“I have a feeling we’ll be eating a lot of meat and potatoes.” Taylor Bemis
“A month without bread sounds like a real bummer.” Rebekah Rafferty
“As long as beer can be one of my 10 cheats I’m totally into this whole thing.” Adam Lieberg
This is just a glimpse into some of the conversations happening out in the fields here at Tumbleweed Farm with the crew. As many of you know, next month all of us here at the farm are going to embark on a month long challenge of eating food from a 200 mile radius of our home. Why the heck are we doing this? To be honest, I’m not 100 percent sure. This whole thing started when I was staring at a can of coconut milk in my cupboard and all of a sudden was overcome with a deep hunger for knowing where the heck this product really came from. You can read all about that first initial thought process on my blog post here.
If you’ve already read that post then you know that the crew here at Tumbleweed Farm is committed to keeping our ingredients and money local for the entire month of September. Are we nervous? A little bit. Taylor thinks we’ll be eating the same meal over and over again but I’m a bit more optimistic. September is a bountiful time of the year for most of the country and right here in our neck of the woods I think we’ll be eating a diverse diet of fruits, veggies, meat, fish, dairy, eggs and (don’t worry Rebekah) bread too! Besides, I keep telling myself this was once a universal way of eating. It may feel inconvenient for us at times, but I know it’s possible to survive (and hopefully thrive) by eating local food only.
I want to be clear that this is an experiment. I don’t have the answers and I’m certainly no expert. All I know is that there is a strong feeling, deep in my gut that’s telling me this is important. As J.B. Mackinnon (author of Plenty) puts it: “Distance is the enemy of awareness.” That quote hit me like a ton of bricks. I want to know more about where my ingredients come from, so that’s the ultimate goal of this thing. What happens next is for the future to decide. I’m not trying to change the world. I don’t even know if this is going to change my world. But I think it will, a little bit.
I’m inviting folks to follow along or do the challenge themselves in whatever capacity makes sense for them and share their journey (#LocalThirty). Maybe it’s one meal a day that’s 100 percent local. Maybe it’s one meal a week. Maybe it’s giving yourself 20 cheats instead of 10. Maybe it’s just supporting the small business that may have ingredients that aren’t local but they’re your hometown business and you feel good about supporting them. If you’re like my 71-year-old dad, you’re committed to doing the challenge for the entire month but your cheats will include coffee and Bud Light (because when you’ve drank coffee every morning and ended every evening with a Bud Light for 50+ years it’s just not something you let your youngest daughter take away from you). But my dear father is excited to learn more about where his food comes from and the growers and producers that are in his backyard. The questions we’ll be asking ourselves go back to my triple bottom line for wellness—Is this food good for my body? Is it good for the planet? Is it good for other people? This isn’t going to be all serious either—I want folks to be light hearted and not stressed by this challenge. There’s no failing when you’re learning and discovering your local food system. We’re committed to the full month with 10 “cheat ingredients” but everyone else do what you can. We may have slip-ups and that’s okay too. There’s no shame here. This is about connection, traceability, and community. It’s about finding home, supporting our neighbors, and sharing a meal. If you have a slip-up from what you committed to doing, just smile and keep on learning.
Will it be more expensive? I really think with planning ahead it won’t be. We won’t be eating out for an entire month. Sure local meat might be more expensive but when you get a few meals out of it it’s better than paying to go out. Our weekly purchases will be more planned and targeted, no buying that bottle of barbecue sauce for one recipe that calls for it and then letting it sit in the door of the refrigerator for a year with all the other once-used and forgotten condiments. We canceled Hulu for the month and are going to be conservative with our ingredients. We won’t be mindlessly drowning our salad greens in dressing…I think we’ll see our ingredients as more precious rather than expendable.
One of the most important things we’ve realized that I want to communicate through this entire experience is that this is about celebrating what we have, not mourning what we don’t have. I love tasting the flavors of the world but at a time when our food system seems to be failing us and we can eat avocados, mangoes, and bananas anytime of the year, a time when the industrial food system and corporate grocery store culture has erased the world’s seasons—the feeling in my gut tells me that we need to get back to basics. Re-create a world that existed not that long ago where we just didn’t have ingredients (my parents never ate an avocado growing up in Helena, Montana) that don’t come from our home. The spirit of this is exactly what J.B. Mackinnon and Alisa Smith captured in a single word in the title of their book Plenty. This is about discovering and celebrating a bounty that is all our own and letting it shape a little bit of who we are. It’s about joy.
During preparation for September, we’ve already started to shift the way we eat towards closer to home. It’s happened naturally as we’ve hunted for a full diet of local ingredients. So I wanted to share some of the things we’ve learned that (we’re hoping!!!) have set us up for success and may be helpful to you as well:
Tumbleweed Farm’s Tips & Tricks
- Start asking all the questions to all the people you can. What I’m discovering so far is that the most challenging thing is finding condiments (or staples) like oil, salt and pepper, spices, citrus, and some grains. But with the help of the internet, social media, and asking ALL OF THE QUESTIONS I’m finding that where there’s a will there’s a way. So many folks know of someone producing that “one thing” or know of a farmer who has access to an ingredient that we don’t want to live without (cream for me!). Just recently I connected with the owner and head baker at one of our favorite local bakeries (thanks Jure)and discovered that he is so willing to share his knowledge of local flour sources with me and is connecting me with the mill he sources from. I just had to ask. So, I’m getting to know my community better and hell yeah, we don’t have to live without bread for a month.
- Chest freezers are rad. For so many reasons. They allow you to buy and store a quarter, half, or full animal from a local farmer at a lower price than if you bought all of that in individual cuts. We’ve stockpiled our own pork as well as local beef, albacore tuna, and chicken in our chest freezer. Every morning while I’m drinking my first cup of coffee, I go out to the freezer and pick one item out to put in the fridge to thaw. Each package takes a couple of days but when you put something new in the fridge every day there is a constant rotation of thawed meat ready to go for your dinner. Chicken thighs tonight, tuna loin tomorrow, burgers on Friday. Also, freezing fresh food is the easiest way to preserve it. In addition to pretty much any kind of meat, most fruits and veggies keep very well in the freezer and it’s merely a matter of packaging it in freezer bags or paper and tossing it in there. A lot easier than sanitizing jars and firing up your pressure canner for an afternoon, but I’m all for that too if you have the time. You can get a small chest freezer at your local appliance store for less than two hundred dollars. If you’re living in small spaces–double up and use the chest freezer as a counter top too. Big ones are more expensive, but the value they add to being able to preserve a large amount of food is well worth it.
- Cooking will be back to basics (which is a good thing I think). I sometimes overcomplicate recipes or add too many ingredients. Don’t get me wrong, one of my favorite things ever is being creative in the kitchen, but I think this challenge will bring me back to simplicity. Roasted chicken and veggies, a simple late summer soup, farm fresh meatloaf, fruit for dessert, carrots for snacking, fresh herbs for seasonings rather than exotic spices. I can’t wait to make some of the recipes I grew up eating like my mom’s famous roasted chicken and veggies or her pickled beet recipe (which is the best I’ve ever had), but doing it local style and trying to make it just as good with ingredients from closer to home.
- Stockpile your staples ahead of time. We are busy gathering local nuts, oils, vinegars, legumes, and grains right now. That way, when we get back from our CSA drop in Portland at 7 PM on a Tuesday in September, it’ll be easy to look in the fridge and say, “okay the pork chops are thawed and we have some potatoes and lettuce – dinner is pan-fried pork chops, roasted potatoes with hazelnuts, and a simple oil and vinegar dressed salad.”
- Plan ahead. I’m not a huge fan of meal prep but I think one afternoon a week is going to be the time where we organize and set ourselves up for success for that week. Hit up the farmers market, make sure to stock up on veggies, protein and ingredients that are easy to jazz up your meals with. Bring an iced down cooler to the market with you so you can keep your goods fresh while you go for an afternoon drive out to a local farm, orchard, dairy, fish market, u-pick berry patch, wild mushroom honeyhole, etc., for your weekend recreation. Make it fun—have a progressive picnic with some of your market goodies and some of what you find along the way. Stop in at your local winery for some tasting. On Sunday (or whatever your semi day off is) take stock of your market haul and what you’ve got at home and take some time to plan your meals for the week. Sunday is a good day to cook a big piece of meat or veggie stew for dinner and then have leftovers for a different meal later in the week (chicken salad, pulled pork sandwiches, veggie tacos, pot roast omelette). If you’ve found local dried legumes, take Sunday to rehydrate and cook them and store them in the fridge for a quick weeknight dinner.
- Substitutes exist. I’ve learned that most successful meals are composed of fat, acid, salt, and heat (as in how heat affects the texture of food). If you are a recipe person, keep finding awesome recipes, but look at the ingredients as more of food groups that you can swap local ingredients for. So, if your recipe calls for coconut oil, use real butter or a local nut oil. If it calls for halibut, but you have rainbow trout, try it with rainbow trout. If it calls for cumin and turmeric, try using a bunch of leafy herbs instead for a pop of flavor. It won’t be the same flavor but it will fill the same purpose in the overall dish. Experiment with chopped or dried local hot peppers rather than cracked black pepper for the heat in some of your dishes. If you live near wine or orchard country, chances are that somebody is producing some kind of local fruit vinegar that you can use instead of lemon juice or rice vinegar. Invest in a spiralizer (l like this one) to make noodles out of any starchy vegetable (sweet potatoes, zucchini, regular potatoes, eggplant) for pasta dish recipes. Most communities in the U.S have access to local honey, so sub honey for sugar in your baking recipes (here’s a good conversion of honey to sugar) and morning coffee. If you’re lucky enough to live in the northeast, use maple syrup rather than sugar and your baked goods will be better than ever and your coffee will never be the same again.
- Do it together. I think this is the most important tip. Share a meal, (a simple one at that) and enjoy the company of good friends and neighbors. Taylor and I have each other, but we also have the rest of the Tumbleweed crew with Adam and Rebekah, and we have our families and friends in the local community. We are all going to cheer each other on and, most importantly, feed each other. Coordinate with your friends and neighbors – on a night that you know your friends are going to be working late and really struggle not to get takeout on the way home, invite them over for dinner. Better yet, invite yourself over and cook them dinner at their house. This is an opportunity for us all to strengthen our connection to our food, but it’s just as much about deepening our bonds with each other.
My 10 Cheats:
And if anyone that lives within 200 miles of Parkdale, Oregon knows of someone producing any of my cheats locally let me know!!! The way that I looked at my cheats were, first, what are things that bring me the most joy every day. That was easy – my morning cup of coffee and an iced cold beer at the end of a hard work day. Those two things I can definitely live without, but they bring so much joy to my life that I’m leaving them. Second—things that will easily add flavor to simple dishes like meat, veggies and salad dressing that I haven’t been able to find locally.
- Coffee. Because the damn veggies aren’t going to harvest themselves in the month of September! But I’m sticking with the triple bottom line and I’ll be purchasing my coffee from a local roaster that sources responsibly. So, obviously the beans aren’t from here but I’ll feel good about my morning cup of joe knowing the folks roasting it.
- Olive oil. I found a local olive ranch but they supplement their oil with half of the olives coming from California, so I’m counting it as a cheat. I feel good about it though because it’s a small local producer and half the olives do come from within 200 miles of me in the Willammette Valley.
- Black Pepper. Freshly cracked black pepper gives so much flavor to food. So does salt– which lucky for me, there is a local salt producer in Portland so salt doesn’t have to be a cheat!
- Beer. Lots of our neighborhood breweries use local hops from the Yakima Valley but the grain isn’t always local so it’s a cheat.
- Mustard. Can’t live without it.
- Cinnamon. It’ll be apple and pear season in the Hood River Valley in September and I love baked apples with cinnamon in the fall.
- Kombucha. We happen to be good friends with the folks producing some of the best kombucha I’ve ever had. They’re two stalls down from us at the Hood River farmers market and it takes about four pints to get me through a market day.
- Lemon. I’ve found local cherry and raspberry vinegar to serve as acid, but there’s something about the purity of fresh-squeezed lemon juice over so many dishes that is almost as essential as salt. There’s no substitute for it for me.
- Cardamom.–Because by September I’ll be craving my favorite spice to jazz up my morning latte, fruit + yogurt bowls, and savory dishes to boot.
- To not be an asshole when someone invites us over for dinner. We’re committed to the whole month of eating local from our home. We’re not going to be eating out, but if our 90 year-old neighbor invites us over for milk and cookies we’re obliging. Or any neighbor for that matter. The spirit of this is bigger than 200 miles.
Resources for finding local food in the U.S.
Grass-Fed Meats and Pastured Poultry: Contact a Weston A. Price Foundation Chapter leader for a recommendation of a good source in your area. The list of leaders can be found at www.westonaprice.org/localchapters (these guys are rad and have been so helpful for us!!)
Local Foods, Farm Stands, and Ranches check out www.localharvest.com
Raw Milk and Cream—Each state has its own laws. Contact a Weston A. Price Foundation chapter leader or check out www.realmilk.com
Farmers Markets and Co-ops (ask market managers or co-op managers what you’re looking for—everything from local beans, grains, oils, vinegars. These folks are usually tapped into local producers.
The local staples (not veggies or meat) I’ve found for anyone in our neck of the woods (the list will continue to grow this month)
And I trust all of my local peeps to help add to this list because I’m sure I’m missing a lot!!!!
Salt—Jacobsen Salt Company.
Sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented foods— Blue Bus Cultured Foods
Milk–Mountain Laurel Dairy (I’ll share a tutorial on Instagram on how I separate the cream from the milk..it’s easy!!)
Ghee– Golden Elixir Ghee
Lentils—Camas Country Mill
Chickpeas—Camas Country Mill
Flour—Camas Country Mill
Vinegars– Raspberry, Cherry, and White wine Vinegar—Klickitat Canyon Winery
Drinking Vinegars + Culinary Vinegars— Blossom Vinegars
Balsamic Vinegar—Cooper Mountain Vinyards
Olive Oil—Oregon Olive Mill
Butter—Butter Craft PDX
Flour and Ancient Grains– Bluebird Grain Farms (as the crow flies this is 220 miles from our farm we’re counting that as local and in the spirit of this challenge)
And if you’re still reading this (which I’m sure I lost a lot of you) here’s a little article about how folks in the U.S. could all eat food from a 100 mile radius of their homes.