One Family’s Local Food Challenge, part II

(May 2007-May 2008: Our Year of Eating Local, continued from previous post)

Okay, full disclosure. We weren’t absolutely strict about every ingredient, every meal, every day. Neither were the writers of those eat-local books – it’s almost impossible and would quickly turn pleasure to drudgery. We didn’t decline dinner invitations or avoid church potlucks on some haughty principle. When cooking for clients, I wouldn’t deny them a favorite dish if it contained an imported ingredient or two. At home we enjoyed selected foods that aren’t produced here and which, as a cook, I consider essential: e.g. olive oil, salt, spices and certain imported specialties. Coffee was considered local if grown and imported responsibly, then packaged and sold by Bellingham roasters.  Occasionally my husband used our bread machine with Fairhaven Mill flours, but most of our bread came from local bakeries who, the labels indicated, often used grains from Eastern Washington and other states. On the rare occasion when we ran out of milk, it was more responsible to pick up a small carton of national organic brand from the little store a mile away, just to hold us over, than to drive to town for the stuff from Whatcom cows.

Furthermore, the national model, inspired by the authors of Plenty, stipulates that food come from within 100 miles. (Originally published in Canada as The 100-Mile Diet, the U.S. publisher changed the name because Americans would assume it was about a weight-loss program. That speaks volumes about our food system.) In a slightly different approach, we more or less averaged out to 100 miles over the course of our challenge. For most of the year, whether fresh in season or preserved, easily 75% or more of our food came from within 35 miles. At other times, we extended our boundary to 200 miles to enjoy organic cherries, organic peaches, lentils and wines from Eastern Washington, and some favorite foods made elsewhere around Puget Sound.

More ambiguous but still allowed on occasion were items such as nuts. We adore hazelnuts from Holmquist Orchards in Lynden. But rather than give up other types of tree nuts that aren’t grown nearby, our loose ‘rules’ allowed us to buy organic walnuts, almonds et. al. from the Coop or Terra Organica. I reasoned that they’re locally owned businesses committed to the farmers, producers and employees of our community. With two kids, organic peanuts and peanut butter were also deal-breakers. Finally, for the rare purchases I make there, I am going to make a locavorian argument for Costco: it’s headquartered in Kirkland (within 100 miles), they reportedly treat their employees well and pay a good living wage, and they make an effort to carry Northwest products. If I need a large quantity of Beecher’s cheese, which is made in Seattle, it’s silly to pay a premium price at the Co-op when I can buy it in bulk for less at Costco.

That said, on a Co-op run during the cold, grey depths of this past winter, I was delighted with a receipt that showed just over half of my total–both in dollars and number of items–was locally grown and produced (defined as about 200 miles to incorporate B.C., eastern Washington and south Puget Sound). So, as the saying goes, “define your own local.” It isn’t about deprivation, feeling judged or acting smug. It’s about awareness that there are culinary, economic, environmental, social and spiritual benefits to this whole local eating thing – and then making a conscious choice that fits your lifestyle.

So, who were our main food sources for the challenge year? Local farmers and producers of course, either directly or via local retailers that support them. I hit the farmer’s market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, usually buying more than enough to eat fresh and freezing the rest. In addition, we continued our weekly CSA from late May into October and found many fresh, locally grown foods at the Community Coop, Terra Organica/Bargainica, Joe’s Gardens and the new Local Food Exchange. Now into our second locavore year, we’re adding a fall CSA from Growing Washington, plus some bulk crops from Cedarville Farm. Like last summer and fall, I’ll be batch-cooking, freezing and canning anything we don’t eat fresh, to enjoy throughout winter and early spring. A big commitment? Sure. But not overwhelming, and abundantly satisfying. I like going to all these places; a more sane person can just buy from fewer sources.

We also visited the farms themselves. A favorite is Blue Heron Lake Farm, our source of U-pick organic strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, to enjoy fresh and to freeze. Just down the road from the berry fields are our friends at Misty Meadows Farm, our source of organic, pasture-raised eggs since they began raising hens. There are also numerous local sources for milk, cheese and yogurt. Occasionally we enjoyed buying these products directly from the farm (though they’re available at markets), expressly for the treat of seeing the very goats whose milk went into that tangy feta. The super fresh milk and cream even tempts me to make my own ricotta and butter which can be really fun and quite easy.

We were well into our 12-month challenge last fall when apple season rolled around, and here we are again enjoying this autumn treasure by the file-size boxful. Apple varieties and pears from Bellewood Acres and Cloud Mountain Farm, delightful snacks when fresh, were also canned as sauce and frozen in crisps and pies. Apple cider, wonderful to drink, reduced and froze beautifully for later use in many baking recipes. And as any resident of this region knows, blackberries are everywhere, fresh and free for the picking and freezing.

(End of Part II)

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