Thanksgiving is Thursday, and in many American homes plans are in full swing to celebrate our nation's bounty. Questions about food abound: Who's going to cook the turkey, how many sweet potatoes should we bake, where is the recipe for Aunt Emma's pie?

For many Americans, Thanksgiving is a cooking challenge. For those who toil throughout the year to put ingredients for that meal on your table - America's farmers - this Thanksgiving is a mixed blessing.It was a brutal year for many farmers. Once again, Mother Nature played her tricks on many, with a drought for the Eastern half of the nation.

Ironically, even the bountiful yields in other regions fell prey to another sort of drought. Export markets dried up, driving prices below the break-even point.

After a summer like this past one, which for some was the third bad season in five years, many farms will fail. Farmers will succumb to high debt; to the pressure of property and estate taxes that are often based on the land's development value; to the strain of farming near urbanizing communities and the conflicts with new neighbors unused to farming schedules, noises and smells; and to the tantalizing offers from those who would plant a final crop of houses.

So while we celebrate this Thanksgiving, we must be thankful for those farm families hanging in there, and for the communities working to make it possible for the next generation of farmers to provide the same bounty we enjoy today.

In towns, counties and cities all around the country, key individuals are saying, ''Our farmland matters to us; we must protect it.'' Landowners, legislators and citizens are saying yes to what America's best farmland produces: locally grown food, wildlife habitat and the beautiful and productive working landscape that has shaped America's history.

For ideas and answers, farmland conservationists are looking to leaders like the Colorado Cattleman's Agricultural Land Trust; Montgomery County in Maryland; farmland-protection programs in Vermont, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware; and the group I head, the American Farmland Trust.

Farmers are talking to farmers about the benefits of farmland conservation programs, like those that offer them the option to protect their land by selling the development rights, or to create better economic returns for the farm. And voters are talking to policy-makers by casting ballots to protect the land.

The seeds for many more Thanksgivings are sown by these efforts. By working to protect our nation's farmland, we can be sure the food on the table comes from our soil and that our Thanksgiving Day walk or drive will continue to take us past open fields and countryside.

We'll be sure that when we pass Aunt Emma's recipe on to our children, they'll have ingredients from America's farmland to make that pie.