Yipee!! It’s been a full year since we made our pledge to eat local! And what an amazing journey it’s been! I feel happy, well-nourished, and still excited about Alaskan food! Sure, I’m looking forward to getting a few things I miss, but I’m definitely not throwing eating local out the window.
We started planning our challenge a year and a half ago, sourcing grain, buying a mill, finding local honey, planning/expanding/planting our garden. But really this process has been going on for even longer: four years ago when we built our first permanent garden, five years ago when we bought our home with the south-facing lot, eight years ago when we took our Permaculture Design Course. Moving ourselves away from the agro-industrial food system to good, clean, local food has definitely taken time and effort, and it is not over yet.
Somehow I thought a year would be enough to learn everything we need to know and change our habits completely. We did learn a lot; how to make butter, the best way (for us) to preserve celery (freezing), how much kale we need to put away (not as much). And yet there seems to be so much more to know: how to culture our butter, how to keep our onions dry and our carrots moist in the root storage, and new ways to eat frozen kale. I became much better at making bread, buns, tortillas, and pasta, and yet I am secretly relieved that when I am up to my eyeballs in work I can grab a loaf of bread for sandwiches or crackers for the salmon spread. I still crave sugar, and even though now I know I can go without coffee, I also know how much I love having it in my life.
Another thing we’ve realized through this challenge is how much food is a part of our social lives and how meaningful it is to share food with others. We knew we didn’t want to lose friends over this, so we added the socialization clause to our pledge, which stated that for every meal we had out, we would feed someone an Alaskan meal from our kitchen. I thought it would be much easier to keep track of this, but it didn’t really work that way. Our friends would contribute food and beverages to the dinners we cooked for them (sometimes leaving left-overs), and we would return the favor, bringing an Alaskan dish, but usually picking up some non-Alaskan wine. Although we cut back a lot on our restaurant meals, invitations from friends, visitors, special occasions, and business lunches kept cropping up. And when Graysen was born, our friends were more than generous with gifts of meals and goodies. In fact, I don’t really feel like I suffered at all (well, maybe a few times when I really wanted coffee and a cookie, but then I usually went and visited my mom.)
But then, suffering was never the intended result… the goal was to push our edges, to get more local foods into our lives and encourage others to do the same. And from that respect it was a huge success. We proved that you can eat local year-round, even in Alaska. We showed that it is healthy, delicious, and affordable. We also demonstrated that you can grow much of your own food in your own yard. We grew/raised over 1600 pounds of food last summer, and we still have capacity for more! We still have so much food in our freezers and pantry that we decided to sell our excess produce at the Spenard Farmer’s Market this year.
And people took notice. I was so amazed at the outpouring of support, and how many people told us we had inspired them to make changes in their own lives. To me, this is the biggest win of all, because Matt and I can’t create a vibrant local food system on our own… it takes each of us, participating in whatever way we can!