Everybody loves a challenge, right… stepping outside the norm, trying something new… Well, that’s what we’re interested in this week, challenging ourselves to eat locally or even more locally than we already do!
It’s the Eat Local America Challenge, taking place through co-ops around the country. I got the skinny on the national effort from Kim Kusnier, marketing programs specialist for the National Cooperative Grocers Association.
“This is the second year that NCGA has promoted this program to our member food co-ops nationally. The challenge started for some of the states, particularly in the south, as early as June. And those that are in the upper Northwest, Northeast, and Pacific Northwest often are running their challenge through September, because it’s really a voluntary deal. We’re encouraging co-ops to run their challenges when food is in its peek season. Of course, that varies across the country.”
Various Levels of Participation
In Bloomington, the challenge runs through the end of August, when you can get apples, Brussel sprouts, onions, corn tomatoes, lots of good local FRESH stuff… Kusnier went on to talk about the various levels of participation in the challenge, because hey, what if you already do the local thing.
“What we’re doing is encouraging those who have been eating local food for a long time, or the seasoned “locavores,” to try to commit to eating four out of five meals from local food, or that would be about 80% of their diet. If you’re just starting out, we’re saying give it a try! It’s an honor-based system, but start with one meal a week and work up from that. Or if you’re somewhere in between, do what’s right for you. It’s supposed to be fun and a learning opportunity.”
You can get more info on their website, see farmer profiles, look at a map of all the participating co-ops nationwide, they have a bunch of cool blogs to check out, too.
Why Eat Local
Ellen Michel stopped by the WFIU studios to chat with me about the Eat Local America Challenge in Bloomington. She is the marketing and outreach manager for Bloomingfoods, the participating co-op. And, in the spirit of full-disclosure, Bloomingfoods is an underwriter for Earth Eats, just so you know.
1. It’s Good For You And It Tastes Better
Annie Corrigan: We’re a society on the go – we eat a lot in our cars – there are a lot of drive-thrus we can go to. Eating local takes a lot of time, some people think it takes a lot of extra money, but I have four good points here. Number one, it’s good for you and it tastes better.
Ellen Michel: It tastes wonderful because it’s often very fresh. Even foraging for mushrooms, something people like to do here in Indiana. These foods all taste really great and it’s fun to discover them.
2. It’s Good For The Economy
AC: Point number two…it’s good for the economy. This is something that’s probably relevant for just about everybody out there. How’s it good for the economy?
EM: A lot of people are finding that when they shop at food co-ops, they can save money buying product that supports their communities, that sort of recycles money back into the local economy.
AC: Talk to those people who say that it’s just too expensive to shop at the farmer’s market every week.
EM: I would just ask those people to maybe start a conversation with some of the providers. Learn more about the real cost of food. It may seem to cost a little bit more, but I think the money goes a lot farther in preserving the quality of life.
3. It Reduces Your Carbon Footprint
AC: And a buzz word these days is, that when you eat local, it reduces your carbon footprint, which is point number three. It’s good for the environment to eat locally.
EM: We know this really well in the co-op/grocery world because big trucks pull up to our stores everyday. The more we can access high quality product locally, the less we have to pay for gasoline.
4. It’s Good For Family Farms
AC: And number four… it’s good for family farms. Of course, they’re the ones growing the food. Talk to me about the farmers involved in this.
EM: Our challenge at Bloomingfoods in on behalf of the Local Growers Guild, which is a wonderful local ag cooperative of retailers, farmers, urban gardeners, community members, and we want to build awareness of that organization.
AC: And there’s something also about going to the farmers market and seeing the farmer/grower face to face. I think that’s amazing, and that’s part of why I eat locally, because of the person-to-person contact of knowing exactly where my food came from.
EM: Really dedicated local producers doing fantastic things, incredible chefs doing wonderful creative things on their menus.
Make Small Changes
AC: If we’re going to be a part of this Eat Local America Challenge, how can I do this? What are the small changes I can make in my life so that I can eat more locally.
EM: If you’re somebody for whom this seems a little bit new and strange, our first suggestion is just take a look at what’s available out there. Start small – start with a zucchini or some wonderful peaches or plums! Fruit is really hot right now in Indiana. You’ll find wonderful berries, you’ll find sweet corn, cantaloupe. Buy one of those and take it home and just enjoy that as a special treat. See if you don’t want to try some more.
AC: And then maybe from there, who knows, maybe it can become a lifestyle.
EM: Once people start to pay attention to what’s out there, it’s hard to go back. One thing we’ve noticed is that there are a lot passionate urban gardeners. They’re kind of raising their hands and saying “Don’t forget us! Don’t even have an acre but we have a really great garden!”
AC: So perhaps something people can do as part of Eat Local America is to start a garden, to start growing something themselves, and to have the most local of all food, which is the stuff you get off your porch or from your front yard.
EM: We’re trying to create a challenge that isn’t so much about leaving things out as about discovering all the great things that are available.
To find our how to sign up for the Eat Local Challenge, visit: eatlocalamerica.coop for a participating store near you.