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Eat Local Challenge

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CASSANDRA CORCORAN AND her son, Liam, peek through corn growing in their Monkton garden. The family has been eating locally for years and will participate in September’s Eat Local Challenge sponsored by the Addison County Relocalization Network.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell


August 27, 2007

By MEGAN JAMES

ADDISON COUNTY — Cassandra Corcoran has eaten and advocated for organically certified food for many years. But if she had to choose between a nonorganic tomato from down the road and an organic one flown in from Italy, she would always take the local, she said.

The Monkton resident considers herself a localvore, someone who tries to fill her diet primarily with foods grown and produced within a 100-mile radius of her home. Corcoran does it to reduce her carbon footprint, she said, though even she makes exceptions.

“We go farther afield for bananas and avocados,” she said.

Next month, she and her family will try to cut out those imported indulgences and live only on local foods.

For the second year, the Addison County Localvores and the Addison County Relocalization Network (ACoRN), are holding an Eat Local Challenge for the month of September in an effort to highlight the benefits of knowing exactly where one’s food was produced. The challenge is one of 11 such events being held around the state.

According to ACoRN, most of the food that Americans eat travels an average of 1,500 to 2,500 miles before arriving on their dinner tables. Eating food closer to home uses fewer resources, localvores point out, not to mention that the food just tastes fresher.

They also draw attention to the fact that buying from area farmers keeps money in the local economy. If Vermonters substituted local products for just 10 percent of their imported food, they say, it would result in $376 million in new economic output.

The Eat Local Challenge itself is fairly flexible, organizer Ginger Nickerson said. Participants don’t have to commit to the entire month. They can eat locally for a week, or just a day. Or they can host a localvore potluck, invite friends to bring dishes made with local foods, swap recipes and share stories.

“It’s really about taking the time and putting the energy into being aware of your purchases,” Nickerson said. It should also be about experimenting, she added. “Maybe you’ve driven by a house that has a sign outside that says, ‘Eggs’ and you’ve never stopped.”

Organizers are planning a kickoff potluck on the Middlebury green on the evening of Saturday, Sept. 8. People are encouraged to bring localvore dishes, and share in live music and entertainment.

To register for the challenge, visit the ACoRN Web site at www.acornvt.org/Localvore.html.

Last year’s challenge, the first for Addison County, drew more than 80 area residents to sign a pledge on the ACoRN Web site. It sparked a new kind of dialogue in the community, organizers said, manifesting last spring in a meeting between area consumers and the Addison County Organic Farmers’ Group at Ilsley Library. People at that meeting discussed strategies for strengthening the bonds between consumers and farmers, like developing bulk buying clubs and spreading awareness about winter storage of farm-fresh foods.

Last week, Corcoran and her husband, Jonathan, were canning tomatoes and other fresh produce in preparation for the full month challenge.

“We try to (eat locally) as much as possible,” she said, adding that it’s not that difficult, they’ve just adapted well. “We buy strawberries when they’re in season, blueberries when they’re in season.”

Corcoran’s family has been a member of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at New Leaf Organics in Monkton for the last four years. The program allows them to pay a discounted price up front for a share of the farm’s crops each season, making eating locally each week almost inevitable.

New Leaf Organics is one of a number of Addison County farms that offer CSAs, including Golden Russet Farm in Shoreham, Arcadia Brook Farm in Ferrisburgh and Lewis Creek Farm in Starksboro.

New Leaf’s Jill Kopel said CSA programs benefit farmers as much as they do consumers, because payment comes in the springtime when farmers are meeting the bulk of their expenses. It also gives people a chance to visit the farm in person, developing relationships with the farmers who grow their food, a big motivation for many localvores.

According to Corcoran, eating locally has become increasingly easier over the years as more Addison County farmers have begun producing cheeses and meats, perhaps to accommodate for the growing localvore movement.

But locally harvested grains are still difficult to find.

Luckily for Addison County, Ben and Theresa Gleason of Gleason Grains in Bridport run one of only 15 Vermont farms growing wheat. In the 1800s, the state produced plenty of grains, Ben Gleason said. But now most of it is grown in the Midwest, where the weather is more accommodating.

“Growing grains is a challenge in Vermont,” he said, though this year has been a little easier because of the dry weather during the summer harvest.

Gleason has been working to strengthen the bonds between farmer and the community for years. He played a key role in organizing the Addison County Organic Farmers’ Group and, with the help of two Middlebury College students, put together a cookbook of recipes using products from area farms.

LONG-TIME LOCALVORE

Eating locally is nothing new for him.

“I’ve been a localvore most of my life,” he said. Growing up on a small farm in Connecticut, he said, “we had land but we had no money. So we didn’t purchase much. We always had a big garden and we ate from that.”

The Eat Local Challenge, Gleason said, should have lasting effects on those who participate.

“I’m hoping that people will start doing it not just on a one month basis, but also to think abut it the rest of the time,” he said. “It certainly helps the economy. If people are aware of that, then it can become part of their consciousness.”?

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