DON’T HAVE A COW: The 10-Day Local Food Challenge

My oldest daughter a few years ago at what she calls "the Pumpkin Cart of Honesty," in which a neighbor grows pumpkins and simply sets them out on a cart with a cash box and trusts that people will pay for what they take.

My oldest daughter a few years ago at what she calls “the Pumpkin Cart of Honesty,” in which a neighbor grows pumpkins and simply sets them out on a cart with a cash box and trusts that people will pay for what they take.

We now officially come to the end of our “Don’t Have a Cow” blog series. Since many of the posts have been focusing on vegetarian or vegan eating, I’m going to take a different tack….

As part of my quest to eat healthier with my family, I’ve been spending a lot of time getting to know what my local options are. I telecommute for Green America from the Midwest, and it’s pretty easy to find fresh, local food here at harvest-time among all the family farms.

But could I eat three meals a day from local sources for ten days, with only a handful of non-local foods allowed (like, oh, chocolate?)?

That’s the question behind Vicki Robin’s new 10-day Local Food Challenge. Vicki recently published a wonderful book, Blessing the Hands that Feed Us: What Eating Closer to Home Can Teach Us About Food, Community, and Our Place on Earth, which was all about what she learned by eating food for a full month that came from no further than ten miles from her home.

The challenge she’s issuing now is less stringent: You pick any ten days in October and eat only food that has come from within 100 miles or less of your home.  And you can pick ten “exotics”, or foods from afar—like coffee, chocolate, or olive oil—“to make it doable.”

The results, says Vicki, can be a life-changing exercise in connecting to your food and community. “Why do it at all? For fun, for curiosity, for integrity, for health, for the love of farmers and community, for making friends, for encouraging others to eat local food, for building an alternative to food-as-usual, for taking a stand for the food system we-the-eaters want: fresh, fair, affordable food for all,” she says.

I’d like to try it. Because the local food producers that I’ve connected with are all sources of some of the best and healthiest food I’ve ever eaten, and dedicating ten days to being mindful about finding more can only make my life richer.

There’s Jeff, the apple farmer who smiled indulgently when I asked him for a bag of Honeycrisps and then promptly sliced up some of his close-to-organic heirloom apples for me to try. I dream of those apples all year long and am overjoyed that he just opened up his orchard store again for the season.

Mrs. D. operates a small dairy ten miles away where she sells fresh milk, butter, and every flavor of ice cream we could ever want.

Alice makes homemade bread with all sorts of wonderful flavors and sells it at the local farmers market.

Bill sells organically farmed, truly free-range chicken at the same market for when my family does eat meat, which is less and less often since my animal-loving daughters prefer to eat plant-based meals—as long as their father or I don’t mess them up in the kitchen.

Lindsey and Joe operate an award-winning winery within walking distance from my house, and I’ve fallen in love with several of their sweet reds—and with the musical nights and other fun community events they throw at the winery.

I just bought a jar of the crunchiest dill pickles I’ve ever eaten at an art fair from a woman my mother’s age who cans four different types, and I’m vacationing on Lake Michigan soon, where I’ll pick up some herb-infused olive oil made only in Wisconsin.

Round it all out with mint tea and stevia syrup from my herb garden, which I swap with a friend for fresh zucchini and tomatoes (the deer got all of ours this year).

But I know I’ve only hit the proverbial tip of the iceberg when it comes to seeking out local food treasures. I can’t wait to discover more.

As Vicki says, “If we want a GMO-antibiotic-cruelty-free, nontoxic, fair to farmers and nutritious food supply, the 10-Day Local Food Challenge gives us firsthand experience of what we stand for. We know we are participating in building the world we want, bite by bite, even as we protest and boycott the food system we don’t want.”

To learn more about and join the 10-Day Local Food Challenge, visit localfoodchallenge.org. And don’t forget to ask your local growers if they farm organic or close to it, so you can avoid pesticide residues and genetically modified organisms for your health.

—Tracy Fernandez Rysavy, editor-in-chief

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