Fresh salsa, walleye and homemade jellies were a few of the tempting treats participants ate from local sources in the recent Dakotafire Local Food Challenge.
For two weeks in September, participants charted how much food they ate from local sources. A Local Basic challenge required eating only local fruits and vegetables for 30 days. The Local Hardcore participants upped the ante by eating all local foods for 14 days, except a few select items that are not available from nearby sources.
Those who sent in their logs at the end of the two weeks received an “I WENT LOCAL” T-shirt. They also gained surprising insights into their diets and communities.
Homegrown vegetables like corn, zucchini, onions, and tomatoes were common throughout the participants’ food calendars. The autumn harvest season offered many options for soups, salads and side dishes. Local eggs, pork and beef were popular, but certain items were less easy to obtain. Exceptions were allowed and used for foods like raisins, spices, olive oil and rice. James and Edith Jesser maintained the Local Hardcore challenge and tried to avoid as many non-local foods as they could. By the end of the first week, Edith made a note on the log: “James misses oatmeal and is tired of eating local eggs for breakfast.”
Most participants couldn’t help but cheat one day or another, but found appealing new meal ideas along the way.
About 50 people signed up to try the challenge, but only 11 turned in the local food log at the end of the two weeks. Six individuals tried the basic challenge, and five attempted the hardcore challenge.
Susan Balcom of Mandan, N.D., stepped up to the latter. She grows her own fresh vegetables, cans her own goods and eats meat from her own farm, so she assumed that this challenge would be easy. Obstacles arose to prevent eating a truly local diet. Socializing didn’t offer as many opportunities for local food. Going out to football games and eating at relatives’ houses prevented her from fulfilling the challenge completely.
“I can, garden, bake, cook and love to eat food from the farm,” Balcom said. “However, with my job and travel I found that unless I locked myself into my house, I had to make do with what food was available.”
When traveling to a conference for work, the food seemed unappealing compared to her local diet.
“None of the products were local,” she wrote in her food log. “They said they were all too busy to use local tomatoes … we need to develop some light processing methods to counter that mentality,” she suggests.
Her two weeks of eating meals with ingredients like local eggs, home-grown vegetables, and homemade mayonnaise ended on a high note. She prepared her own roasted red peppers, sliced tomatoes, homemade bread and served it with cottage cheese. “My husband said that this was the best meal he ever had!” Balcom says she is grateful for that and the opportunity to see how much she eats locally.
In Watertown, S.D., Cassandra Varilek and her family also took on the hardcore food challenge. Feeding her 3-year-old daughter, Brooklynn, offered a challenge in itself.
“She was on a cereal kick, and you can’t find local cereal,” Varilek said.
It was also difficult to find foods that are appropriate for a child her age locally.
“I tried to feed her frozen green beans from last year or apples from the neighbors, but fruit is hard to find in South Dakota,” she said. Meat and vegetables were easier to find this time of year with the farmers market and resources from her own garden.
Could the participants continue a diet based in local foods after the event ends?
Varilek says that lately, it seems to be getting easier to eat local, but prepackaged foods that offer convenience, like tomato paste, still have allure for her and many others.
Balcom suggests that this could change if more people took the lessons of the food challenge to heart. To her, it is strange that people living in agrarian states would be “afraid of eating something that hasn’t had the life processed out of it,” she says. “We are living beings and need to eat living food, unprocessed, fresh and local.”
With efforts like the Local Food Challenge, local advocates hope to encourage these habits for whole communities.
“I believe that if we focused on creating food co-ops, food hubs and farmer networks or co-ops to grow more local, we could provide local to area restaurants and other institutions so that eating local when you are on the road or going out for an evening would be much easier,” Balcom said.
Eating local food while eating out was one of her greatest obstacles during the two weeks of the challenge, but she is optimistic that will change when more people will realize the benefits of local eating.
“While this may be a long way into the future, we are setting the ground rules,” she adds. “The more folks that experience the flavor of local, the more the consumers will demand that we reduce the barriers to buying and selling farm products.”
Hamburger Soup By Leanne and Dale Frederickson
1 pound hamburger
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup diced raw potatoes
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup diced, unpeeled zucchini
1 cup sliced celery
1 quart canned whole tomatoes or 4 cups raw tomatoes
1/4 cup rice
5 cups water
3 or 4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon thyme
Brown the meat and onion. Drain. Put in a large kettle. Add all remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Yield 9 cups. Good the next day and the next day, too. If it thickens, add more water.