Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Looking back - A year of local eating (well, almost)

Ten months ago, I set out on a journey. Actually, it was more of a dare to myself. Sure, I could eat locally, if I wanted to, right? In October, I began by identifying those things I could find locally: veggies, nuts, bread, eggs, honey, and herbs. Yeah, it meant a little more biking, since I'm not one to drive a car much, but it would be worth it. 

It started out as a week. A week turned into a month. A month turned into 5 months and the inclusion of dairy and fruit into the all-local plan. To say the least, I was amazed and exhilarated to have made it all winter on local veggies. And, might I add, with plenty to spare (the freezer was stocked with extra soup I'd make with extra winter food supplies). 

To be honest, at some point, it wasn't even an effort anymore. I grew so accustomed to eating according to the season; to eagerly awaiting each farmers market and the culinary treasures I'd find there; to trying new foods, attempting new recipes, and (of course) learning to preserve it all.

Winter turned to Spring; and Spring to Summer. Then, as often happens, life interceded. With an array of health complications muddying my physical waters, overwhelmed with the unknown, I ended my local eating experiment this month, 2 months early. It was a difficult decision, but I needed the balance and flexibility that a strict local diet couldn't provide.  

But falling short of my goal of 12 months was far from failure.  Those 10 months of local eating taught me a number of valuable lessons. Lessons that have become a part of who I am and will continue to shape my future. I'd like to share a few:
  1. Never be afraid to try. There have been so many things that I put off trying because I had convinced myself I would fail. But how do we succeed at anything, how do we know what we can and cannot do, if we never commit to that first time. It started with yogurt, making homemade soups and sauces, and  bread-baking; then on to canning homemade jams, tomato and pasta sauce; and finally to investing in a pressure canner so I could can my own homemade soups. Good grief! Who am I? But the best part is that the more I try things for the first time, the easier the next first time comes. With each new accomplishment comes confidence. That's something I just didn't have before.
  2. Seasons. Something you figure out REAL fast is what food is available when. No more weekly supply of carrots. It's jut not going to happen. But what did happen was better. Not only did I learn about food, and the climate required to grow it, but by eating in seasons, I tried foods I had never experienced before. Things like purple hull peas, collard greens, brussels sprouts, and a wide variety of squash. Now, not everything was a success. I didn't find out until the end of may that I should have been picking strawberries since February. What? Oops. Now I know and you better believe that I'll be checking out the pick-your-own sites in February '09. And corn? It was only at our market for two weeks. Lesson learned? Buy it all, then can like crazy!
  3. Foods that grow in Texas. Who knew that Texas grew tons of rice? Ok, someone knew because there's a rice festival every fall. But I didn't know. It turns out, if you spend a few minutes looking, you can buy local rice in our grocery stores! And there's a mushroom farm not too far from where I live. And corn - there's lots of corn!
  4. Relationships. Eating locally has opened a whole new world of relationships to me. As much as I love grocery shopping, you just don't build meaningful relationships with your cashier or produce manager. On the other hand, I have made some incredible friends through the farmers market. Saturday mornings are more than a day to stock up on food. It's an opportunity to spend time with new friends, talk about the harvest, kids and grandkids, the latest trips to the doctor, the week's happy moments. On top of that, learning to can and preserve some of those farmers market finds has brought me closer to my friend, Sharli. It was a stressful year for both of us and having that time with a special friend, learning how to can together, supporting each other, etc., has been a real blessing for me.
  5. Independence vs. interdependence. When I first started the experiment, the idea was to become more independent. If the economy collapsed or there was environmentla disaster that limited our supply of food, could we take care of ourselves? Our answer was an unequivocal "no." So we wanted to learn how food was grown, start our own garden, make our own bread, etc. We wanted to me more independent. But as the experiment continued, I realized that we'll never be independent. That's not really the point. Although it's helpful to know HOW to do many of these skills, it's not necessary to DO all of them. Instead, it's important to build the relationships with others where we complement each other's skills. Maybe you're a good grower and I'm a good bread baker and we share with each other. Instead of being complete autonomous, living locally is more about networking with others towards a healthy interdependence.
  6. Unravelling the mysteries of food is deeply fulfilling. The final lesson I'll list here is that all those things (the canning, the bread-baking, the soup-making) that I once feared, the things at which I was sure to fail, not only was I good at them, but there is something inherently fulfilling in unearthing the mystery behind the foods we take for granted. I'm still thrilled with every dough rise. I still delight in the "popping" seal of every jar of jam and soup. I once despised the thought of cooking - way too domestic for me! Now, every creation is a thrill, an amazing adventure. 
Of course, the lessons don't stop here. There are so many things I have left to learn, so many things I have yet to try. I mean, who needs to go back to school when the world around us is the most amazing classroom we could ever find? Sure, the experiment may be over, but hang around. The adventure has just begun. 


Burbanmom said...

Health issues aside, sounds like you have had a wonderful and interesting year!

ttammylynn said...

And to think, King's Orchard will have a bounty of figs soon. I am waiting for good pickings to go out there.
I'm thinking of making Saturday morning Farmer's Market a ritual. I did love everything I found. I joined Vicki's CSA, which is how I found you, Heather.
I'm not sure how local I could get, but I can continue to take baby steps.

sharli said...

I couldn't have made it through this last year without you!

Bobbi said...

Great post! Thanks!

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

What a beautiful and thoughtful post Heather. Your reasons and "lessons learned" about eating locally really resonate with me. In the beginning, when I started eating locally and with the seasons, I wanted to "take care of myself", but like you, I realized along the way that the point was to create an interdependence with folks who care as much for your livelihood as you do and vice versa, you get that with a CSA farmer but not at the local Hy-Vee store. It's a wonderful experience - rewarding, exciting, humbling, but always worth it.

Thank you for this great piece.

greeen sheeep said...

What a wonderful post Heather. There are some great lessons that can be taken from here. Thanks!

Heather @ SGF said...

burbanmom - it truly was an amazing year!

ttammylynn - Baby steps is all it takes. That's all I've been doing for the last 10 years. Then all the sudden, you look back and realize how far you've come. It'll take your breath away! Glad you hear you're linked up with Vicki. She and Charles are great!

sharli - I feel the same way about you. You're quite an inspiration! :)

bobbi - Thanks, bobbi!

jennifer - it just goes to show you, that the plans we set out for ourselves (whether independence, green movement, etc), change as our lives change. Moving along with the flow and allowing our lives to take us in amazing, though unintended places, is as important as that initial goal.

greeen sheeep - Thanks, GS!

Beany said...

This was such a great summary of your last 10 months.

I too have come to the conclusion that its just not possible to be completely independent, but knowing how to do magical things with food is worth more than being independent. I'm not much of a social creature, but learning that there were others (like you) who cared enough to make a difference and make changes in their lives has been so comforting not made me feel not too much of a social pariah. :) Looking forward to the next 10 months worth of posts.

Green Resolutions said...

so inspiring. thank you!

Abbie said...

My dad always says "I could teach you more in a day on the farm than in a week at school."

You've learned so much in 10 months!!!

Heather @ SGF said...

beany - I'm pretty much a loner myself but between friends here in town and the blogging community, I've come out of my shell to make some wonderful changes in my life. It's amazing what we can accomplish when we open ourselves to others. Glad to hear you've experienced the same.

green resolutions - thanks!

abbie - I agree. We have so much to learn that can only be done through experience. And how much more beautiful are those things we do ourselves, with our own hands. Your father sounds very wise!