The first two weeks of the challenge are now complete, and starting tomorrow we are going into Week 3. As we were last week, we are not eating 100% locally yet. Instead, we have been eating more local food at each meal - such as cheese and milk from a local organic dairy farm, and pears, peaches, and applesauce that I canned last summer.
During the second week of this challenge, I've learned the following things:
1. The novelty of changing the way we eat wore off for some family members after the first week. We are using up what we have on hand - canned goods, frozen food, and items from the pantry. As the items are used, I am either replacing them with healthier, local versions or not at all (e.g., chips, sweets).
The latter situation - where items aren't being replaced - was a tough pill to swallow when it came to potato chips and pickles. These are some favorite foods of my daughters, so to encourage them to eat crackers or another vegetable didn't sit as well this week as it may have the first week.
2. Local food is very difficult to find in Minnesota in April. I went to a meat market earlier in the week with the expectation that there would be a variety of meat available. What I found out surprised me: the majority of the meat that was available was not from Minnesota or Wisconsin - it came from about 550 miles away or over 9 hours to the southeast in Nebraska or about 266 miles and 4 hours to the south in Iowa.
The only meat available at the meat market was from a buffalo farm that is 12 miles northeast of our farm. So, the meat market was simply re-selling the meat, not processing it on site there.
The other place I went hoping to find some locally-grown produce was the co-op that's about 17 miles away. I was pleasantly to see that the produce department had signs that noted where each item was from.
However I was disappointed that there were only two items that were available that had been grown in Minnesota: microgreens and alfalfa sprouts. I had hoped that there would be some farms that had greenhouses or hydroponic systems set up so that fresh produce from Minnesota would be available to consumers. No such luck.
3. Local food is very expensive compared to conventional food. When I looked at meat at the co-op, the prices were way more than what I can afford to pay per pound. Seeing $11+ per pound for meat...even $7+ per pound for ground beef makes the reality of purchasing organic and/or grass-fed animals not possible for our family.
The way that the cost can be greatly reduced for meat is by purchasing a quarter side or half side of an animal (e.g., cow, pig). In that way, the butcher works with a local farmer in Minnesota, and the price per pound of the meat is substantially less than purchasing small packages at the co-op.
4. Having a meal plan is helpful. I did a meal plan for the week on Sunday and followed it for the most part. This helped make decisions when I was at the grocery store and the co-op because I knew exactly what ingredients I needed for making meals.
Mini-Challenge - Sow Some Seeds
The mini-challenge for the week was to sow some seeds. On Monday, I purchased some roots and sets: rhubarb, asparagus, onions (two types), and garlic. In addition, I purchased some mesclun (which will go into the garden once the threat of snow is gone), tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers.
Also, I bought a miniature greenhouse with individual peat pots.
Peat pots without water.
The first step is to use warm water to fill the base.
Sophia pouring warm water into the holder.
Gradually, the peat absorbs the water and the little pots grow taller.
The pots are increasing in size.
Once they are full size, we opened the top of the wrapping and fluffed the peat a bit.
The planter tops opened a bit and peat fluffed.
Next we looked at the seeds that needed to be germinated indoors in Minnesota. For this climate, cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers should be started indoors so that there is enough time for the plants to grow and produce.
Each seed packet had two columns of planters
into which the seeds could go.
The girls each took 2-3 seeds and put them into the each planter.
Olivia and Sophia placing seeds in each pot.
Once the seeds were in the planters, I placed some peat on top of each one.
Seed packets by the columns of planters
where the seeds were planted.
After labeling the plastic top, the miniature greenhouse was placed on the counter where it is warm and out of direct sunlight.
Labels on the outside of the miniature greenhouse.
Our 72 pots of cucumber, hot peppers, sweet peppers, and three varieties of tomatoes are steaming up the greenhouse. Because we used warm water, the heat is trapped in the container. Hopefully this helps germinate the seeds quicker and our plants will be ready sooner than anticipated.
Local Ingredients Purchased This Week
I went to Autumnwood Farm again on Monday and purchased organic skim milk, organic chocolate milk, cheese curds, two pounds of butter, and a small bottle of cream. The bill came to about $26.
My older daughter wanted to make homemade butter which she did on Friday evening. We enjoyed the butter on crackers on Friday and bread on Saturday.
Local Ingredients on Hand (Preserved During Summer 2013):
We continued to use several items that I canned last summer and fall: applesauce, pears, and peaches.
Looking Forward to Week 3
My goals this week are to:
1. Call the customer service numbers of local food companies and ask where the products are grown and manufactured. Hopefully by doing this I will find more products that are readily available throughout the year. I didn't have a chance to do this during the second week of the challenge, so I'm hoping to have some time to dedicate to this goal during the upcoming week.
2. Find a list of farmers markets and determine a schedule for visiting them. Look for either the Minnesota Grown farm directory and/or online to create a weekly schedule for visiting different farms for food preservation as well as our regular meals.
3. Create another meal plan. Using what we have on hand, I want to create menus that will limit what we purchase. In this way, the food in the freezer, refrigerator, and cupboards will continue to dwindle. This will better prepare us for transitioning to eating locally-grown and produced food.