The challenge is nothing new, really. I read about it years ago, when we were living on a sailboat and I had lots of time after dark when there was nothing better to do than imagine the stories of people who were surrounded by land. The story is Barbara Kingsolver’s memoir of eating locally for a year. It stuck with me.
Years later, when we moved ashore to a part of the country surrounded with farms but blessed by proximity to the sea, we were mindful of the choices we made about food. We joined a CSA, we got lobstering, fishing, and clamming licenses, and we sourced local meat and eggs. But our forays into local eating were just convenient. When I took time off work after the birth of our first son, our budget was tight and we found ourselves eating blocks of plasticky orange cheese and super market strawberries imported from Mexico, because the same products produced down the road would have doubled the cost.
The stars started to align for us this summer. First, our local farm began to sell its own milk in thick glass bottles. There iss something so nostalgic to me about bringing home a bottle of cold milk with thick cream on top. Though I’ve never lived in a time when this was the norm, somehow it seems like the return to a simpler, by-gone era. Next, our close friends have just moved back from California and begun to garden some of our backyard beds for us. He took culinary classes and works at the local farm on occasion, and he arrived at our house with eggplant, squash, cucumber, and pepper seedlings that he planted in rich, thick soil. Already, our own tomatoes and peppers were flowering so soon we had an abundance of vegetables that I struggled to use before they fell into the soil from which they’d come. It’s also boating season so we do our best to bring home fish, lobsters, or clams every time we go out on the water, but with baby in tow hauling and baiting lobster traps is a whole new ball game. Finally, our CSA is in full swing, so I am getting creative to find uses for all that we bring home. I make pesto using carrot greens and pumpkin seeds. I puree summer squash to thicken marinara sauce and fry fritters using the oversized zucchinis that hide until they outgrow their shady overhangs.
It wasn’t long until we were counting what wasn’t local in our meals instead of what was. Then, one humid evening we went for a boat ride - the five of us - my husband and me, our son, and our friends Dan and Ashley, the ones who had just returned from California. Dan had arrived at the house with his signature bag of fresh produce and as we walked along the sand bars at low tide we stumbled on a clam bed. We didn’t even need to dig, but instead just pulled the clams so numerous that the handfuls that came up without clams were few and far between. At home, we steamed the clams and then chopped them into a frying pan with butter and garlic. Meanwhile, a pot of pasta simmered and in the wok, Dan worked magic with baby eggplants, summer squash, heirloom tomatoes, and hot peppers. We tossed it all together with fresh chopped basil and goat cheese.
As the beer poured, we speculated about how much of our meal had come from further than 100 miles. Certainly the flour used to make the pasta, we concluded. And the beer, of course. But everything else we had or could have sourced locally. And so the challenge was born. Though Barbara Kingsolver and her family had done a year, we are starting on a smaller scale. We will eat locally for a week and see how far we can take it. The idea is not to deprive ourselves, but rather to become more creative with what we have. The idea is to see how hard, how rewarding, and how delicious it will be.