Tag Archives: Sustainable

5 Ways to a Better Eat Local Challenge

Like any good entrepreneur, I believe there are always better ways to do something. In this particular case, I have identified five ways to improve Eat Local Challenges to ensure they best achieve their desired objectives. Before sharing those suggestions, let’s make sure we’re on the same page regarding why such challenges exist in the first place.

Ask 10 people why they eat local and you’re bound to get 10 or more different answers. In Burlington, Vermont, where my family just completed its weeklong “eating local” adventure, the reason for the challenge was loosely described as:

“Help keep your community thriving by being becoming a Localvore! We love Vermont and want to keep as much business as possible in our wonderful home! Anytime you buy locally grown or produced products, you keep money and jobs in Vermont.”

In the Mad River Valley of Vermont, where its localvore chapter is well known, its Eat Local Challenge the week before Burlington’s had the following objective:

“The Eat Local Challenge is an event where participants pledge to eat only locally grown and produced foods.  Participants will have the option of choosing to pledge by the meal (one or more meals), by the day (one or more days), or for the entire week.”

Notice a pattern?

Perhaps it’s unique to Vermont, but it seems that the primary reason for participating in an Eat Local Challenge is because it’s a good thing or the right thing to do for your community and the regional economy. Not bad, but after spending a week in the trenches with my family, I’m convinced we need a better objective. Here’s my suggestion:

To fundamentally change the region’s food system – from seed to plate – to ensure locally grown, raised and processed food is widely available and easy for consumers to find and purchase from regionally-owned retailers.

Think about that for a minute.

Rather than simply joining a challenge to feel good, shouldn’t we be doing so with the intent of demanding change and reinforcing those demands with our actions and dollars?  If everyone involved, from the farmer to the processor to the family of six is thinking “fundamental change”, then that is what they will be talking about, brainstorming about and working toward.

With that objective in mind, here are the five things I believe must change or be improved to make every Eat Local Challenge successful in driving permanent change in our regional food systems.

  1. Season-Long Challenge – In today’s hectic, go-go world, people need time to ease into new ideas. That is why I’m recommending that Eat Local Challenges begin when school gets out and go through the autumn harvest. Giving people the chance to get their feet wet, try new foods, try growing and preserving their own food, etc. will go a long way in winning their hearts, minds, pocketbooks and, most important, ongoing commitment to local foods.
  2. Food System Coordination – With a longer window to positively impact behaviors, it will be critical that more food chain businesses participate and promote the Challenge to keep in front and center in people’s minds. Farmers markets and CSA programs are two great places to reinforce the Challenge, as are restaurants and food retailers (thinking weekly Challenge Specials). The point is that by aligning the Challenge with most of the growing season, we make eating local a bigger, more visible part of everyday life.
  3. Shades of Local Labeling – Possibly my biggest frustration with eating local is finding local food, beyond produce, which at times can be a little challenging as well. My suggestion is to develop a Challenge labeling structure that allows farms, processors and retailers to help direct consumers to foods containing all or some local ingredients that were partially or completely processed within the Challenge radius (typically 100 miles). The highest marks and “most attractive” label would go to products that were 100 percent grown/raised and processed (if applicable) in the region and sold by a retailer that is 100 percent regionally owned. You could throw “organic” or some other sustainable criteria on top for good measure. You would also provide labels for “Shades of Local,” which would allow products with greater than 50 percent local traits to be considered the next best alternative.
  4. Peak Week Celebrations – Rather than have the Challenge be a single week, where by the time it is over most people are just getting their legs under them, why not have the season-long challenge culminate in a Peak (Harvest) Week celebration? Participating consumers would go for the 100 percent local diet during this week, which they would hit in stride, with the added bonus of people coming together to celebrate the Challenge, food producers, retailers and each other.
  5. School District Involvement – Given our kids will likely be back in school when the Peak Week hits, and given my kids first-hand experience with school lunch hours, it will be ideal to have the region’s school dialed in on the challenge. While they may not be able to alter their lunch menus much, they like retailers could draw attention to the “localness” of menu items. In addition, they could actively promote the Challenge and encourage teachers and students to do their part to raise awareness and increase consumption of local foods.

Now imagine this happening every year and capturing more participants from all walks each time around. The real, measurable impact in every region employing such an approach will make it all worthwhile, especially as permanent, year-round, regional food options become more available. Think of it as an upwardly spiraling regional food economy. Get the picture?

Of course there is one problem my regions will face in trying to implement these suggestions – lack of resources.

That is why I am recommending that local food retailers drive this more advanced version of Eat Local Challenges based on its potential to serve their bottom line interests, while equally benefiting the regional food economy.

To be clear, when I say “local food retailers” I’m talking about locally-owned stores, not your “friendly” national-owned, 50,000-square-foot, 45,000-item supermarket just around the corner. Such businesses need not apply.

Now who’s with me?

Related Posts:

10 Joys of Eating Local

Yesterday, my family finished a week of opening our eyes to something we thought we understood pretty well, but were humbled by reality – eating local food.

You see, for the last four years we have been making conscious choices about how we spend our food dollars, and, as a result, firmly believed that what we were doing was great for our regional food economy. We joined a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm. We shopped regularly at our local food cooperative. We even grew a large family garden this year.

As it turns out our actions, while definitely important and pointed in the right direction, were much further from being classified as “localvore” than we realized. Because of that this week’s Eat Local Challenge turned out to be more “stressful” than expected.

Yet, I remain very proud of the job my family did, from my four year old daughter to my very patient wife, who thankfully has a gift of making just about anything taste great.

With that in mind, I am wrapping up our first Eat Local Challenge with 10 Joys we took from this eye-opening experience. We are already building on these joys and expect to leverage them again next year when we once again engage in the Challenge.

  1. Common Family Goal – When was the last time you can recall your family sharing a common objective for an entire week, an objective that you talked about every day? It’s hard to imagine too many things bringing people together more effectively than food, whether preparing a meal together or sitting down around a table to share the bounty. Last week’s Eat Local Challenge did just that for us.  Even better, as a family that takes its food pretty seriously, we spent most of the time trying to understand how far eating local could take us, where it worked well, what was missing, etc. An invaluable experience on so many fronts.
  2. Breakfast Together – It’s funny how something like eating local for a week can force a family to spend more time around its kitchen table. With three distinct morning schedules (i.e., people eat at different times) and many of our standard breakfast options (bagels, cereal, toast) were off the table due to a lack of localness, we resorted to preparing breakfast nearly every day. This meant that to “get it while it’s hot,” everyone needed to be in the kitchen ready at the same time, ready to eat. A nice bonus, although there were definitely some gorgy kids!
  3. Food Found – Prior to this week, we never thought twice about reaching for the olive oil or all-purpose flour; and we reach quite often it turns out. Forced to reconsider these commonly used ingredients, we were happy to discover several Vermont-made alternatives, e.g., Rainville Farms Cold-Pressed Sunflower Oil and a wonderful array of flours from Gleason Grains and Butterworks Farms. Our pantry has made room for these newcomers, which I expect will retain their popularity from last week. Having said that, there are many more needed; an opportunity for the numerous food entrepreneurs tucked away throughout the region.
  4. Vermont Wine & Cheese – OK, so we’re not perfect. We didn’t give up wine for the challenge, but we did look for and bought only red wines made by Vermont wineries that grew their own grapes, including Boyden Valley Winery (our favorite VT winery), Shelburne Vineyard, East Shore Vineyard (really enjoyed their Cabernet Franc) and North Branch Vineyards (first experience drinking a Marechal Foch – liked it!). Of course, what wine drinking opportunity would be complete without artisan cheese to go with it? Thank God for Vermont cheese makers! They are arguably some of the best in the world, as everything we tasted was absolutely wonderful, especially Cabot’s Clothbound Cheddar and Jasper Hill’s Bayley Hazen Blue (my personal favorite).
  5. Making Something Out of Nothing – What I’m really getting at is how in the course of a single week my family learned ways to make something we were accustom to preparing out of different sets of ingredients. Improvisation is hard enough as it is for most people, but throwing a local requirement on top of that makes it all the more challenge. As my 11 year old said as we were finishing up our last Challenge dinner, “We made things different, but they still tasted good. It’s great to know we can make things with different stuff.” Another great lesson learned.
  6. A Teenager’s Perspective – What would an Eat Local Challenge be without the tension hovering around a teenager trying to carve out his or her own path? Peaceful? Less stressful? Perhaps. But what I found rewarding was watching my teenage daughter test new boundaries of her independence by objecting to something she didn’t think was all that important; this despite my active involvement in the overall Eat Local Challenge. It was admittedly frustrating, but also required compromise, both important parts of raising a strong, independent child.
  7. A Budding Chef’s Perspective – My 11 year old daughter loves to cook. She has been doing so for years, and has become quite good and is very helpful to have around in a busy kitchen. Perhaps that is why she was more aware than anyone in our household regarding local foods. She was also the one most dedicated to following the rules. To put this in perspective imagine someone who loves good food heading to the school cafeteria with brown bag in hand (all local stuff) where her friends offer her Positive Pie pizza or homemade cake with homemade icing. It wasn’t easy, but she not only did it, she also hip-checked me on occasion to make sure I stayed on course.
  8. Bradley’s Beat – Within moments of announcing that I was going to be officially blogging about the Eat Local Challenge, you could see my son’s wheels turning. You see, he’s an aspiring newspaper man, having started his own weekly (in home) newspaper when he was eight years old – The Plainfield Press. In fact, he had already written a piece for my Every Kitchen Table blog titled O’Donalds: The Organic McDonald’s, which describes his vision for sustainable fast food. It received a lot of praise from my readers, so I was thrilled when he wanted to write about the Eat Local Challenge, just like his dad! His Eating Local – A 10 Year Old’s Perspective post did a great job setting things up for the week.
  9. From the Mouths of Babes – If you’ve ever had children, then you know how funny they can be, especially when they are young. With that in mind, imagine a cute little four year old at Hunger Mountain Co-op shopping with her mom during the middle of the Eat Local Challenge. She asks for something, which her mom tells her she can’t have because it’s not local. After a couple requests, it starts to settle in that a lot of what she wants she can’t have. For the balance of the shopping trip she adapts. She points to something and instead of asking for it simply says “It’s not local. We can’t have it.” Makes me think that a generation of similarly enlightened kids has the power to change just about anything!
  10. Seeing Opportunities – As a budding food entrepreneur, what really jumped out to me this week is just how limited consumer choices are when shopping for food. Yes, I know, today’s supermarkets carry over 45,000 products on their shelves, so how can I suggest there are not lots of choices.  It’s simple, really. The next time you go shopping try to determine which of the products you want to buy comes from within 100 miles. Make it 500 miles if you want. The point is that you can’t typically determine such things with the exception of a well-managed, local-oriented produce department. As our food system has become increasingly consolidated and centralized, consumer-friendly information has disappeared, as has the overall transparency of knowing where our food comes from. Building transparent, regional food systems has the potential to disrupt the status quo in important ways, so it’s time to get to work!

There was a more to the Eat Local Challenge than I could possibly capture here, but I hope that after reading this, along with my previous blog posts, you and your family will join us next year to experience similar things for yourself.

If you participated this year, I hope your experience was equally joyful (along with whatever other emotions you felt) for you and that you will be that much more prepared for the next Eat Local Challenge.

Bon appétit!

Related Posts:

  • Day 1 – Refrigerator & Pantry Stocked for Local Eating Challenge
  • Day 2 – Wrapping Our Heads around Eating Local
  • Day 3 – Thinking “Eat Local” Season v. Single Week
  • Day 4 – Seeing Shades of Local Food
  • Day 5 – Downsides to Eating Local?
  • Day 6 – From Pizza Night to Crazy Saturday Schedule

Every Kitchen Table is proud supporter of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday series.

From Pizza Night to Crazy Saturday Schedule

Day 6 in Eat Local Challenge Series

If the title of my Day 6 post didn’t give it away, there is too much going on today with our kids, soccer and school to put deep thought into a post. I have captured last night’s incredible Pizza Night and scrumptious dessert, as well as our protein-packed Saturday morning breakfast, along with links to more outstanding Vermont farms and food processors.

As the Eat Local Challenge winds down (we will be going through tomorrow since we got a late start), I am finding myself thinking reflectively about what me and my family have experienced and learned during this incredible week. I’ve also been envisioning how I would improve the Eat Local Challenge so that it considers the many little challenges one faces in eating local in Vermont.

With that in mind, please stay tuned for tomorrow’s 10 Joys of Eating Local and Monday’s 5 Ways to Improve Eat Local Challenges. They are already outlined and being turned over again and again in my head, but given the day me and my family have ahead of us, they will have to wait for more concentrated time.

Besides, it is an incredibly beautiful fall day in Vermont and I (surprising even to me) don’t want to be behind a keyboard when I can be outside sucking up as much sunshine and fresh air as I can.

Cheers!

Today’s Localvore Meals

  • Breakfast: This morning’s breakfast was designed to energize the family for a crazy mid day frenzy (soccer, school event, etc.). We served scrambled eggs (from local, free range chickens, of course) made with Strafford Organic Creamery (Strafford) Half and Half, Grafton Village cheddar cheese and Nardello peppers from our garden, along with Cob Smoked, Thick Sliced, Maple Cured Bacon from Vermont Smoke & Cure (South Barre) and Cold Hollow Cider Mill (Waterbury) apple cider. We ran out of our homemade local bread, so there was no toast (bummer). We will begin lobbying Red Hen Baking Co. (Middlesex), Manghi’s (Montpelier) and other local bakers to make more localvore breads before next year’s challenge!
  • Lunch: Today’s lunch will be a smorgasborg of (hopefully) local eats, as soccer and school activities have us running around from mid morning to mid afternoon. Some of us have packed snacks (I wasn’t fortunate enough to get leftover pizza) from our “Eat Local” fridge, but there will be other foods that may be too good to pass by. Of course, we will all try our best to keep on the local path (although my 13 year old daughter may stray a bit).
  • Dinner (Previous Night):  Pizza Night at the Smart home has always included homemade crust, along with lots of fresh produce from our garden and Wellspring Farm. With the local challenge, we opted for a whole wheat crust using Gleason Grains whole wheat flour and honey from Bee Haven Honey Farm. It was fantastic all by itself, but then we threw on top tomatoes, peppers and onions from our garden, Sweet Italian Sausage from Vermont Smoke & Cure and handmade Cherrywood Smoked Mozarella from Maplebrook Farm in Bennington, which placed 2nd at the 2009 American Cheese Society Conference (well deserved).
  • Dessert: Caramelized Apple Tart with Cinammon Custard (slightly modified for Challenge) from Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors (link contains original recipe and cookbook review). Very good!
  • Wild Cards: French Roast Coffee, olive oil on pizza, Vermont wine (last night we had enjoyed, for the first time, a bottle of Cabernet Franc from East Shore Vineyard in Grand Isle)
  • Exceptions: Crushed red pepper (from bulk section of Hunger Mt. Co-op), vanilla extract (also from Hunger Mt. Co-op bulk section)

Related Posts:

  • Day 1 – Refrigerator & Pantry Stocked for Local Eating Challenge
  • Day 2 – Wrapping Our Heads around Eating Local
  • Day 3 – Thinking “Eat Local” Season v. Single Week
  • Day 4 – Seeing Shades of Local Food
  • Day 5 – Downsides to Eating Local?