Before this experiment, virtually the only product I routinely sourced locally for consumption at home were farm fresh eggs sold by Shae at Aspen Emporium and Flying Circus. I hadn’t been to a local farmers market in two years, but since this locavore project started I’ve gone from spending about 3% of my home food budget on local foods to 95% or more. In fact I’ve spent $1,313.34 so far on local foods for all of my at-home meals and most dinners for my boyfriend (who has been very patient with me during this project I might add.)
I prepare 90 percent of my meals from scratch, and mostly cook from a recipe. Since this project began 27 days ago, if the ingredient is listed in the title of the recipe I’m preparing, then I’ve sourced it locally. I’ve substituted foods not grown in proximity with something produced nearby like my morning joe from Rock Canyon Coffee, my beer from the Aspen Brewing Company, and bars to fuel my workouts from Jen’s Café Bars.
Now a little more than halfway through this experiment, I’ve made several interesting discoveries.
First, I’ve been astonished by the variety of fresh, local foods available. The recipe for one of my favorite appetizers calls for fresh coriander. I’ve always substituted cilantro because I couldn’t find fresh coriander. To the Roaring Fork Beginning Farmers meeting I brought a sun dried tomato and roasted red pepper dip to share that won rave reviews. I have Ben at Roaring Gardens to thank for picking fresh coriander for me and for inviting me to the meeting. He also introduced me to the cardoon plant and several edible flowers I’d never heard of before.
Secondly, I’ve been amazed by the visual differences between locally and commercially grown foods - - for instance the deep yellow color of Sustainable Settings butter and the funky shapes of Two Roots Farm baby carrots.
Flip at Open Fire Catering exposed me to the misrepresentative nature of the marketing tagline “pork the other white meat.” He shared how the meat of pigs that are sustainably raised outdoors is deep red in color and their fat more yellow due to vitamin D from sun exposure.
I’ve been delighted by the creativity that local foods have inspired in my cooking. Believe it or not I’d never cooked a whole chicken before roasting a Spradley Farms broiler on Day 9. Jason at Rock Bottom Ranch lent me a mandoline to make my first ever zucchini noodles on Day 21. And I look forward to finding a recipe to prepare another dish I’ve never made in my own kitchen – beef short ribs from Mountain Primal.
The shelf life of the veggies I’ve sourced locally has surprised me. Casey’s Wild Mountain Seeds fresh tarragon leaves still look as vibrantly green as when I bought them three weeks ago, as do the tomatillos I bought from Erin’s Acres on the same day. I have great plans to make tarragon egg salad and tomatillo salsa really soon!
And–surprise, surprise–local foods really do taste better! Early in the project I did several side-by-side blind taste tests with local and non-local foods, and I can attest that the difference between conventionally– and locally–produced foods is remarkable.
For example, commercial brands can’t come close to the flavor depth and complexity of Mountain Primal meats. Baby carrots from Two Roots Farm taste like, well, a real carrot! And the grassy taste of Sustainable Settings butter is truly spectacular as compared to store-bought.
There have been challenges during the locavore experiment for sure. Truly local restaurant meals have been hard to find. Thank goodness for the 7X beef tartare with local quail egg and the local crudites on the bar menu at Cache Cache. If only we had a full farm-to-table restaurant in Aspen!
The lack of local food availability outside of farmers’ market hours has been problematic as well. It’s taken me countless hours to source my food for this project, and this has affected my income from work and my precious outdoor recreation time on weekends.
I strive to be more ingredient driven in my cooking, but I work fulltime and it’s been really challenging to find the time to buy the products, search out recipes for them, and do the food preparation. As much as I enjoy scrambled Potter’s Farm eggs or Barn Dog Ranch goat buttermilk pancakes and Mountain Primal bacon, I’ve had these breakfast foods for dinner on too many occasions since the start of this project because I didn’t have time to plan and source typical dinner foods locally.
In terms of food cost, a few local products, such as most farm fresh eggs, are on par with organic products from Whole Foods, but a cursory analysis shows a price premium for local meats and veggies that ranges between 5 and 15 percent over Whole Foods organic prices.
This said, I had a hopeful discussion with Mike Spayd of Spradley Farms about the relationship between eating local foods and decreased healthcare costs. I hope that experts will continue the work to quantify this correlation and to educate consumers.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been asking myself if being a locavore is sustainable for me in the long term. After this 40-day experiment I’ll be reflecting on the experiences and realities of it all – right after I run out for sushi with Betsy on day 41.