Monday, May 01, 2006

Udderly Local

Sorry about the bad pun, but today is the first day of the Eat Local Challenge, sponsored by, “a group committed to challenging themselves to eat mainly local food during a specific period of time,” which this year happens to be the month of May. Spurred on by Jamie’s enthusiasm for the Eat Local Challenge, I’ve decided to participate this year. I like the idea of supporting local, independent farmers (as opposed to agribusiness) and the local economy, but perhaps an even more important aspect of eating locally grown food is that less fuel is used to transport it, which cuts down on pollution and conserves natural resources. Eating local is something I sort of do already, but I'd like to do it a little more systematically, conscientiously, and knowledgeably.

Here’s my plan.
I’ll define “local” as the states of Oregon and Washington. (If I wanted to make it really easy on myself, I’d include California.) However, I’m not setting myself too difficult a task since this is my first attempt—I’m looking at this as more of a fact-finding mission that will inform my eating habits from now and on into the future than an inflexible edict for the month of May. Each week I plan to focus on sorting out the various local options for a particular food group.

Week 1: Local dairy products (purchased so far: Alpenrose cottage cheese, Sunshine cottage cheese, Tillamook mozzarella cheese)
Week 2: Local breads and grains
Week 3: Local meat, fish, and other sources of protein
Week 4: Local fruit, veg, fungi, beer, wine, and miscellaneous

Notice how I cleverly made Week 4 the produce week. I can tell you right now that the only local produce options currently available are some tired Oregon onions and a few sad sacks of Washington potatoes. By Week 4, I should be able to wax lyrical about Oregon strawberries—the best! Also by then the farmer's market should have enough on offer to allow me to put together a respectable salad.

My findings so far. I already knew that Portland is lucky enough to have two local, independent dairies: Alpenrose and Sunshine. I regularly buy products from both, but until today I’d never taken the trouble to do research for a side-by-side comparison.

Both, I think, pass the Local Challenge (and my own) criteria with flying colors. They both produce rBGH-free products, are family owned, have been in business for decades, and have their dairy plants within the Portland city limits.

Sunshine appears to go a few steps further than Alpenrose in that it declares on its Web site that it embraces sustainable farming and environmental practices. That’s important to me. I was all prepared to award a few extra points to Sunshine for that until I did some more investigating on Alpenrose’s rather home-spun Web site and discovered that Alpenrose is “much more than a dairy.” Get this. It actually has a velodrome on its premises that is one of the steepest and most exciting tracks in the U.S. How weird and unexpected is that? But there’s more! They have a replica of an Old West frontier town (named [what else?] Dairyville), which features a 600-seat opera house with a 4,000-pipe organ. Also, a race track for Quarter Midget cars (similar to go-karts), a doll museum (bound to be creeptacular!), and various calliopes, nickelodeons, and victrolas scattered about here and there. What a mish-mash. Time for a field trip!


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