I finally picked up my $5 Lawrence Farmers’ Market token for conquering the two-week Eat Local Challenge in August, and I can’t wait to spend it.
The deadline to pick up the tokens is Thursday.
I earned the token by spending my dollars on local food instead of on its trucked-in counterparts. I shopped at The Merc and the farmers’ market, and ate at local restaurants that bought produce from area farmers.
The Merc, which sponsored the fourth annual event, called it a “rousing success” in its electronic newsletter. Here’s why:
• 425 people participated.
• 82 have earned a token, so far.
• 30 percent increase in local sales at The Merc.
• $30,000 went directly into the hands of local growers and producers from The Merc sales.
• $360 was donated to the Just Food pantry.
• 75 people attended a picnic where everyone made dishes with local ingredients.
Vendors at the farmers’ markets said they saw an increase in activity and sales, and they are likely to see more as folks spend their tokens. So far, that’s $410 total.
Josh Kendall, brand manager at The Merc, said the store plans to sponsor the event again next year.
I did it!
During the last two weeks, I bought and ate enough local foods to earn a coveted $5 Lawrence Farmers Market token during the fourth annual "Eat Local Challenge."
During the first week, I shopped at The Merc and ate at 715 restaurant. I even wrote a story that compared local food prices and taste versus their non-local counterparts. I learned that it pays to shop around, and when it comes to taste, there's not much difference unless you're talking tomatoes or Rocky Ford cantaloupe.
In week two, I did all of my local food shopping and eating on Saturday.
First, I went to the downtown Lawrence Farmers' Market, where I bought six peaches for $6 from Tryon's Orchard in Hiawatha. The orchard sold out of them an hour before the market closed.
I also bought two white onions for a buck apiece from Tomato Allie, of Lawrence.
I went to the market with a friend who bought a bagful of items and a watermelon. While there, we saw a number of co-workers and other friends. We had fun taking in the atmosphere.
Several vendors said this coming weekend — Labor Day weekend —typically is the busiest of the season.
For lunch, I met my husband at Global Café, 820 Mass., which buys local meats and produce. It was our first time there. I ordered a grilled veggie sandwich and chose the black bean salad as my side dish. The sandwich — which contained roasted red peppers, mushrooms, onions, squash, spinach and goat cheese, was tasty. I was glad I ordered it.
My husband ordered one of the specials, "Huevos Borrachos," which was two corn tortillas filled with eggs, onions, red peppers, avocado and Mexican chorizo and smothered in a green chile sauce. It was served with black beans and rice. He said it was "good."
The special was $7.95 and my meal was $6.99. We agreed that we would be back. The waiter said that the restaurant buys its meats, eggs and vegetables from local farmers and producers.
On the way home, I stopped by The Merc, 901 Iowa, to pick up a few items, including two containers of hummus — cucumber and spicy pepper — that's made in Kansas City and vanilla ice cream made in Tecumseh. The hummus was $3.99 apiece and the ice cream was $5.79.
While I may have spent more than typical on some of the local products and produce, I felt good knowing that it was benefiting local farmers and the local economy. And although the "Eat Local Challenge" is over, I plan to continue to lean in when it comes to buying local foods.
How about you?
Now, I just need to stop by The Merc, turn in my passport and pick up my token. I have until Sept. 15. I also would have earned a sticker for my garden, which is producing tomatoes, peppers and herbs. But, more about that later.
• Pachamama’s, 800 N.H.
• Free State Brewery, 636 Mass.
• 715, 715 Mass.
• Global Cafe, 820 Mass.
• Wheatfields, 904 Vt.
All of these restaurants have one thing in common: They buy ingredients from local farmers and producers.
On Sunday evening, my husband and I ate at 715 restaurant. We first tried it last year because of the Eat Local Challenge, and when we stopped by it was still serving from its brunch menu. Since I don’t eat bacon, sausage, ham or eggs, my choices ended up being pretty limited.
This year, we hit the dinner menu and there was a wide range of items to pick from. They had everything from pan-seared Idaho trout and Black Angus ribeye to tuna spaghetti and roasted chicken breast. They even had fried rabbit legs!
We stuck with something familiar: pizza. (Not too adventurous, are we?). My husband ordered a $12 lamb meatball pizza (that’s a little off the beaten path), while I went with a $10 cheese pizza. We split a $6 green salad.
The cool thing about 715 is that you can watch the chefs make everything because the kitchen is open. From across the room, we could see the chefs toss pizza dough into the air.
My husband described his pizza as “good and spicy.” I thought the pizza and salad tasted fresh and delicious. The crust is very thin, which we both like. They make the dough in the restaurant.
The waitress told us that they make all of the breads in house or buy them from Wheatfields bakery, which is just a couple blocks away. The lamb was from Shannon Creek Lamb, of Olsburg, and the farmer, Joseph Hubbard, is a K-State student, which pleased these K-State alumni.
The herbs that were used in the meatballs and salad dressing also were local. The cheeses were from Wisconsin.
The restaurant has a blackboard hanging on the wall with all of the local farmers and businesses that it buys from. More than 30 are listed. Among them: Moon on the Meadow farm, J & S Coffee, Kevin Irick Farms, MAD farm and Anthony’s Beehive.
I received two more stickers for my Eat Local Challenge passport, so now I’m four away from earning a $5 Lawrence Farmers’ Market token. I have until Sunday, so I don’t think it will be a problem. I’m planning a fun trip to the Saturday Lawrence Farmers’ Market, and I plan to try Global Cafe. (I’ve never been, so if you have suggestions on what to order, let me know). Also, I will earn a sticker for having my own garden.
The challenge is on.
How's everyone else doing?
Community members gathered Sunday evening in Centennial Park to share dishes made with local ingredients. People brought a wide variety of food -- everything from meatballs and salads to dips and cookies. There was even beer from Free State Brewery!
Everyone had a fun time and the weather wasn't too bad — a little humid, but nobody was complaining.
The event was sponsored by The Merc Community Market & Deli, 901 Iowa, as part of its two-week Eat Local Challenge.
Fun pics from the picnic:
A small sampling of the food:
The winning dish:
Lynate (pronounced luh nae) Pettengill, of Lawrence, received a $50 gift card to The Merc for her rhubarb pie. She used rhubarb from her garden and her grandmother's pie recipe.
Lynate said her grandma — the late Marguerite Pettengill, who was born and raised in Lawrence — was known as the "pie queen." She would make pies for birthdays, instead of cakes.
"Making pies has been a very sweet way for me to remember my grandmother, an incredibly loving, generous woman who was a great influence in my life," she said.
Lynate was kind enough to share the recipe:
Grandma Pettengill's pie crust:
• 1 cup wheat flour
• 1 1/2 cups white all purpose flour
• 1 cup shortening
• 7 tablespoons water
Sift flour into a large bowl. Add the shortening and mix together with a large fork until crumbly. Then add water and mix together. Roll out half onto a floured surface. Place in bottom of pie pan. Roll out other half and place on top after pie filling is added. Cut off excess edges. Crimp top and bottom together. Cover outer 1/2 inch of pie crust with aluminum foil so edges don't burn (or you can buy a pie ring that serves this purpose, too). Poke holes or pattern into top of pie. Place on baking pan in case filling runs over. Bake at 425 for 35-40 minutes, longer if fruit filling was frozen. Pie crust should be golden brown when done. Let cool before serving.
Grandma Pettengill's rhubarb pie filling (could use for other fruit, too):
• 6 cups rhubarb (if frozen, let thaw and then drain excess moisture)
• 1 1/2 cups sugar
• 1/2 cup flour
• 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
• 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
Mix dry ingredients together in large bowl. Add rhubarb and stir to coat. Place in pie crust. Cut butter into small sections and spread around on top evenly. Top with second half of pie crust and follow the rest of the pie crust recipe.
— If you have a recipe that uses local ingredients, please share it here on WellCommons! We'd love to try it.
Eating and buying local foods is a challenge, even in Lawrence, if you’re an average Joe like me.
First, they are hard to find. There are not a lot of local products in grocery stores among the thousands of choices that line the shelves.
Some stores are good about marking local products, such as Checker’s and Hy-Vee, while others are not. For example, at a Dillons store, the Iwig Family Dairy milk was not marked as being locally produced in nearby Tecumseh.
Even at The Merc Community Market & Deli, which has more than 800 locally produced items, it was hard to figure out what was local. There were labels for organic, local or both. They have a new P6 logo which means the food meets two of three criteria: from a small scale producer, locally grown or produced, or produced by a co-op.
While eating out, you may be eating local beef or a local tomato or you may not. Most restaurants do not put local food labels on their menus even though they may buy foods from local farmers. Others tout that they support local farms, but the consumer doesn’t know what items contain those ingredients.
Confusing? You bet.
That’s why The Merc is sponsoring a two-week Eat Local Challenge along with a handful of restaurants. The event is under way and 356 people have signed up so far. The goal isn’t to drastically change your diet and eat local foods only. It’s about educating shoppers and encouraging them to lean into the local food movement. For example, buying local tomatoes which are in season, instead of at the supermarket, where most are trucked in from who knows where. Participants receive an 11-page pamphlet that provides a guide as to where to get some of the local products offered in the area.
Eileen Horn, sustainability coordinator for Douglas County and the city of Lawrence, also recommends visiting the website of “Our Local Food Kaw River Valley” at www.kawrivervalley.org. It features products that are produced, processed, prepared, raised or grown in a 12-county region, including Douglas County.
Also, “local” can be defined in many ways because it is an unregulated term, adding to the confusion.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers 400 miles to be local, while The Merc says 200 miles. Wal-Mart defines local as anything grown and sold in the same state.
I agree with Horn who says she wishes that she could go back in time before all of the labeling.
“I wonder what it was like probably 75 years ago when everything was local. Producers didn’t have to think about labeling where their food came from,” she said.
Pays to shop
Once you find local food, it tends to cost more.
In today’s economy, jobs are scarce and money is tight, and so the price tag tends to weigh heavily into the decision on whether to buy locally produced milk which costs $3.49 or a nonlocal brand for $1.95. I know it figures into my decisions.
That’s why I did a very small price comparison this week to see what the differences were. What I found is that the prices of local vs. nonlocal products varied greatly and it pays to shop around. But, if you are like me, you don’t have that much time.
In general, local products that are in season can be found for the same price or cheaper at farmers markets. On Tuesday, a cucumber cost 75 cents at the Lawrence Farmers’ Market, which was cheaper than most grocery stores, which ranged from 78 cents to $1.29. Also, farmers are willing to negotiate. One farmer offered three cucumbers for $2, or 67 cents apiece.
Overall, though, local products cost more. I visited a half-dozen stores and markets and wrote down the lowest prices that I could find for tomatoes, cucumbers, cantaloupe, milk, eggs and bread. The total cost for the local foods was $15.03, compared to $8.42 for the nonlocal foods.
On Tuesday, a half-gallon of locally produced skim milk at Checker’s cost $3.49 vs. $1.95 for the cheapest brand. One dozen of local eggs cost $3 at Cottin’s Hardware Farmers’ Market vs. $1.29 for the cheapest brand at Dillons.
Horn said sometimes it’s a matter of David versus Goliath.
“The tomato from the supermarket chain is grown at a really, really large scale, so you get these economies of scale that you can’t achieve on a smaller farm, and I think that ends up being reflected in the price,” she said.
Food advocates often will say the extra price is worth it because local food tastes fresher and better.
But is it?
I’ve often wondered because seldom do I buy a melon from a local producer and then buy one from the store to compare, side-by-side.
So, I decided to pit five local foods vs. their nonlocal counterparts in a taste test. I picked three seasonal items — tomatoes, cantaloupe and cucumbers — along with two staples — milk and bread. I randomly labeled them A or B and then 25 people tasted them. They filled out a form, picking which they thought tasted best or if they thought there was no difference.
Local tomatoes were a clear favorite with only one person picking tomatoes that had been trucked in from Canada. Among the comments were:
• Yum, yum. No comparison.
• Big difference. They had a better color and tasted much fresher.
• No contest.
The local tomatoes were purchased at the Lawrence Farmers’ Market for $2.50 per pound while the Canadian tomatoes were purchased at Dillons for $1.59 per pound.
On the flip side, the Rocky Ford, Colo., cantaloupe purchased for $1.99 at Dillons was a favorite among all but two taste-testers. One person favored the cantaloupe grown by a Lawrence farmer and purchased for $2.49 at The Merc, while another person said she couldn’t tell the difference. Among the comments about the Rocky Ford variety:
• Wow. By far, a flavor explosion.
• Juicer. Better taste.
When it came to the other foods, it was a toss up. About half liked the local food and the other half liked the nonlocal product, and others just couldn’t tell a difference.
Fun and food
Horn’s advice for people new to the local food scene is to not get overwhelmed by it. She suggests that people just ease in and enjoy what’s in season, such as tomatoes in the summer and apples in the fall.
“Don’t dive in by buying a bunch of herbs that you’ve never used before or food that your family has never had before, but instead substitute a couple of things from your grocery list. The things that you can swap out easily like tomatoes and watermelon,” she said.
More importantly, have fun with food. Too often, people look at grocery shopping as a chore. She suggests stopping by a farmers market and simply enjoying it — perhaps purchasing some coffee and a scone, visiting the farmers, listening to the music and taking in the fresh air.
“It’s about putting the fun back into our food culture a little bit,” she said.
Here are the cheapest prices found for six items at a handful of grocery stores and farmers markets:
Tomato (one pound)
• Local — $2.50, Lawrence Farmers’ Market; $2.59, The Merc.
• Elsewhere — $1.38, Dillons; $1.59, Checkers; $1.74, Wal-Mart; and $2.49, Hy-Vee.
• Local — 75 cents, Lawrence Farmers’ Market; $1.83, The Merc.
• Elsewhere — 78 cents, Wal-Mart; 79 cents, Checkers; 79 cents, Dillons; and $1.29, Hy-Vee.
• Local — $2, Cottin’s Hardware Farmers Market; $2.49, The Merc.
• Elsewhere — $1.88, Checkers; $1.88, Wal-Mart; $1.99, Dillons; $2.48, Hy-Vee.
Skim milk (half gallon)
• Local — $3.49, The Merc. Customers are charged an additional $2 that will be returned with the glass bottle.
• Elsewhere — $1.50, Hy-Vee; $1.95, Checkers; $1.97, Wal-Mart; $1.99, Dillons.
Note: Milk from Iwig Family Dairy of Tecumseh is available in a number of stores. Here are the prices: $3.39, Checker’s; $3.69, The Merc; $3.75, farmers’ market; $3.78, Hy-Vee.; $3.79, Dillons. Customers are charged an additional $2.25 that will be returned with the glass bottle.
Eggs (one dozen)
• Local — $3, Cottin’s Hardware Farmers’ Market; $3.59, The Merc.
• Elsewhere — $1.29, Dillons; $1.56, Checkers; $1.78, Wal-Mart; and $1.80, Hy-Vee.
Bread (loaf of french or Italian)
• Local — $3.29, The Merc.
• Elsewhere — $1.59, Dillons; $1.60, Wal-Mart; $1.99, Hy-Vee; and $2.19, Checkers.
Total for cheapest Local —$15.03.
Total for cheapest elsewhere — $8.42.
Difference — $6.61
Editor’s Note: These prices were gathered on Tuesday evening at these places: Dillons, 3000 W. Sixth St.; Hy-Vee, 4000 W. Sixth St.; Checkers Foods, 2300 La.; Wal-Mart, 3300 Iowa St., The Merc, 901 Iowa, and the Lawrence Farmers’ Market. A few, which were unavailable at Tuesday’s farmer’s market, were gathered on Thursday evening at Cottin’s Hardware Farmers’ Market.
Twenty-five employees at The World Company and visitors participated in a taste test of the following items. One was local — produced or grown within 60 miles of Lawrence — and the other was not local. They voted on which they thought tasted best or marked if they couldn’t tell a difference. Here are the results:
• Tomatoes — 24, local; 1 not local.
• Cantaloupe — 1, local; 22 not local; 1 no difference.
• Cucumbers — 6, local; 11, not local; 8, no difference.
• Loaf of multigrain bread — 9, local; 14 not local; 1 no difference.
• 2 percent milk — 8 local; 7 not local; 3 no difference.
Note: The local food was purchased at the Lawrence Farmers’ Market or The Merc. The food that was not locally grown was purchased at Dillons. The cantaloupe came from Rocky Ford, Colo.
There are several opportunities to learn more about local food:
• Today — You can still sign up for the Eat Local Challenge, which goes through Aug. 28. To sign up, visit The Merc Community Market & Deli at 901 Iowa. It’s free.
• Oct. 1-2 — It’s the annual Kaw Valley Farm Tour. Tour hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days. It’s only $10 per carload for both days. About 25 farms are on the tour this year. For more, visit www.KawValleyFarmTour.org.
• Oct. 14 — Homegrown Lawrence Festival begins at 6 p.m. at Abe and Jake’s Landing, 8 E. Sixth St. There will be local food and music along with presentations. The event is a benefit for Lawrence Farm to School.
I'm participating in the fourth annual Eat Local Challenge. Its goal is to encourage people to eat more local foods and support the local economy.
Last year was my first year to participate, and I earned a T-shirt by shopping at the Lawrence Farmers’ Market and by eating at Lawrence restaurants that use local ingredients.
This year’s Challenge started with a shopping trip on Sunday to The Merc Community Market and Deli, 901 Iowa, which has more than 800 locally-produced items. In 2010, The Merc purchases more than $1 million annually from more than 200 local producers. Fifty-two percent of the meat that's sold there is raised locally.
Here’s what I purchased for $24.14:
• A loaf of frozen Ezekiel low-sodium sprouted grain bread — $4.59.
• Pita chips — $2.55.
• Hummus — $3.99. It was made in Kansas City.
• Brown eggs — $3.39.
• Fat-free vanilla yogurt — $3.39.
• Peaches — $3.74. They were from Colorado.
• Cantaloupe — $2.49. Grown by a Lawrence farmer.
I then finished my grocery shopping at the two nearby stores at which I usually shop. While in the stores, I wrote down the prices that I would have paid for the items above. The total came to $18.33, a savings of $5.81. But, none of the items were locally-produced.
Prices at the other grocery store:
• A loaf of frozen Ezekiel low-sodium sprouted grain bread — $3.59.
• Pita chips — $2.68.
• Hummus — $2.98.
• Brown eggs — $3.18.
• Fat-free vanilla yogurt — $2.69.
• Peaches — $1.22.
• Cantaloupe — $1.99.
The peaches look much better than their counterparts at the larger supermarket; I'll try them later. The cantaloupe's cut up and put it in the refrigerator — we'll try them tonight. The hummus was well worth the extra dollar.
Sunday’s shopping inspired me to do a more detailed comparison of basic local foods. How do they compare in price to those that come from elsewhere? More importantly, how do they taste?
Yesterday, I did a price comparison on the following items: tomatoes, cucumbers, cantaloupe, chicken, hamburger, milk and bread. We're doing a taste-test of the items, excluding the meat. I'll let you know the results of both later this week.
Oh — and back to what led me down this path. So far, I’ve earned one sticker on my Eat Local Challenge passport. I’ve got six more to go before I earn the prize — a $5 Lawrence Farmers Market token.
How are you doing?
The fourth annual Eat Local Challenge begins today and ends Aug. 28.
The goal of the challenge is to bring more local food to our tables. It’s about shifting our economy to support the growing number of local, small-scale producers. It’s also about eating healthier, fresh foods.
Yesterday, I attended a “Food and Freedom Ride” presentation where a group of young adults were touting the benefits of eating more local food and less processed food.
What really hit home for me was what a young Lawrence couple — Dan Phelps and Cole Cottin — had to share during the discussion. They both have given up other jobs to take on farming full-time. They said farming is one of the lowest-paying jobs with the longest hours. This summer has been especially difficult because of the extreme heat.
“It sounds ideal, but trying to raise children and pay rent is tough,” Cottin said.
Honestly after hearing them, I felt guilty for buying tomatoes and melons this time of year at the supermarket instead of the farmers’ market or The Merc. Shame on me. That’s why I am glad this community offers the Eat Local Challenge. It serves as a reminder to those of us caught up in our fast-paced, frenzied world to slow down and think twice about what where we are spending our money.
I also know better because I was raised on a small wheat-and-cattle farm. My father and grandfather worked from sunup to sundown, and we struggled as well. We had a big family garden growing up and we looked forward to eating the fruits of our labor — green beans, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, beets, onions, lettuce and more.
So, I encourage everyone to take the Eat Local Challenge. So far, at least 130 people have signed up, including me. It’s so easy to participate and you will learn about where you can get local foods. They are available at farmers markets, grocery stores, and various restaurants.
To participate just stop by the customer service desk at The Merc, 901 Iowa. They will give you a 12-page pamphlet with all of the details. Inside the pamphlet is a passport where you can earn stickers for eating local. If you earn seven stickers, you will receive a $5 Lawrence Farmers Market token.
Here’s how you can earn a sticker:
• Take a photo of yourself in your garden and then drop by The Merc with your photo or e-mail it to Frontend@TheMerc.coop.
• Purchase food at The Merc, participating restaurants and farmers markets.
• Make a donation to the Just Food pantry at The Merc to make local food accessible to everyone.
• Bring a dish to the local food community potluck picnic in Centennial Park at 6 p.m. Aug. 21.
There’s no cost to participate, so join me in taking the challenge! Good luck.
By SARAH HENNING
Eating local doesn’t have to be a well-meaning drag on your wallet.
In fact, it could put money in your pocket.
Those participating in the fourth annual Eat Local Challenge through The Merc, 901 S. Iowa, can earn a $5 token good for treats from the Lawrence Farmers’ Market just by completing the challenge which runs Aug. 13-28. To complete it, you just have to fill out a local foods passport with stickers earned from buying local products, restaurant meals or taking a pretty picture of your garden.
Thus, local food on your table can equal money in your pocket.
“We’re happy to, with the help of our restaurant partners, buy (tokens) for everybody,” says Josh Kendall, brand manager at the Merc. “Because we really feel the best sort of prize for eating locally is to eat more locally.”
Since its inception, the challenge has run late in the growing season to encourage Lawrencians to buy locally when area produce is most productive. It’s seen many iterations, and this year has its fair share of changes. For the first time, home gardeners can get credit for eating out of their garden and home chefs have a chance to show off their skills during a local foods potluck. These changes are in addition to the token award, which is also new this year.
And while you’re earning a bit of money, you don’t have to spend a lot of money, either.
Whether you’re trying to complete the challenge or not, it’s often not more expensive to buy from local farmers and restaurants, especially if you buy seasonally. Here, we look at how you can save while taking the Eat Local Challenge (or year-round), as divided by the ways to earn your seven challenge stickers:
Shopping farmers markets: Going straight to the farmer makes your money count. You might pay less than you would anywhere else and you’ll know every dollar you spend will go directly to giving the farmer a good wage, not to the many variables that dictate pricing for many national products. So says Julie Mettenburg, a farmer and coordinator for Our Local Food — Kaw River Valley, which identifies and promotes local food within the region.
“We set our price based on what gives us a fair price for the work that we do. And it helps the consumer by a local food at or just below the supermarket price but we capture all of those costs that would have gone into the supermarket’s distribution chain and marketing and packaging,” says Mettenburg, who raises grass-finished meat at Mettenburg Farm in Franklin County. “So, by capturing that and giving it to the local farmer, we really help build our local farm economy, which builds, also, our local economy.”
Buying local goods from The Merc: If a trip to the market won’t do, a trip to the Merc is a must if you want to buy local goods. With more than 800 local products — defined as produced within 200 miles — there are tons to chose from, many adorned with the Our Local Food — Kaw River Valley insignia. You can get fresh produce, bulk Kansas wheat flour, local eyes, honey and other staples and save money by making meals at home.
In tandem with the challenge, Kendall says the Merc has permanently lowered prices on many of their local foods. It’s a conscious choice to make the goods competitive with national brands.
“There’s a lot of products on our shelves that we’re dropping 10, 20, 30 cents, if possible,” he says. “It just makes it so the product more affordable ... so that they can sell more and do more business.”
Once you’ve got a handle on cooking with local ingredients, get creative. If you suss out a great recipe, consider entering it in the recipe contest associated with the Eat Local Challenge Community Pot-luck on Aug. 21 at Centennial Park. The winner of the contest gets a $50 Merc gift card — yet another way to save money/make money by eating locally. Also, those attending the potluck who bring a dish containing local food get a sticker for their passport.
Heading out to participating restaurants: If cooking at home isn’t your bag and you’re a regular restaurant consumer, your bill’s not going to go up to eat locally.
All you have to do is spend your restaurant dime on meals featuring local ingredients at 715, 715 Mass.; Free State Brewing Company, 636 Mass.; Pachamamas, 800 N.H.; Global Café, 820 Mass.; and WheatFields Bakery and Café, 904 Vt. Each meal can earn you a sticker.
Taking a picture of your home garden: This has to be the cheapest way to eat local. Just throw some seeds in the ground and watch them grow.
You may have an indoor or outdoor herb garden. Or a patio tomato plant. Or an entire bed of potatoes, peppers and tomatoes that are thriving. Snap a pic, bring it into the store and earn a sticker.
“We realize that people grow their own food as well to supplement their local food needs,” Kendall says. “So by opening it up to people’s ability to take pictures, it’s a way to earn credit for the hard work they’ve been doing all season.”
No garden yet this year? It’s not too late. Grab some late-season pots at a discount and rescue some rangy herbs or annuals from the nursery compost pile. Even better, buy them from plant vendors at the participating farmers’ markets or Pendleton’s Country Market, 1446 E. 1850 Road. Also, later in the challenge is the perfect time to ready seedlings for fall greens like lettuce, kale, chard and spinach.
And, chances are, even a mini garden will keep on putting local food on your table long after you’ve gotten your seven stickers and spent your $5 token.
2011 EAT LOCAL CHALLENGE PARTICIPANTS
Farmers’ markets and stores:
• Lawrence Farmers’ Market — Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday
• Cottin’s Farmers’ Market — Thursday
• Perry-Lecompton Farmers’ Market — Friday
• Pendleton’s Country Market — Monday-Saturday
• The Merc — Monday-Sunday
• 715, 715 Mass.
• Free State Brewing Company, 636 Mass.
• Pachamamas, 800 N.H.
• Global Café, 820 Mass.
• WheatFields Bakery and Café, 904 Mass.
Eat Local Challenge — Days 8-9
I did it! I earned the coveted “Eat Local Challenge” T-shirt by shopping and eating local foods during the past week. I received my T-shirt during a reception Sunday evening at The Merc.
The challenge has raised my awareness of where to shop and buy foods that are grown and/or produced within 200 miles of Lawrence. I learned that there are quite a few local options: stores, farmers’ markets, CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), and restaurants. But, you have to do a little digging to find out where these places are and what hours they are open.
I also learned eating local can be pricey, but there are good deals if you shop around. For example, a watermelon was the same price — $4 — at Dillons grocery store and the farmers’ market, but peaches were quite a bit more at the farmers’ market.
During the challenge, my husband and I re-arranged our schedules to attend the downtown Lawrence Farmers’ Market — both Saturdays. This past weekend, I bought a seedless watermelon for $5 and six peaches for $5. It was enough for two stickers. Unfortunately, we were late getting around and I had to work at 10 a.m., so we missed out on trying the salsas — darn it, but maybe next year.
We also ate at two downtown Lawrence restaurants that we hadn’t tried before: 715, which I wrote about last week, and Local Burger. On Saturday, we had lunch at Local Burger, 714 Vt. We were pleasantly surprised at the variety of menu options. My husband ordered a double buffalo burger ($10) with progressive potatoes ($2.75) and a small house salad ($2.75). I ordered the “world famous veggie burger” for $6. The total cost: $21.50. I earned the final sticker that I needed for a T-shirt.
We wondered why we had waited so long to try Local Burger, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary in September. Our food was delicious.
After getting my T-shirt on Sunday, I made a quick trip inside The Merc to buy a few local items: Iwig Family Dairy skim milk, about a pound of lean ground beef, two chicken breasts and a tub of homemade salsa — for $20.13. (Note: I will get $2.25 back when I return the glass milk bottle). Although it was a little pricier than if I had bought the items at my usual supermarket, it felt good knowing that I was supporting local farmers, producers and the economy.
More importantly, it should taste better!
The "Eat Local Challenge" also inspired a produce day at work. We have tomatoes, okra, peppers, herbs, black-eyed peas and squash to pick from. How cool is that?
The third annual “Eat Local Challenge” drew 432 participants, up 72 percent from last year.
The goal of the weeklong event, which was Aug. 14-22, was to challenge people to buy and eat local foods — at farmers’ markets, restaurants, Community Supported Agriculture subscription services, and The Community Mercantile, which sponsored the event.
“It’s a way to promote local and show shoppers where their dollar goes,” said Joshua Kendall, brand manager at The Merc.
Participants received a T-shirt if they purchased enough local foods to earn six stickers. For example, if they bought one bag of goods at a farmers’ market, they received one sticker. So far, 65 people have earned a T-shirt, but they have until Wednesday to pick up a shirt if they earned it.
This was the first year that the event featured local food options beyond The Merc, 901 Iowa.
Kendall said they plan to partner with more businesses, farmers and restaurants for the fourth annual event, and they also want to recognize people who grow their own food.
“We are planning to expand,” he said.
Also for the first time, The Merc hosted a reception Sunday evening for participants that featured local foods and music, and about 80 people attended.
Here’s what people had to say about the challenge:
Rae Jaan Spicer, 13, West Junior High School student
Her school started a garden this spring, and the produce is being sold at a weekly farmers’ market and it is being served in the cafeteria.
She earned stickers by buying foods at the WJHS market.
“Local is better and it’s delicious, and I am also helping my school,” she said. “I tried our tomatoes last Thursday and they was delicious. The tomatoes were so fresh,” she said.
Rae Jaan also ate at Local Burger, a downtown Lawrence restaurant that features a local menu.
“Their french fries are delicious.”
Anju Mishra, 47, financial counselor
This was her third time to participate in the challenge.
“I like eating fresh food. I cook — that’s my passion, that’s my hobby, so I like to use fresh ingredients. I think they are the best tasting,” she said. “It supports the community. I have taken roots here and I love it.”
She thinks the awareness of local foods is growing, and there’s more options than even three years ago.
Anju said the prices are reasonable because the food is “truly satisfying.”
She eats what’s in season, and her favorite produce now is tomatoes. She uses them in salsa, curry dishes, sandwiches — “a lot of things.”
Dick Meidinger, 71, retired physician
He has participated in the challenge for three years.
“Local food is good and it’s good for us. It really encourages people, I think, to try new things — local things,” he said. “It encourages the local economy, and certainly we need more local farmers.”
He said he grew up in a farm community near Hiawatha, where the number of family farmers has diminished.
But, he does his part to support them.
“Ever since we’ve moved here, it’s been my Saturday ritual to go the farmers’ market. In fact, I really plan my weekend around that,” he said.
He also talked of his fondness for the food in Italy.
“They don’t have as much refrigeration. They don’t have much in the way of big supermarkets, so what you eat over there is fresh," he said. "It's crisp, fresh and really good."
Kara Bollinger, 23, Kansas University student
The first-time participant said it wasn’t as hard as she thought it might be.
“I feel like you have to make somewhat of an effort, but not a huge effort,” she said.
During the challenge, she “treated herself” to lunch at The Merc a couple of times, and shopped at the farmers’ market. She bought eggplant, zucchini, squash, apples and watermelon.
“Obviously, in the winter it would be much more difficult,” she said.
Kara said eating local can be expensive, but worth it.
“The quality of the food is so much better,” she said.
Jerry Feese, 57, computer programmer
He participated in the challenge for the first time.
“There’s more local food around than we realized,” he said.
He tried a downtown Lawrence restaurant, 715, for the first time that boasts of a local menu. He thought it was a bit pricey.
Jerry also shopped at the farmers’ market, where he bought peaches, corn, chicken, tomatoes and pie.
He tries to buy local if the choice is available, although he finds it typically costs more.
Deborah Altus, 51, Washburn University professor
“I think it is so important to try to support the local growers and the local economy,” said Deborah, a second-time participant.
She tries to buy local when it’s available. This time of year, she said, it’s easy.
“It does make me think more about eating in our local region and how important that is, and how I want to do more of it,” she said.
Deborah described the prices as reasonable, especially at the farmers’ market.
Priya Mishra, 23, Kansas University student
The first-time participant said, “It turned out to be easier than I was expecting. There were lots of choices.”
She bought peaches, watermelon and chicken at the farmers’ market.
“We go to the farmers’ market pretty regularly,” she said.
Prya also ate at Local Burger and Free State Brewery, which features seasonal dishes and uses as many local ingredients as possible.
She really liked the local chicken taco at Free State.
“It was delicious. You could really taste the difference,” she said.
Kristin Wilson, 41, school teacher
The first-time participant said she tries to buy local foods for a number of reasons.
“I think it’s really good to promote the businesses and community. I think it’s certainly good to support the local restaurants,” she said. “I do it healthwise — to promote healthy eating.”
During the week, she shopped at The Merc, farmers’ market and ate at Local Burger.
Kristin said she could do better when it comes to buying local foods.
“You kind of get in a habit of shopping and buying certain things and kind of forget about that (local),” she said. “So, I think the challenge makes me aware that there are more opportunities out there to do that.”
Note: Check back Monday morning to find out what I've learned from taking the challenge!
Eat Local Challenge — Days 4-5.
There's still time to sign up for this week's challenge at The Merc, 901 Iowa.
Although it might be hard to earn the six stickers required to get a T-shirt by Sunday, it's worthwhile to sign up. You get a packet of information about where to buy local food — CSAs, farmers' markets, restaurants and, of course, The Merc, which is sponsoring the third annual event.
I have earned three stickers so far, and have no doubt that I will earn a T-shirt. I do most of my food shopping on the weekend because I have little time during the week.
On Tuesday night, my husband made bruschetta with local tomatoes, parsley and basil. It was delicious. The tomatoes were from my garden, 6News TV photographer Steve Jones' plants, and my parents' garden. Steve and I were bragging about our tasty tomatoes, so we decided to swap and try each others.
That sprouted an idea — we should have a day at work where everyone brings in their produce for a swap. For those that don't have gardens or plants, maybe we can convince them a trip to a farmers' market is worthwhile, if they haven't been!
On Wednesday night, I made a quick chicken wrap with local tomatoes and cucumbers. Of course, I paired it with the local fruit that I bought Saturday. Before this challenge, I mostly thought about how "healthy" I was eating, and now I find myself thinking about if I could get it locally and at an affordable price.
Eat Local Challenge — Day 2
It is one of five Lawrence restaurants featured in this year’s “Eat Local Challenge."
Unfortunately for me, the restaurant was featuring its weekend brunch menu. Almost everything had eggs and/or some version of pork. I am not a fan of either. However, it was a hit with my meat-loving husband, who also likes eggs.
No surprise — my husband ordered the three-meat special, which contained porchetta, house-cured bacon and a duroc link sausage with two fried eggs and potatoes. Everything was local, but the potatoes. The cost: $15.99.
I ordered a whole-grain waffle with fresh fruit. The fruit — cantaloupe, blueberries and strawberries — was local. Many of the waffle ingredients also were local — eggs, milk and butter. The cost: $6.99.
Everything tasted great, and we agreed that we would go back and try the dinner menu which boasts of pizza, pasta, salads and main dishes such as chicken, pork chops and duck.
For my order, I earned another sticker for my “Eat Local Challenge” passport. I am already halfway toward my goal of getting a T-shirt.
Other restaurants participating in this week’s “Eat Local Challenge” are:
• Free State Brewery, 636 Mass. Its August seasonal items are the Free State BLT and a Tomato Bread Salad. It uses local produce when in season, such as corn, asparagus, tomatoes, squash, broccoli and fruit. It also uses local beef, honey and chocolate. Of course, this place is well-known for its local beer.
• Pachamama’s, 800 N.H. Its menu changes with the seasons to take advantage of local food sources. It buys food from nine local farmers and producers.
• Local Burger, 714 Vt. Its menu features organic, local and sustainable fare that’s free of additives and preservatives. Among its local offerings: meats such as elk, beef and turkey; sunflower oil from Hoxie to make french fries; tofu, honey, and cheeses.
• WheatFields Bakery Café, 904 Vt. The menu features local produce and meats. Staff members often shop at the downtown Lawrence farmers’ market for ingredients. Its August menu features three local dishes: vegetable primavera ziti, local beef tenderloin tips, and local pork tenderloin medallions.
Besides eating at the restaurant today, I enjoyed snacking on the watermelon and cantaloupe that I purchased at the farmers’ market on Saturday. I also had my first local peach — yum!
On Sunday evening, I picked a bowlful of cherry tomatoes, five regular-sized tomatoes and a handful of jalapeno peppers from our garden. We also have a bounty of produce from my mother’s garden left to eat. We are looking forward to BLT’s and steamed squash in the coming days.
Eat Local Challenge — Day 1
About 3,000 people attended Saturday morning’s downtown Lawrence Farmers’ Market, including me.
Tom Buller, market coordinator, said the attendance was about average for this time of year.
My husband and I didn’t get there until 10:30 a.m. — just 30 minutes before closing time — but lucky for us, there were plenty of melons to pick from.
We bought a watermelon for $4. Then, we purchased two large tomatoes and a big cantaloupe for $5. I couldn’t resist trying locally-grown peaches, even though they were pricey — $6 for 7 peaches.
For $15, I felt like we walked away with a bounty of fruit, and it was very gratifying to put the money into the very hands that helped grow the food. I earned two “Eat Local Challenge” stickers for my purchases. I only need four more to get a T-shirt!
I can’t wait to see how everything tastes. The peaches still need to ripen a little bit.
I just cut up the melons, so they are chilling in the frig. I tasted a few bites of watermelon — delicious! Now, we can snack on that throughout the week or use it in meals.
Here's a list of farmers’ markets in Lawrence:
• Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., between Eighth and Ninth streets on New Hampshire Street.
• Tuesdays, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., between 10th and 11ths streets on Vermont Street.
• Thursdays, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., northwest corner of Wakarusa Drive and Sixth Street.
• Cottin’s Hardware & Rental, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays, 1832 Massachusetts St., back parking lot of store.
• West Junior High School, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays, 2700 Harvard Road.
There will be watermelon, cantaloupe, crenshaws, honeydew and more.
“Short of air conditioning, I have found little that beats the heat quite like a cold slice of watermelon,” said Tom Buller, market coordinator.
I couldn’t agree more. I cut up a watermelon last Saturday and have munched on it all week. Last week, I bought it at a nearby supermarket. This week, I will buy it at the farmers’ market because I am taking part in the “Eat Local Challenge.”
Other produce that’s in season this week: Onions, greens, garlic, kale, mushrooms, potatoes, basil, zucchini, green beans, apples, sweet corn, eggplant, field tomatoes, plums, blackberries, summer squash, peaches, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, okra and heirloom tomatoes.
The market will feature music by the F-Tones.
The downtown Lawrence Farmers’ Market is from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturdays in the 800 block of New Hampshire street.
Next week: The market will feature salsa!
If you are interested in seeing how your salsa stacks up, you can bring samples of a fresh salsa (nothing canned) for the customer contest. The market will have prizes for the best overall, most exotic, and the hottest.
Customers will get the chance to taste salsas that are sold by vendors, and ones that are made at the market by Kate Gonzalez and Alejandro Lule.
The third annual event begins Saturday and ends Aug. 22. The goal is to introduce participants to local food, and where they can buy it.
You can still join the fun by registering today. (It only takes a couple of minutes). It’s FREE and you can earn a T-shirt. Last year’s challenge drew 250 participants. So far, over 200 people have signed up for this year’s challenge.
I am looking forward to this week’s challenge because I tend to eat healthy — lots of fruits and vegetables, but I don’t take the time to shop local. I tend to buy a week’s worth of groceries on Sunday at the closest supermarket. If they have local produce, I buy it.
It’s not that I don’t want to support local farmers — because I do. I grew up on a small farm just north of Abilene. In fact, I just reaped the benefits of a visit. I came home with cucumbers, squash, and a bucket of tomatoes.
I also don’t like to buy items that have been shipped miles and miles. I ate some green beans from my parent’s garden in June, and I was hooked. I went to buy some at the supermarket and noticed they were from Mexico. I just couldn’t buy them, so I did without.
I plan to change my lazy shopping habits this week during the Eat Local Challenge. I plan to begin by getting up in the morning and going to the downtown Lawrence Farmers’ Market. (My husband and I usually spend Saturday mornings catching up on household chores or sleep).
At the registration, you get a small packet that has a wealth of information about where to buy local foods — farmers’ markets, CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), restaurants, and stores.
The goal is to earn six stickers for a T-shirt. For example, if you buy between $1 and $5 of local food at The Merc, you get one sticker. Or if you buy one bag of goods at a farmers’ market, you get one sticker.
For more information, visit The Merc’s website.
Good luck to everyone who is taking part in the challenge, and let us know how you are doing under the Locavores group on WellCommons. Just sign up for WellCommons, and post the information under the "commons" tab.
I will be taking the Eat Local Lawrence Challenge! Will you?
The third annual event will be from Aug. 14 to Aug. 22, and the goal is to introduce participants to local food, and where they can buy it.
For this contest, local is defined as food produced within 200 miles of Lawrence.
The challenge invites participants to choose a level of commitment that feels comfortable. So, it can be four or five meals made with local ingredients, or it can be four or five meals made entirely of local foods.
To sign up, visit the customer service desk at The Community Mercantile, 901 Iowa. Registration is Aug. 7-13.
Challengers will receive a packet that includes the 2010 Eat Local Lawrence Passport that will be accepted at four farmers’ markets, five restaurants, and five Community Supported Agriculture subscription services. When participants purchase local products at the participating businesses, they will receive a stamp on their passport.
T-shirts will be given to participants who receive six stamps on their passport.
There will be a reception for participants from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 22 at The Merc Café. A local band will provide entertainment.
Those accepting passports are: Lawrence Farmers’ Market, West Junior High School Garden Farmers’ Market, Free State Brewing Company, Local Burger, Pachamama’s, Wheatfields Bakery and Cafe, 715 Restaurant, Amy’s Meats, Homespun Hill Farm, Mellowfields Urban Farm, Moon on the Meadow, and Rolling Prairie Farmers’ Alliance.