One Family’s Local Food Challenge, part III

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

Our Thanksgiving 2007 turkey – fresh, organic, pastured – came from a young Whatcom County farmer, new to the trade so we wanted to support her.  Aged for 24 hours, soaked for another 24 hours in simple brine and slow-roasted, it was the most delectable in our memory. We bought two 30-pound ‘family packs’ of organic, pastured beef and pork from Skagit River Ranch in Sedro Woolley. We also bought a dozen of their pasture-raised chickens, though our larger supply of chickens came from Misty Meadows in Everson. Besides eggs and a tasty variety of chicken breeds, our lamb came from this farm, too. Lovingly raised on pasture by our friends’ eldest child as a 4-H project, she then sold to us at the junior livestock auction. (We’re looking forward to another of her lambs this fall; right now he’s still grazing under her care.) For local fish and seafood, we bought directly from the boats at Squalicum Harbor, Taylor Shellfish Farm on Chuckanut and from Vis on James Street. A few times we benefited from my husband’s and friends’ fishing outings and crab pots, and once our hunting friends shared some of their gifts as well.

And there you see, with so many local people doing a great job providing fresh, sustainably grown food, it hasn’t been too hard to forego the farm life fantasy. It also helps that we can visit friends for the vicarious experience. Twice we participated in the slaughtering of our chickens, under the compassionate tutelage of farmers Mark and Melissa.  When I have more kitchen scraps than my worm bin can accept, I take a bag over to help fatten their hogs.  These visits are usually combined with play dates for our kids; my younger son and their older son are tight friends who find joy in doing farm chores together. How cool is that: good food, time with a buddy, and wholesome life lessons, all in one morning’s play!

Our 2007 deck garden: amazing what you can grow in containers!

I do have a container garden on our deck again this year and we’ve enjoyed a varied but small home-grown harvest.  It’s far from enough to sustain all of us for a year, but satisfies my green thumb. Also, for the same reason we helped process chickens, a home garden reminds my kids every day of something important: real food doesn’t come from a plastic package, but from healthy soil and with leaves attached.

Unlike Barbara Kingsolver, I didn’t keep thorough, detailed records of all my food expenses, all year. This was to be a fun experiment, not a tedious accounting job. Besides, we were more interested in achieving the local food goal than reducing expenses, and when it comes to good food I never have been very price-sensitive. Still, a stack of crumpled receipts and rough figures suggest we remained steady some months, but more often spent less than we had before. Whenever I’ve read reports of other folks eating locally around the country, they consistently reported saving money — often to their surprise.

Some people may still scoff at the notion, especially regarding organic, pasture-raised meats and eggs. Their argument is that they’re too expensive.  Granted, today these products are priced much higher than those produced by big agri-business.  But if we eat animal protein in smaller quantities, as medical and fitness experts advise, then they are an easily affordable part of a healthy diet. Using meat as an accent ingredient (e.g. in a stir-fry or pasta toss), or as a flavor booster (e.g. in a soffrito base for vegetable braises and grain dishes) is a healthy and tasty way to enjoy it. What’s more, less expensive cuts of meat become mouth-watering and tender with long, slow cooking and very little effort.

The food paradigm is gradually shifting, as more of us realize the long-range costs of cheap food and a plate that’s too heavy in animal protein (produced in feedlots, to boot.) Pesticides, trans-fats and high-fructose corn syrup – all things that allow inexpensive processed food production – are now on the danger list as their impact on human and environmental health became more widely understood. The short-term benefits of inexpensive food disappear under the shadow of long-term poor health effects. On the other hand, healthy soils and foods are inextricably linked with a healthy population.

I suppose one drawback to eating locally all year, for someone who doesn’t enjoy cooking as much as I do, is the commitment to cooking, freezing and canning a portion of the harvest to carry you through the winter. Admittedly, it sometimes wore me out. But again, this isn’t about making extra work. Imagine the tremendous personal and community impact if more households committed to eating locally just during the peak season? Or all year, but just one day a week? Or even just one week a year, like the Eat Local Week we’re in now? If you’re like my family, and others we know, it’s small steps like these that become habits, and simply experiencing how good ‘fresh and local’ tastes is compelling.  Add more changes gradually and, before you know it, you’ve become a family of locavores.

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