May is Eat Local Challenge Month
Well, this year the month will be May, a bit harder in many parts of the country. No juicy summer fruits, or big, ripe tomatoes yet. If you are lucky, you can probably find enough greens, peas, asparagus, and artichokes to satisfy your tastes for variety in the veggie world.
Do you know where your food comes from? Check out Food Routes and prepare to be shocked at the distances many of your favorites travel before they leap into your grocery basket and head home with you.
If you participated in the Eat Local Challenge last year, or started exploring your local food resources outside of the Challenge, like I have been, then you may already have a pretty good idea what you can and cannot get within a 100-mile radius of your home. That is the limit I have set for myself, but I have met people who want to make their personal limit a 50-mile radius.
Personally, I want to be able to include foods from the rich resources of the Sacramento Valley to the west, such as olive oil, Butte Creek beers, Lundberg organic grains, almonds (which I eat daily, and I know the California Almond Growers love me for that; I've heard their commercials!). I feel pretty lucky that there are rich agricultural areas adjacent to my home, as well as local vendors who make artisanal foods, such as putting up our fruits into preserves, or making small-scale cheeses.
One of the greatest resources I have found online is the Locavores website, detailing many food resources in the San Francisco Bay area. This is out of my assigned range, but still encouraging to know. Sacramento and Chico both are about 75 miles away, and support similar gourmet food operations utilizing local ingredients. Oroville, only 40 miles away, is in the center of a rich orchard region, including olives, walnuts, almonds, prunes, grapes, apricots, peaches and pears, and also has a great speciality meat store that processes for locals. Grass Valley/Nevada City, 25 miles to the south of me, is also in the heart of an orchard region, and hosts several farmer's markets a week, as well as being the home for my local co-op, Briar Patch Community Market. This adds up to feeling richly blest, and that it is really no big deal to meet the challenge. I realize that others aren't quite so lucky, but with a little digging around, you might be surprised at what you will find.
How will I prepare for the Challenge? I am in training right now! I have been getting veggies from my CSA, and will have a box a week in May as well, providing me with the basis for meal planning through the Challenge. I also have a lot of my cousin's beef left in the freezer, grass-fed and raised on the family ranch about 60 miles from here. And, lamb on order from my wool-raising friend, Anna, whose ranch was featured last month. Eggs from the local feed store, about 15 miles away, although I was checking the bags of chicken feed available the last time we picked up hay for the burros, and it comes from a plant in central California, so those chickens also consume their share of oil to keep up egg production.
There are some other items that I will be shopping for over the next few weeks to add variety to the diet. I will be visiting some local farmstands to see what I can pick up that was preserved from last year's harvest, right here in our own bioregion, and suggest that anyone interested in participating in the Eat Local Challenge begin reading labels, looking for farmer's markets, and even checking out the Local Harvest website to see what is available in your state. You might be surprised! I was concerned about some of the items that I use daily, such as olive oil, cranberry juice, and flax meal. I found olive oil sources were very close to home, but cranberries aren't grown here in California (plus they are not going to be in season in May anywhere); in an ideal world, I would get those cranberries at the right season and preserve enough to get me through the year.
Some of those participating in the Eat Local Challenge last year allowed themselves waivers for certain foods that they absolutely couldn't pass up. What would be your foods? I suspect that chocolate and coffee both will weasel their way into my diet even in May, as well as some of the spices I love to cook with. However, as this growing season progresses, I will be thinking a lot more about building up supplies of fresh, locally available ingredients to keep me from buying items that were shipped long distances in the future. Those that I do have to relinquish and purchase will be precious, as we have forgotten they were in earlier times... and that will help me make lifestyle adjustments about what my real priorities are.
While I am examining my food-buying habits, I am also examining my fiber-buying habits. Fiber is a huge part of my creative life, but I have begun returning to a practice from my earlier and impoverished young adulthood; checking out the recycled market to see what I find that someone else has discarded (remember to check back at the Destash Blog frequently). Of course, finding something I can use at my local thrift store is going to prove far more valuable that utilizing oil resources to have something shipped across country. So will maximizing the trip if I go on a purchasing jaunt.
Last year, I took the train to the Black Sheep Gathering in Eugene, Oregon, and stocked up with a list of specific projects and needs in minds; turns out I was about 75% accurate in my needs assessment, but could have stocked up a bit better on yarn for felting orders; as a small businesswoman, I ended up making a few orders and don't have the capital this year to buy a year's worth of yarn at once, either. However, attending the Estes Park Wool Market will be a combination vacation/buying trip this year, utilizing public transportation and shared housing resources, as well as planning for upcoming sales. I have also been trying to locate resources within my 100 mile range, and I know there are local wool and alpaca producers, but will have to keep digging to find sources for other fibers. It's a lot of fun! Let me know if you want to join the Eat Local Challenge or start a Knit Local Challenge.