for the much-needed rain

We give thanks for family

We give thanks for friends

We give thanks for living in a democracy which thrives amidst shifting political winds

We give thanks for food


We raise our wine and juice glasses to give thanks to whatever life has brought us each year.

Each year I put together a project that we create on the day to memorialize what we are thankful for. One year I did a video interview of everyone in the family and handed out DVDs on Christmas. Another year I made a mobile out of driftwood and we hung pieces of paper explaining our thanks on it. My most successful ‘thankful project,’ as I call them, still hangs in my parents’ dining room. I cut the letters “THANKFUL” out of fine paper, mounted them on different backgrounds, and had each family write their thanks on a cut-out letter.


It wasn’t always this way. It surprises people to find out that I’m not a Santa Cruz native. Given that my parents live here and run a farm/home winery, it seems obvious that I was born and raised here. But our family ended up here through a few twists of fate.

My father had been a winemaker as long as I can remember. During our Michigan childhood, I remember picking rotting grapes, grapes that had started to ferment on the vine, and, most memorably, grapes covered with yellow-jackets.

Wine grapes don’t much like growing in Michigan. My father’s dream was to retire to California, where he could make real wine. A confluence of events allowed my parents to do just that. They looked for property anywhere along the coast from Mendocino to Monterey, and found a likely parcel in Santa Cruz, where the real estate market hadn’t yet recovered from the quake of ’89.

At the same time, I was dating my future husband, who lived in Santa Cruz. Although I loved San Francisco, we were tired of what we dubbed the Love Commute. My parents bought their farm; I moved to Santa Cruz.

I was the first Californian in my family. I like to joke that I moved here to get away from my family and then they all followed me. One by one, they moved to California, closer to the new family gathering place.

As we brought new children into our family, our gatherings took on a different significance. This group of children has grown up with more than just siblings; they have grown up with cousins of ages paired in twos and threes.

We always enjoyed getting together as a family, but it was the cousins that started the tradition of thankfulness. As the homeschooler of the bunch, I came to family gatherings armed with art projects. The projects extended to include the adults. It wasn’t planned; the projects evolved with the growing family.

This year’s project has yet to reveal itself to me. Somehow I feel an undefined pressure to perform at my best since this will be the last year on our farm. My parents need to move someplace closer to services and requiring less maintenance. None of the siblings is able to take over such a large property.


This year, I expect that we will be thankful for many things:

There was no drought last year

They predict the rain will continue this year

Our family is together

The cousins are growing up, with several in college or started in adult life

We have been joined by a baby cousin, probably the youngest of the bunch

We have finally found one political issue the entire family can agree on

None of our family’s land was touched by fire

The harvest was good enough

Last year’s wine is ready to taste

Moving on is hard, but staying still is not an option. I am thankful for the years of stability we had while our children were growing up. And I am thankful for the change that is coming in which my parents will explore yet another phase of their lives.

Americans may not agree on the origins or significance of Thanksgiving, but it has evolved into a holiday that we share despite our differences.

May you all have a Happy Thanksgiving, and find ways of giving thanks for all that you have this year.


Suki Wessling is a local author and the mother of two teens. You can read more at www.SukiWessling.com.

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