Eating Local is Getting Easier and Tastier

080927_csafood_200.jpgEach Monday evening this summer we return home from our in-town errand day and lay out the beautiful abundant fresh local foods — vegetables from the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) growers, fresh local eggs from Shan’s Happy Hens, and fresh local raw milk. I smile as I think, “Getting more local food has come a long way in three years.”

In the summer of 2005, a friend asked if I wanted to join in a one-week Eat Local experiment. “Sure,” I enthused. “What do you call ‘local’?” I asked.
“You decide,” she replied. “Some people are using 100 miles [the 100-mile diet had just gotten noticed.] It’s up to you.”

I defined “local” as western Nevada county–which is probably less than a 30 mile radius around the towns of Nevada City and Grass Valley. Geography isolates us from the central valley to the west, and the Sierra Nevada to the east.

I wanted to try this because peak oil had just hit my radar and the alarm bells went off. Food security was my biggest concern: do we have enough arable land in western Nevada County to feed our population (around 65,000)? Could we grow food ourselves on our forested land with fairly poor soil, and home to bear and deer and other wild critters who’d happily line up for anything we’d grow?

For the Eat Local week, I had a head start. We’d frequented the grower’s market for a couple years, and regularly shop at the BriarPatch Co-op Community Market which has a section of local food, so I wasn’t starting at zero.

I lived mostly on fresh fruit, vegetables, local grass-fed beef, eggs and herb tea. The first thing I missed was salt. No local salt mines here. And butter (I wasn’t sure we had any dairy cows). It didn’t take long to realize it was the condiments I’d trade for in a post-petroleum world: soy sauce and toasted sesame oil and the like.

What else was out? Of course all the imported foods: sugar, chocolate, coffee, black tea, wheat. The only local grain was millet (which a local grain CSA produces). I lost 5 pounds that week, fine by me, but felt hungry a lot. Without dairy, nuts or olive oil, there weren’t many fats in this diet (although we do grow walnuts locally).

A lot has happened around local food production this past three years. A Local Food Coalition formed early in 2006 after producing “Come Home to Eat”, an insightful day in which we learned what it’s really like for local food producers (see our DVD). It culminated in a feast of local food, a pretty amazing spread for mid-winter — beef, greens, rice, dried blueberry dessert. The Local Food Coalition has succeeded in getting farm stands permitted and producing a local Food Directory. Several community gardens and new CSAs have begun. More people are raising chickens at home. We now have growers markets happening five days a week from May through October.

That’s why my wonderful spread of locally produced foods has been a lot easier to find than three years ago. Robyn and I have been eating mostly-local for several years now, and so this year’s “Eat Local” campaign wasn’t much of a change from our normal diet. Plus I’ve widened the definition of “local” to “regional,” around 75-100 miles, because I feel this is a reasonable distance for an ongoing exchange. The northeastern Sacramento valley produces almonds, olives, dry beans, oranges, stone fruits, wheat, rice, and much more. Nice to have next door.

I’m glad to see the rising awareness about Eating Local, and a wider variety of foods produced locally by a larger number of producers. As more of us keep on eating local, I trust we’ll see the return of local dairies and maybe even grain producers. We’re far from feeding our entire community, but this is a base from which local food production can grow. Literally.

Comments

  1. Eating locally also helps you eat only what is naturally in season for your area.
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  2. Beth,
    We’d love to visit you in Massachusetts. I can’t imagine anything more wonderful than meeting folks who are feeding us the *right* way — local food produced by people we can meet and know — caring for the land’s health and ours too.

    Robyn and I have commented that we may need to base our stops on communities where we can find local raw milk (which is boosting her lyme-compromised immune system) and fresh produce. Perhaps our Peak Moment journey will be a kind of moving Slow Food Feast? Yum!

    Janaia

  3. DH and I are going into our 12th year as a small (30-35 members) CSA in Massachusetts. We get more inquries than we can handle :).
    I start starting seedlings tomorrow :).

    I love the Peak Moments videos if you travel to Massachusetts stop on by.

    Beth

  4. Francis, we need folks doing what you’re doing — in every community. Johnny Appleseeds.

    Logan, your guess is right — we sure don’t switch to TV dinners! We get our produce from our locally-owned natural foods coop. Try to buy local whenever possible.

    This summer I did try sun-drying gleaned figs and tomatoes, with pretty okay results. My dream is a gleaning project so some of the local fruits and nuts don’t go to waste (although replenishing the earth is fine).

    Terri Alice, I’m really heartened that there are many more people doing as you are — your own gardening, supporting other local food producers. I think we’re going to see many more people following in your footsteps, especially as the economy continues sinking.

  5. Francis mangels says:

    I do free local garden consultations and give out free heritage seeds suitable for this county. This includes a free soil test and garden evaluation, fruit trees and vines, windbreaks, forestry, and bug/disease problem solving. All methods organic. Free birdhouses if you supply the lumber. I teach organic gardening at COS. St. Francis at 926-0311

    You can read some of my columns in the Mt Shasta Herald, c/o Molly Brown’s Community Sustainability column, or locate me through the Herald or Molly for references. BTW nobody’s stumped me yet, but I do get calls from folks trying to grow the impossible in Mt Shasta.

  6. Great post!

    CSAs are a wonderful tool for everyone involved. The best part is you can usually keep banks and credit companies out of the transactions and keep most of the money local as well! This is a great project that gives you a tremendous awareness of your area.

    One does have to be a bit more cautious about handling raw foods (e.g. unpasteurized milk, apple juice, etc) but the rewards of fresh food vastly outweigh that small amount of extra work. Ninety nine out of one hundred times raw food will not make you sick even without washing. However, its better to take precautions before eating. For example I would briefly pasteurize that raw milk or apple juice as soon as you get it at least at 65 degrees Celsius before consuming (e.g. like in a frying pan on the stove and then chill it in a clean container like a mason jar). Not to say the local milk is dirty but bacteria can come from anywhere and like an unknown water source can give your gut a bad couple days. One other approach is to only consume a small amount where a healthy adult should be able to effectively ward off infection.

    Just so I don’t scare anybody off I want to also point out the benefits of raw foods. Relative to conventional foods raw foods are not only more nutritious but being exposed to small and safe levels of local microflora (bacteria) allows the immune system to build a resistance. This resistance is very important to staying in a healthy balance with your local area. This system works much better than conventional foods where sterilization may benefit by preventing accidental illness but only at the cost of decreased resistance to microflora. Like fire suppression conventional sterilized food works until you have a huge epidemic disaster.

    You mentioned Janaia you only get access to these foods May – October, what do you do from November to April? Do you Can or dehydrate foods for long term storage? 🙂 Somehow I can’t picture you and Robin suddenly switching to TV dinners during the winter. 😉

  7. terri alice says:

    I live in Mariposa and have been working toward living sustainably also.
    My partner Cathy and I live off grid, on 20 acres. We collect rainwater, grow organic vegetables and belong to a local CSA. We are fortunate to have Mountain Meadows CSA to provide organic local produce, eggs and breads.
    Your Peak Moment series has been much viewed and greatly appreciated.
    Mariposa, like other rural places, is a mix of ideologies. While predominantly apathetic, or in denial, there is a small but growing population of concerned, proactive individuals and groups trying to address issues and build local community. Thanks for your inspiration.

  8. Dear Janaia,

    You are indeed lucky to live where you do. There is an amazing abundance of regionally produced helathy foods there in Nevada County.

    The Japanese, in the meantime, are reeling from one food scandal to the next. Many of the foods imported from China have turned out to be poisoned with toxic chemicals. The World Trade Organization requires Japan to buy a certain amount of foreign rice in order for Japan to continue subsidizing local rice farmers. What is the result? The government doesn’t sell the imported rice, but sits on it for years until the rice goes bad. Then they give it away as “foreign aid” to poor countries. The latest food scandal involves this same moldy government rice which has been sold to unscrupulous distributors that relabled the rice and sold it for human consumption in Japan! Toxic children’s school lunches, sake, rice crackers, etc., are the result!

    I am lucky to live in Hokkaido which is close to the source of many foods. I hope the Eat Local movement picks up a little steam finally.

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