Day Five of Our 125-Mile Local Food Challenge
[Editor's Note: This is the latest update on our 125-mile Local Food EcoChallenge through the Northwest Earth Institute. You can read the kick-off post here. To get future updates on our Challenge, feel free to subscribe to The New Pursuit. Thanks.]
As I type this, Day 5 of our EcoChallenge is coming to an end. In some ways it’s hard to believe it’s ONLY Day 5, but in other ways, what we’re doing seems so right and so natural. The weeks prior to the Challenge were all about prepping — figuring out where we would be getting all our food, exploring new recipes, and teaching ourselves new DIY skills (more on that below). Now that we’re in the thick of it, we’ve found a bit of a groove and are going with the flow of things.
Even after just five days I keep coming back to a couple central themes that have emerged for me:
- Eating local forces you to slow down. Nothing we’ve consumed has come from a box; nothing has been processed with a hundred different ingredients that you can barely pronounce. Everything has been prepared from scratch. This takes time — something that seems almost contrary to modern life these days — not only to create a meal but to sit and savor it. You can’t be watching three hours of T.V. at night and do this.
- Eating local connects people. We love chatting it up with the farmers and producers we are getting our food from; the friends and family we’ve connected with to share the ups and downs of what we’re doing. It even extends to our immediate family — Sara and I have spent most nights making one thing or another, chatting away and laughing.
- Eating local is really good for you. We’re using the freshest ingredients possible and eating in moderation, avoiding not-so-healthy snacks in-between meals. Sure, I’ll be the first to admit I’m jonesing for some ice cream after the kids go to bed, but the juicy yellow Baby Doll melon we picked up from Old Orchard Farm is doing me just fine.
What’s Been On the Menu
We’ve been logging our daily menus at our EcoChallenge team site. So far, about 95% of what we’ve consumed has been grown/produced within 125 miles of our home in Rhode Island. A few things (flour, beans) have come from just outside that radius in Vermont and Maine. Not too bad. Still, even this early in the Challenge, some clear gaps in our local/regional food system are apparent, namely grains. While a few great stories out there from The Atlantic and The New York Times have chronicled the growth of the local grains movement in New England, locally-made flour has been pretty difficult to come by for us. I’ve joked with Sara that next summer I want to find an acre and try my hand at growing wheat (kind of like the documentary King Corn, only with grains). Heck, we have a grist mill in the next town over, so why not?
Learning Some New DIY Skills
One of our favorite (but time consuming parts) of the Challenge so far has been trying out new recipes to create some of our favorite staples. Sara’s been making things like breads, jams, sauces (and even pasta on occasion) for awhile, but we’ve pushed the envelope a bit in trying to stay inside our 125-mile radius. We’re fortunate to have a wonderful dairy farm in town (Arruda’s Dairy), so we’ve been finding new uses for their goods. With milk we’ve made a couple of batches of plain yogurt (amazing) and with heavy cream we’ve made butter and then ghee (an oil substitute made from clarified butter). Sara tried her hand at homemade bagels for the first time — what a treat!
We have also found that a lot of work we did during the growing season to can, freeze and cure things like jams, relishes, pesto, tomato sauce and onions has been paying off. What a feeling it is to just reach into your pantry or freezer and enjoy the (literal and figurative) fruits of our labor.
We’ll post a few more updates over the next week and a half, so stay tuned. In the meantime, here are some photos we’ve taken to chronicle things. Enjoy!