ELC Guest Bloggers: Jon from D.C. and Sheila from Ore.

From July 19 until July 26, 54 households across America participated in the Mighty Appetite Eat Local Challenge, a week-long adventure of eating food that has been grown or raised within 100 miles of home. Throughout the course of the ELC, we've been featuring local-eating chronicles from guest bloggers around the country; in today's final installment, we hear from two participants on opposite coasts: Jon in the Takoma neighborhood of D.C. and Sheila in Portland, Ore.
Finally, I'd like to express my thanks to all of my local eaters, hailing from 15 states (plus D.C.). It was a tremendous first effort, and here's to ELC 2009!

Jon Hunter, 31, is policy director for the Endangered Species Coalition, a non-profit organization based in Washington. Originally from Colorado, Hunter lives on the D.C. side of Takoma with a housemate who joined him in the ELC.

ELCer Jon Hunter. (Courtesy of Jon Hunter)

I've long been bothered by the notion of my dinner having more frequent flyer miles than I do. But much of the local food knowledge I had been building up was left behind when I moved out here last fall. The ELC has been a great reason to pause and learn more about what the area is well suited to grow (like peaches) and what is not (like organic peaches).

Local food highlights
Being originally from the West, I'm used to a 100 mile radius keeping you all in one state. Here, it enables food from Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, the lower part of Pennsylvania, and little bits of West Virginia and New Jersey. With the exception of the sprouts grown in a jar in our kitchen, the closest source of food for this week was my little spot in a nearby community garden (Takoma Park Community Garden), which produced tomatoes, basil, and a mix of greens, as well as a zucchini donated by another gardener. At the (Takoma Park farmer's market) we bought plums, apples, apricots, onions, corn, cheese, potatoes, eggs and cabbage. To supplement that, trips to the store resulted in Virginia honey and Pennsylvania rye flour, which ultimately found their way into bread. And in the spirit of trying to get to know my food better, I tried my hand at cheese-making by turning some milk from the pastures of Pennsylvania (via the Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op) into mozzarella.

Our challenge with local food

We ran into some similar issues as the other participants. We are also vegetarians. Dried beans are our primary protein source, but to my knowledge, very few are grown around these parts. It is also hard to know what is a good price, when something is at the peak of its season and what might turn up next week. This actually wouldn't pose too much of a problem, except that I'd like to do some canning and freezing to keep the local bounty going into the winter.

A successful week
It would be difficult to pick a better week in D.C. to do this challenge. The garden is just ramping up at the same time the farmers market is bursting with fruits and vegetables. I'm sure we'll keep incorporating local items into our meals quite frequently and research for this week's challenge revealed additional resources for doing that. It definitely takes some extra effort, but I think it is well worth it. As a bonus, I also happened to discover a source for local wine grapes -- so what better reason could there be to try out winemaking this fall?

A source and a recipe
For those receiving mystery vegetables in a CSA share each week, or if you're just adventurous at the market, I'd recommend a recipe book compiled by some local foodies in Wisconsin, which has recipes and tips for most vegetables in their area. With its advice, I recently tossed together two sliced up cucumbers with a decidedly un-local sauce made from 1 tablespoon white vinegar, 2 tablespoons sesame oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon of soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon sugar. Quite tasty.

--Jon Hunter

Sheila Potter and her husband Dave have been married eight years; they have three cats and no kids. She's 37, and he turned 38 on the first day of the ELC. Both originally from the East coast, (Dave is from upstate New York and Sheila was born in D.C. and grew up in Reston, Va.), they each moved to Portland to take the bar exam, and met at the county courthouse, which as she describes in an e-mail, "about as meet-cute as lawyers can do."

Sheila Potter and her husband, Dave. (Courtesy of Sheila Potter)

Obviously, we had to take the Challenge. We live in Portland, which is surrounded by small family farms producing exquisite produce -- and it's the middle of July, when those farms are bringing a ridiculous abundance of goodness to the markets every week. Even the local-chain grocery store, New Seasons, seeks out Oregon-grown food and labels the provenance of its produce. (In an e-mail, Potter describes New Seasons as "a Portland version of Whole Foods with more of a local focus. (We have Whole Foods here, but I can walk to New Seasons from our house.")

But just as obviously, we couldn't limit ourselves to ten items. Even when I'm getting home late every night, we probably manage ten local foods a week. At first, I thought of trying to go purely local for the week -- and then my list of exceptions got embarrassingly long (oranges, flour, salt, milk, lemons, spices, baking soda, chocolate, coffee...). So, I just tried to see how much local food we could include in our diet without breaking the bank or going too far out of our way.

The first day -- Saturday -- was Dave's birthday, and my plan was a local feast in picnic form at a park: fried chicken (from a farm with actual free-range chickens, where they genuinely get to walk around and eat grubs), potato salad (local Russian red fingerlings, sugar snaps, fresh English peas that I shelled, shallot, and chives -- non-local walnut oil and vinegar), and beet salad (local beets, hazelnuts, and goat cheese -- non-local orange juice). Dessert was fresh fruit salad from fruit picked up at the market: blueberries, apricots, blackberries, Brooks cherries, pink-and-gold Rainier cherries, and a just-ripe nectarine, with the other half of that orange squeezed over them.

Sounds good, right? It was! ...But it was also wildly overambitious, since I started the day with the shopping and then went into the cooking, and it took me until 3 p.m. to make "lunch." So we tossed out the picnic plan and ate lunch at home, and then we walked down the street and tasted some terrific Oregon pinots at our favorite wine shop down the street. I also stopped at the roaster around the corner and picked up some coffee, on the theory that at least it was roasted by a small, local business.

I'm writing this on Friday morning (July 25) and so far the week has included 29 local foods, and it's been pretty effortless. Dave is about finished with the chicken, so local food Number 30 will be ground beef from the farmer's market. We've been nibbling on carrots, walnuts, and bell peppers from the farmer's market. I swapped out peanut butter for good Oregon hazelnut butter from the market, and it's a yummy change, especially with Oregon marionberry or plum jam, followed with Tillamook yogurt. I cooked the beet greens and some chard from the market along with zucchini and green beans, in a Trader Joe's simmer sauce with non-local cannelloni beans and tofu. We've been eating really well this week -- and we came in a little over the food budget, but mostly for the birthday splurge (a Saturday lunch is usually quite a bit simpler). I'm going to keep the Challenge going, I think!

--Sheila Potter

By Kim ODonnel |  July 28, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Eat Local Challenge
Previous: Last Supper at Casa Appetite East | Next: Much-Needed Tears From 'Onion' Cooking Video


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It seems like everyone who tried the challenge seemed to eat better than usual and that it wasn't really as hard as we thought.

I know at my place, we had some great all local meals and have plans for more. My favorite new item from the ELC was making salsa for the first time -- I made it last week and the roughly 16 ozs was gone in two days. Batch 2 will probably suffer a similar fate. I also finally got my popsicle molds in (talk about tough to find!) and made watermelon pops with local fruit. They got a ringing endorsement that made the effort worth while.

I also liked the connection to my food -- seeing all the whole fruits and vegetables turn into something new.

Posted by: KitchenCat | July 28, 2008 1:14 PM

Sheila -Bob's Red Mill does cannelinni beans. The company is local to PDX and while NS does carry all of their product the little store in Milwaukie is a great resource for beans and grains in bulk.

Posted by: Lisa in SW PDX | July 29, 2008 2:26 PM

Thanks, Lisa! Are the cannellini beans actually from Oregon/Washington, though? Or are they just sold by Bob's Red Mill? I baked cookies with Red Mill flour (and Dagoba chocolate), for example, but I didn't count it as local because the wheat still gets trucked in from the midwest -- even though the Milwaukie store itself is maybe a ten-minute drive from my house.

Posted by: Sheila | July 29, 2008 4:45 PM

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