The Eat Local Challenge Has Begun!

Monday may be the dawn of a new week for most, but for those participating in the Mighty Appetite Eat Local Challenge (ELC), it's already Day Three. Since Saturday, July 19, 54 households around the country have pledged to incorporate 10 local food items into their diets for a week-long eating experiment. "Local" in this case means 100 miles from home, wherever home may be. (See the ELC Honor Roll for the geographic distribution of participants.)

KOD getting in on the eat-local action, at Arlington Courthouse market. (Farmer Forrest)

There are no Eat Local police on the scene issuing demerits for the use of non-local products, nor is anyone going to notice if your local perimeter extends to 150 miles. ELCers need not submit their shopping lists for approval (but they are certainly free to share them in the comments area all week long). Rather, the idea behind the ELC is to observe -- and ask ourselves what, if anything, happens when we focus our attention on sourcing our dietary intake from our respective food sheds than via an any-town warehouse-style supermarket? Is it easier -- or more difficult -- than you imagined? Is it more or less expensive? Is it fun or is it driving you crazy? Can you taste a difference?

All week long, you'll have the opportunity to respond to these questions and discuss any other issues that inevitably will present themselves in the course of doing this experiment. In addition, five guest bloggers from different parts of the country will be sharing their ELC experiences and lessons learned along the way.

On Tuesday, July 22, you'll meet Kelly from Westborough, Mass. Thursday, July 24, Alison and her husband Scott, in Dallas, Tex., are on tap (as is Claire from Auburn, Ala.), and we'll do a recap next Monday, July 28, with ELCers on opposite ends of the country -- Sheila and David of Portland, Ore., and Jon, who's right here in D.C.

Last night's ELC supper. (Kim O'Donnel)

And yes, despite the fact that movers are packing up my house one week from today, I am joining you in your efforts! Here's what I picked up over the weekend from two nearby farm markets (Arlington Courthouse on Saturday and Columbia Pike on Sunday):

Whole chicken, chicken livers, dozen eggs and some bacon (Smith Fresh Meats, Berryville, Va.)

Cucumbers and a pint of sun gold tomatoes (Red Rake Farm, Hanover, Va.)

Four Early Girl tomatoes (Wheatland Vegetable Farm, Loudon County)

Cantaloupe, potatoes and long beans (Pleasant Fields Farm, Hanover, Va.)

A few heads of garlic (Potomac Vegetable Farms, Vienna and Purcellville,Va.)

Quart sweet cherries (Toigo Orchards, Shippensburg, Pa.)

Half and half for my (non-local) coffee, plain yogurt for my breakfast smoothies and butter for those chicken livers (J-Wenn Dairy, Harrisonville, Pa.)

Pint blueberries (Flowers of the Forest Farm, Great Mills, Md.)

Little onions, almost shallot-looking, and a head of red-leaf lettuce (Stoney Brook Farm, Hillsboro, Va.)

Oregano and thyme from the back yard at Casa Appetite

Last night's supper was an ELC delight: that whole chicken, roasted with garlic and backyard oregano, (non-local exceptions: salt, olive oil, black pepper and a pre-ELC lemon), a salad of sun-gold tomatoes and cukes and a few potatoes, also roasted, with more garlic and fresh backyard thyme. For lunch today, I'm thinking a local BLT on bread from Bonaparte Breads of Savage, Md., or shredding chicken leftovers into a salad. Or maybe...some of that cantaloupe? Too many wonderful local choices.

By Kim ODonnel |  July 21, 2008; 8:02 AM ET Eat Local Challenge
Previous: Drawing Party Lines with a Cocktail | Next: ELC Guest Blogger: Kelly from Mass.


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I'm excited! I will blog about my first few days tonight and give the link here. It has definitely been making me think a lot about what to count as local, when (if ever) it is actually WORSE to get something locally, etc.

Posted by: Kat with a K (Katherine Welsh) | July 21, 2008 10:17 AM

I'm not officially signed up, but over the weekend I did buy local (hothouse) tomatoes on the vine and local IPM plums at the Takoma-Silver Spring co-op. The tiny, juicy, yellow and purple plums were cheap; the tomatoes not so much, and they were surprisingly underripe. Still have some pickling cukes and cut flowers from last weekend's Takoma farmer's market, and made some Asian-type eggplants into roasted eggplants with tahini and pine nuts (the sweet corn I bought last Sunday got gobbled up immediately).

My "problem" with the farmer's markets is that I live by myself, and everything looks so lovely that my eyes are bigger than my tummy, and it's a challenge to use and eat everything!

Posted by: Reine de Saba | July 21, 2008 10:46 AM

I'm not signed up (though I do have a CSA share and shop my local farm stand). It occurred to me over the weekend that we have globalized our palates a lot in the last 20 years - so how do we balance eating locally with sourcing specialty ingredients for a Thai, Indian, etc dish? Also yummy things like mangoes and citrus fruits are not going to be local for DC-ites.

Posted by: Kate | July 21, 2008 11:01 AM

Reine, I have the same "problem" as you. I live by myself and when I do go to farmers markets, everything looks so good I often buy too much at one time. Toward the end of summer tough, I'll cut corn off the cob and freeze it in snack size baggies which is perfect for single servings and I'll make vege soup and freeze it in small containers and enjoy it all fall and maybe even into winter.

Posted by: Sheri | July 21, 2008 11:24 AM

I contemplated signing up, but realized it was a bad idea when my week would consist of two 200-mile drives for work (although, wouldn't that extend my "local" range?).

Last night, I discovered that the mung bean sprouts we buy in our local grocery (Kleins, we live north of Baltimore) are actually grown in Springfield, VA. This was a huge surprise, first that they are local, and second that there is a "farmer" in Springfield (we lived in Lorton for 5 years). I guess bean sprouts could be grown in a warehouse, since the don't really need soil, but it was still surprising.

Tonight, I am making a super local meal. Tomatos and okra from the backyard.

Posted by: RT | July 21, 2008 12:33 PM

Just learned a substitution for that lemon. A friend just back from Turkey vising in-laws says that when lemons are not in season, cooks use the juice from unripened grapes to add a fruity acidity to recipes. Now, if you only have a grape arbor in the back yard ...

Posted by: Amanda | July 21, 2008 12:34 PM

We're signed up for the challenge, though I must admit we've been challenging ourselves to eat local all summer long.

From our CSA box, we have green beans, lettuce, yellow squash, beets, cucumber, apricots, peaches, and blueberries. From a local dairy, we have eggs, cream, and milk. From Let's Meat on the Avenue, a butcher shop in Del Ray specializing in local meat, we picked up a couple of steaks (which were so big that we split one and stuck the other one in the freezer).

So dinner last night was local steak, roasted beets from the CSA box, and grilled zucchini and squash- the squash was from this week's CSA box and the zucchini was left over from last week's. Then for dessert was ice cream made with the local dairy, eggs, and apricots. Mmmm. Non-local ingredients in last night's dinner include: sugar, garlic, shallots, olive oil, wine, seasonings.

The steak was significantly more expensive per-pound than we'd get at the supermarket, but it was so good that I'm perfectly happy to just eat less meat if it means it can all be tasty and local.

Posted by: Tiffany Bridge | July 21, 2008 12:46 PM

To start answering Kim's questions, when I focus on our food shed I meet people. Not only the produce/market vendors, but the people at the markets who share recipes and year-round sources for local goods. What I find challenging is building menus on-the-spot when I'm buying at the market because the goods vary from week to week. The price is averaging $40/week for our family. The quality of produce is higher and the products are FRESH. I'm even saving a little money: the dairy sells $6.25/gal for raw organic milk, which is less than what we'd pay for in the store, and fresh eggs from the farm I can find for $2 if I'm early enough. I don't buy meats every week (example: bacon is $6.50/lb.), but average once, maybe twice, a month and then I stretch it out or freeze into several meals.

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | July 21, 2008 1:02 PM

If anyone wants some great reading during the challenge, don't miss Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle." She and her family spent a year eating local and growing as much of their own food as they could. It's a wonderful and inspiring story.

Posted by: Diane MacEachern | July 21, 2008 1:13 PM

I had a grand time at the Courthouse farmer's market Saturday stocking up for the week. While I made up a meal plan for the week, I think I still got ahead of myself and over did it. However, I am really excited about everything I got and actually think we will be eating better this week than we have in a while just for having the produce around. It also reminded me of how much I love the market -- the hussle and bussle and the lovely food everywhere. The only downside this week was the heat! One of the farmers mentioned that someone had passed out in line and an ambulance had to come out. Just a reminder to everyone to keep hydrated at the markets as we enter the real summer heat and humidity.

Posted by: KitchenCat | July 21, 2008 1:30 PM

Reine and Sheri: I'm living alone right now while Mister MA is in Seattle, and I thought similarly as I was shopping over the wknd. There was lots more that I wanted to buy but scaled back given the current size of the household.
Kate: You pose a pointed question -- what do we do all this new-found knowledge about global cuisines in the contexts of local eating? It is an issue that came up for the folks who wrote "Plenty." I say strike the balance that makes sense for you -- eat as local as possible and understand that there will be things you won't ever be able to source locally. Coffee is one of those things for me -- the best thing that most of can get to local for coffee is local roasting.

Diane: Thanks for the reminder about Kingsolver's book. I might add here that Diane MacEachern is an author in her own right: she recently penned the "Big Green Purse," a terrific resource on greening your life.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | July 21, 2008 3:25 PM

In regards with buying more than you need at the Farmer's market: I say, go for it while the stuff is fresh, abundant and taste wonderful. If you buy in bulk, the per pound price will be a lot less. Case in point, Friday I bought a bushel of peaches - yellow and white. The normal price would have been $24. But since some of them were "seconds" - slightly bruised I only paid $18. When I got home and weighted the whole thing, it was over 56 pounds of peaches - or about $0.32 per pound!

Over the week-end, I processed those peaches - yes I have a full size freezer and it's wonderful. I made some sauce & jam, froze quite a few for use in winter in cobblers or pies (or in summer for smoothies), made ice-cream, made sorbet and even some peach vinegar and peach liqueur - stretching my local eating into the hard months of winter and early spring. I posted the recipe for Peach Liqueur at

Over the next few days, I'll be posting additional recipes with peaches. It's going to be such a good summer for peach this year!

The point is if green beans look good, buy and freeze. Or tomatoes (might want to puree that first to save freezer space). Those pickling cucumbers? make a batch of refrigerator pickles: fast, easy and sooo good! Don't have to spend hours canning!

To Amanda: regarding using unripe grape juice instead of lemons. It's not specific to Turkeys, old recipes (18th century or older) of Southern Europe especially calls for verjus. It was also used in the US in old cook books. But yeah... where to get the unripe grapes?

Posted by: Sylvie, Rappahannock Cook & Kitchen Gardener | July 21, 2008 5:07 PM

I'm too late to sign up for the ELC challenge, but it's become easier every year to incorporate local foods. I get a large CSA share, and live alone, so one challenge is devoting a certain amount of time to "processing" food for freezing. And, it does take time.

The other thing it takes is gasoline. Last Thursday I drove about 8 miles to pick up my CSA share. Friday I first hit a new farmer's market that is only 3 miles away, where I bought, as usual, too much stuff - but what they have is not only the usual veggies, but meat (some wonderful local kielbasy), cheeses, breads, buffalo, and all local. Then I drove another 4 miles to a farm to pick up eggs from the chickens that run around the place.

It's not too bad - yet - but I wonder whether the expenditure in energy offsets my good intentions.

Posted by: Susan | July 22, 2008 2:09 PM

Here's an idea from Jacques Pepin's Celebrations - a vegetable "pancake". Make a savory crepe batter and add very thinly sliced vegetables then cook like a pancake. Instead of slicing the veggies thinly, I cut them up a bit thicker and saute them in olive oil, add some fresh herbs and then put them in the batter and cook like a pancake. Whatever you have on hand works and it's the only way I can get my husband to eat zucchini. Onions, garlic, corn off the cob, peas, whatever...

Sauce can be whatever you like such as yogurt with cucumbers, tamarind chutney ...

Posted by: Fran | July 22, 2008 2:18 PM

Susan - maybe find some friends with whom you can carpool?

Posted by: Reine de Saba | July 22, 2008 3:19 PM

Eating local is pretty easy for us here in the upper LH corner. Sundays we go to the Ballard Farmers Market and pick up eggs, shellfish, flowers, cheese, vegetables, and some meat. Fruit is starting to come in now. My weekly treat (since I'm both gluten and dairy free) is a cookie from Flying Apron Bakery is a chocolate chip cookie and I savor every vegan bite of it! even if the flour and chips are "exotics". Our strip garden in front of the house provides, greens and herbs. My apples are coming on strong this year so we're looking forward to pies. Jon and I are blessed to live in a hundred mile radius of orchards, dairys, truck farms, that are all organic and seafood just out of The Puget Sound and Pacific Ocean. Looking forward to seeing you soon, Kim!

Posted by: Kate | July 25, 2008 12:56 AM

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