From Western Illinois University:
Once upon a time, in order to trace the path of a meal from your
table to the source, you may only have had to take a short jaunt to a
nearby field. But in these days of modern transit, when the foods that
people consume hail from various regions of the United States and even
the globe, that path, many times, is much more complex; the more
complex the path, the more complex the data are about that path. GIS,
or "geographic information systems," technology provides a way to
display such data visually.
In celebration of Geography Awareness
Week (Nov. 16-20), Linda Zellmer, government information and data
services librarian at Western Illinois University Libraries, has
utilized GIS to prepare a website (available at
faculty.wiu.edu/LR-Zellmer/thanksgiving.html) that links to PDF
versions of the maps that show where the foods consumed at the
traditional Thanksgiving meal — such as turkey, cranberries, squash
and green beans — originate. In addition, the website has a link to a
comprehensive poster (also a PDF) that shows where all of the
Thanksgiving foods are grown in the United States.
"GIS is a collection of
computer software and data used to organize and view geographically
referenced information — it helps people collect and organize
information about places, so that it can be easily displayed," Zellmer
explained. "I used the data from the 1997, 2002 and 2007 Agricultural
Censuses for this project."
Zellmer said she began working on
the project several years ago, while she was working at Indiana
University, and started it because she wanted a way to show how GIS can
be utilized to display information.
"Thanksgiving was the
following week, so I decided to develop maps showing where some typical
Thanksgiving Day foods are grown," she said. "I have continued to
update the maps since I made the first set, and I decided to recreate
the maps and modify the poster, which was developed by a friend of mine
from IU, and use them here at WIU," Zellmer said.
Zellmer, GIS is a service that University Libraries provides to people
who use data and maps. She also noted that other entities on Western's
campus also utilize GIS and offer GIS services.
department here also uses GIS, as does the Illinois Institute for Rural
Affairs (IIRA), which is housed here at Western. For example, the IIRA
has developed the Illinois Site Selection tool [available at illinoissiteselectiontool.org/siteselectiontool/] to help companies identify potential locations for businesses or industrial development," Zellmer added.
in elementary, middle and high schools may also find Zellmer's work
particularly beneficial for pre-Thanksgiving Day lessons.
might be able to use the Thanksgiving maps to relate the food we eat to
geography. They might also want to have the students examine the maps
(and data) more closely to identify which states produce the most
cranberries, turkeys and other foods. They could also dig a little
deeper and look at weather, climate and growing conditions to try and
determine why pecans only grow in southern states and cranberries only
grow in a few states," she said.
Visit faculty.wiu.edu/LR-Zellmer/thanksgiving.html to access Zellmer's maps and the comprehensive poster online.