Eat Local Challenge

One empty shelf left for applesauce and grapes.  Then, no more canning until June!  Woot!

Today, October 1st, is the fourth anniversary of buying the farm.  Last year on this date I posted a picture of my groaning shelves of canned goods, and asked myself a question:

What would the ideal be, I thought to myself. The ideal, of course, is what most everybody has now: the denial of the seasons that our first-world global-access grocery stores offer us. But what would it truly mean, that is, to deny the seasons and STILL do what I am doing on my 100-Foot Diet?

Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle documented her own family’s local-eating journey.  The book worked around the construct (fairly arbitrary if you ask me) of eating locally for a year.  The start date for the beginning of that year was squishy: they picked asparagus season.  Like her family, I suppose I can’t really account for when we truly began our local eating here.  It may have started after we signed the papers that day four years ago.  We came back here and ate some of our apples.  (It’s addictive, eating your own.)

I will say this, should I have a food audit:  at this point in the journey, 95% of what is consumed is either produced on this farm or produced down the road from this farm.  Most of the remaining five percent is local stuff, mostly Michigan made.

Am I a zealot?  Have I gone door-knocking in a dark suit? Do I think a buzzer will go off if I eat a Twinkie?  I think the answer to all of these is “no.”

Our future on the farm is fairly clear, even if I do really worry about the rest of the world.  Local eating, even as the extreme sport as we tend to practice it, is the way we will go.  I answer my own question:  with the aid of the greenhouses, and that seasonal deniability machine called the freezer, I know what it means to be a complete locavore.  And I have never eaten better in my life.

I am participating in the Eat Local Challenge for October of 2008, and this is the first post of that challenge.  I have done these challenges before, most recently in September of last year when the challenge involved food preservation, and also the summers of 2006 and 2007, with the One Local Summer challenge.  The challenge for this month is to eat local for 30 days.

  1. What is your definition of local? For me, I copped out to look to what I eat that comes from furthest away: in this case it is dairy, which our place sources from Michigan and northern Indiana.
  2. What exemptions will you claim? The usual:  olive oil, salt and pepper, some foreign spices.
  3. What is your goal for the month? I would say my goal is not one of personal challenge, but more about sharing what I have learned.  If it gives even one other person the impetus to try to DIY then the challenge will be successful to me.

14 responses to “Eat Local Challenge

  1. WOW! That’s a very impressive pantry! You have been a busy, busy girl.

    I’m impressed by people who undertake the eat local challenge. I’ve managed to do it with all fresh produce, but I still find myself tied to the grocery store for staples like pasta and grain. I’ll be eagerly reading this month (not that I don’t usually…)

  2. Do you use wheat or rice and if so where and how? We are really struggling with this one.

  3. Thanks, Taylor! I know what you mean about the ties to the grocery store. It sucks, but…well, it is good for staples.

    Alecto, rice is a no-go but that is okay with us; wheat berries work if we want the rice-shaped fix. We fortunately have grain grown in Michigan and I get all my flour, corn, wacky grains and lentils from this one outfit that acts kind of like a co-op. So yeah we make our own pasta and eat a lot of polenta and potatoes for the challenge.

  4. Yes, El, very impressive. It gives me hope for this country yet. We’ve eaten much more locally this year than ever before. It wasn’t really an explicit goal, just a result of putting in a big-assed garden, getting our own laying hens, learning to can, and being increasingly uncomfortable buying mass produced meat and dairy (even if the label says organic). I’ve also been more motivated to glean this year, which means we’ve gotten more berries and pears than we can shake a stick at, without producing them ourselves. But I have nowhere near the amount of canned foods that you do.

    The “problem” areas I see are in the pantry staples area, such as: bread flour, sugar, rice, olive oil and cooking oil. My region doesn’t produce hard flour, rice, or sugar, and I would find it very, very hard to voluntarily go without olive oil. I feel okay using spices and tea from distant lands, using the rationalization that these goods were traded from just as far away back in the sailing ship days. But yes, it’s a rationalization. And the convenience of pre-made pasta is hard to give up.

    I’m going to estimate that right now we’re directly producing, gleaning, or buying locally, something like 65% of our food. If you count homemade baked goods as our own production (with non-local, purchased flour), then it would probably bump up to 75-80%. It’s a good start, I think.

  5. El, your shelves are making me nervous!! I thought it was just me, but even James thinks they need some reinforcing. We don’t want to hear of any crashes in the night! 😉

    Funny… I had the same question as Alecto re: grains. Our flour is milled in Maine, but the wheat comes from Canada, and while dry beans are easily grown here (and we grow all of our own as you know), the ones at our co-op are from China. No labeling required on the bins, you know. Boo. I’m envious of your co-op.

    Hey, where is your animal feed grown? For a while I was getting feed from a small Maine company, but they went out of business (they couldn’t grow, grind, deliver *and* raise animals). Even then, the percentage of ME-grown grains in their blends was pretty small. Except oats.

    As you know, it’s tricky once you start auditing everything. I figure we’re more like 60% Maine grown (could be more, but I prefer to err on the side of caution). Kudos to you at 95%!

  6. Kate! That’s great! I would say it wasn’t really our goal to go this far; it just kind of happened…that, and I am crazy as you now well know. And yes I do realize we’re pretty fortunate to be able to find sugar, flours, grains AND oil grown in-state; not every state does, certainly. But olive oil. It is my one exception, as it’s my main saute-an-onion oil.

    It IS tricky, Liz, doing an audit! Tell James these shelves were double-stacked with jars when we moved in. What you’re not seeing is how they’re supported on the sides: we did a bit of magic there. It looks very jiggy but this is old-growth wood, so I swear it’s not moving. Good points about the darned beans in the grocery bins. Supposedly yesterday the USDA passed a point of origin meat law for this country and even that got a lot of flack so we are a long way off to learning where our dried goods come from. Our feed comes from Armada Grains, an old mill north of Detroit: its location near the Thumb means it has access to lots of beans as well as corn, oats, millet, wheat and (ick) processed animal byproducts. But one of the things I intend to do in this challenge is show what one can eat without using a lot of hard-to-find grains. Right now I am making posole/hominy, so…stay tuned I guess. Realize, though, I am super jealous of your fish share…

  7. El,
    A beautiful pantry. I do have a neighbor who has a similar one but I content myself with a freezer full of my own chickens, fruit and vegetables, and shopping at our local coop market. We do eat as locally as possible, but I confess we don’t embark on the extreme sport. Besides, I’m a baker and the holidays are coming. No cinnamon? cloves? nutmeg? vanilla? molasses? ginger? Not to mention flour or sugar. Or eating all those treats with tea and coffee!

  8. I never thought I would look at shelves of home canned food so admiringly. That is one beautiful picture! It makes me want to take the rest of the day off, go home and can something.

  9. That is an amazing amount of food. You’ve inspired me to increase my home garden plans for next year. I know myself well enough to know that canning will still not be on my schedule, but more freezing is a huge probability. I should start shopping for a freezer!

  10. *sigh * Sadly, canning has not been on my agenda this year, but freezing veggies is, to take advantage of the last of the Farmers Market bounty. Next year though…

  11. now this picture is what I call beauty. Makes me giddy just looking at it!

  12. That’s impressive! Any recipes to share? Not the plain this is how I can tomatoes- but anything interesting?

    I hope to have almost as much canned as you do next year. This year maybe we have 80 pts and quarts.

  13. CW: Hi! Oh don’t doubt that our freezerS are also full. We still need to find room for half a pig and a quarter of a cow downstairs, and then those chickens, turkeys and geese who get larger by the day. Eeps. Anyway, I do make exceptions for spices but in all honesty I don’t bake too much other than bread, so if I do, it’s like .005% of what-all we eat, you know? I think most folks in the challenge are excepting coffee and spices, and, unfortunately, flour.

    Katrina! Yes, it’s mighty colorful at least, eh? I thought I should up the color factor from last year as most of what I canned was red or brown-ish. So I got lots more colorful tomatoes this year at least…

    Pamela! Are you saying that my challenge has been met, that I have convinced someone to DIY in my very first Eat Local Challenge post??? Yay! I will say it is good to realize one’s personal limits re: canning; less beating yourself up that way. We got our chest freezers from Sears and they are GREAT, cheap, and not energy pigs.

    Dakota, I am sorry…sounds like it was a crummy year for growing things up your way. Well, heck, those farmers’ markets are great ways to get lots, especially at this time of year when they’re really gleaning their tomato plants.

    Kathy, why thank you. A bit of near-nightly madness, banging pots and making the kitchen sticky is what it really represents.

    Eva, THAT’s impressive too. My favorite out-of-the-ordinary book is by Ball, the Complete Book of Home Preserving, about 400 recipes of rather unusual things. It has made me so happy, starting with the roasted garlic jelly.

  14. Enjoyed reading about the ‘eat local challenge’. I am writing to you from Geneva, Switzerland, where we have a wonderful local farmers market and I am making a concerted effort to integrate this concept of eating locally into our new little family.
    One of the local grocery stores, COOP, has started a wonderful project called ‘Produit de la Montagne’ (Mountain Produce), which helps to support the local Swiss farmers, by promoting their produce in the store and giving them a small portion of the proceeds of each sale. Every drop in the bucket helps! Are there similar projects where you live?

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