Local Food Challenge

Local Food Challenge logo created by Timothy Stone of the White Earth Reservation.

On September 1st, 2005 seven of us, connected to the White Earth Reservation through our work or family, challenged ourselves to eat foods grown within 250 miles of where we lived for one year. We allowed ourselves 12 ‘trade items’, which we could have at any time, to make the Challenge more realistic. These included salt, oil, pectin, and chocolate. This was an amazing experience in perseverance and sense of place. The sense of community, of people working together to create a peaceful and balanced way of life, was empowering.

Last year I filmed, edited and produced this 28 minute documentary about our experiences living the Local Food Challenge. It aired on Lakeland Public Television during the fall of 2006, and at the Northern Lights Indigenous Film Festival during the winter of 2007. The resounding feedback from others is that this documentary brings eating locally down to the personal level. Many of us are familiar with the stats on eating locally, but here you get to see people going to work, feeding their families and the day to day experiences of living a lifestyle eating local foods.

I did a little experiment to see how much money I would spend through the course of a year buying food directly from local producers, the distance traveled to farmers or to gather wild foods, hours spent specifically harvesting/preparing foods, and amount spent on non-local foods as ‘trade items’. Click here to see an excel spreadsheet, created with help from the University of Minnesota, Crookston’s Local Foods Partnership and the Regional Sustainable Development Partnership, of these things month-by-month. My monthly food bill nearly equaled what a person living on food stamps receives. But I wasn’t forced to buy prepackaged, non-nourishing foods. Instead, I had a delicious diversity of foods, especially since I supplemented my purchased foods with ones I harvested from the wild.

In my mind, Local Harvest does the best overall job of assisting you locate local food producers in your area. You can search this website by zip code, city, state, product and more. The Local Food Challenge was highlighted in the media via: Minnesota Public Radio, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Mother Earth News, Anchorage Daily News, Fergus Falls Journal and the Grand Forks Herald. Below are a few comments from participants, with questions asked by Mary Jo Geldert of the University of Minnesota, Crookston.

Emily Levine is a grower/gardener.

1. Emily, what was one highlight of the Local Foods Challenge this fall during harvest time?

Spending hours and hours and hours canning and drying and freezing, knowing that when I opened the freezer in February to find raspberries and swiss chard it would be worth every minute.

2. What can be a typical meal for you in January?

Squash and beef stir-fry with garlic, onion, and potatoes topped with homemade yogurt along with wild rice and homemade bread.
It sounds good (and it is), but it DOES get a bit repetitive.

3. How is your pantry holding up now that winter is in full swing?

Most of my squash is holding up really well, but this morning I had to toss a magical shrinking buttercup that started the size of a large man’s head and ended up the size of a golf ball. My carrots went moldy, because I didn’t really store them well, and about a sixth of my garlic is sprouting. My potatoes are great, my onions are great, and I have beans up to the ceiling.

Steve Dahlberg is Science Department Chair at the White Earth Tribal and Community College.

1. Steve, what was one highlight of the Local Foods Challenge this fall during harvest time?

There are so many to choose from, but I think it would have to be Tomato Fest where 4 of us spent about 17 hrs canning pasta sauce, salsa, and stewed tomatoes.

2. What can be a typical meal for you in January?

Typical breakfasts: eggs and homemade bread. Pancakes and bacon or sausage on the weekend. Yogurt, home-canned fruit sauce, brewer’s yeast (a trade item), and homemade granola.

Typical lunch: Leftovers from a typical supper or bread and cheese, apples or a fermented fruit or vegetable (fermented plums, green tomatoes, sauerkraut, kim chee, beets, dill pickles) and tea.

Typical supper would be: A meat dish of some kind (beef, pork, chicken, or lamb) that includes beans, potatoes, pasta, or wild rice; and onions, garlic, and dried seasoning vegetables (peppers, celery, parsley, wild herbs). Homemade buttermilk, kombacha, pickle juice, whey, or beet kvass to drink (trust me, they’re great!!). A fermented fruit or vegetable and occasionally frozen corn or green beans.

Universal food item with all meals is lots of homemade butter!!

Sherry Ellefson is a pediatric and women’s health nurse practitioner.

1. Sherry, what was one highlight of the Local Foods Challenge this fall during harvest time?
The highlight was just seeing and smelling and tasting all the foods. I really enjoy eating foods that I know where they came from.

2. What can be a typical meal for you in January?

3. How is your pantry holding up now that winter is in full swing?
Really good. Better than I thought

Stephanie Williams is the Extension Coordinator at the White Earth Tribal and Community College.

1. Steph’s Highlight of harvest:

I don’t think I can pick out one individual highlight…the whole experience was a highlight! It was a great experience meeting the producers and visiting their farms, homes and families. This gave us the opportunity to share stories about the seeds, place of origin, planting, weather, care, harvesting and other miscellaneous events surrounding the plants and animals that would be nourishing me, my family and friends. I would go to bed exhausted from gathering wild plants, harvesting from the garden and preserving the foods that were brought home (it was a satisfying exhaustion- not a “what did I get my self into” exhaustion). Many of us would get together and process our food all at one time. We had a “tomato fest” in which we canned spaghetti sauce, stewed tomatoes and salsa for 18 hours. It was a lot of hard work that paid off with a winter supply of food, laughs and memories for four families. There is a great satisfaction to sit down to a meal knowing exactly where my food came from.

2. Typical meals:

My meals haven’t changed much from past winters. We have soups with greens that were dehydrated, garlic, onions, meat, potatoes, squash, wild rice, hominy, frozen vegetables and fruits, eggs, milk, pancakes, barley, oats, whole wheat for breads, unbleached flour for cakes and cookies, etc. What has changed is that I don’t have to go to the grocery store anymore. About the only thing I purchase on a regular basis is milk and eggs. It takes less time to prepare a meal because I have already done the prep work when I preserved the foods. I have extra money and a lot less stress.

3. How is my pantry holding up?:

My pantry is in great shape! We just did an inventory since we are coming up on the six month mark of the LFC. I believe we have food enough to last us until July or August! I had been hording certain foods like crazy. Now we are gorging ourselves! (Believe me, we have not gone hungry at all, even with the hording! 🙂

Sunny Savage is a nutrition and wild foods instructor.

1. Sunny, what was one highlight of the Local Foods Challenge this fall during harvest time?

There were so many highlights during fall harvest. Just getting back in tune with the natural cycles and gaining a greater appreciation of food preservation was pretty profound. Whether it was canning tomatoes at our ‘Tomato Fest’ party, churning butter, learning not to leave large bags of unprocessed acorns inside the house, or that you should wear gloves when chopping massive amounts of jalapenos, all these highlights have imprinted themselves in a very deep way.

2. What can be a typical meal for you in January?

My quick and easy meals are wild rice with ground buffalo and dried wild greens, or pasta with pesto sauce and various frozen vegetables. Other favorites include lasagna, soup, and soft-shelled tacos.

3. How is your pantry holding up now that winter is in full swing?

I have been hoarding my food and finally realized that I have some serious eating to do. There is easily enough to last for two seasons. I am currently feeding a 3-person family, but could easily feed 6.

Not pictured are Leslie Fain and Sarah Alexander.