Want to eat more local food?

Anchorage locavore Saskia Esslinger and others who participated in the Alaska Food Challenge want more residents to think Alaska before they eat.

For a year, Esslinger and her family tried to eat only Alaska food. She talked about her experiences and gave advice to others who would like to do the same in a presentation last Friday at the Kachemak Bay Campus.

In her blog, Esslinger gives serveral reasons for participating in the challenge: “to lessen our carbon footprint from the food we eat as much as possible, to prove to ourselves and others that it can be done thereby demonstrating how abundant food is in Alaska, and to support and enhance our local food system.” 

The challenge took a considerable amount of planning and preparation. About a year and a half before undertaking the challenge, Esslinger writes that she started “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,” according to the blog.

In answers to questions from the Homer News, Esslinger said via email that it helped that she and her family had a flexible schedule that allowed them to carry out the challenge.

Still, “there were several single people working 40-hour per week jobs who participated in the challenge as well, who managed to also grow a significant portion of their food, but who perhaps spent more than us on other local food,” she said.

Esslinger said she averaged about 20 hours every week in her garden.

The Eat Local website — a community of locavore bloggers — says undertaking the challenge to eat more local food doesn’t have to be about changing  lifestyles completely, just about being more aware. 

The bloggers write that there are a few small, easy steps that make eating locally a viable option for everyone. Their tips include:

• Think of the eating local challenge primarily as a learning process.

• Look for local food in the grocery store. “Even in the bleakest of stores, you will turn up something,” writes the blogger.

• Ask questions. Grocery clerks and managers are a great resource for finding out where what’s available came from. 

• Do some research. That can be as simple as asking questions at the Homer Farmers’ Market or the Cooperative Extension Service in Soldotna or looking online. 

• Grow something — even if it’s only a window box of herbs. 

• Take a field trip to a local farm to see where food comes from.

• Think twice before buying foods that come from afar.

The point is not to push to extremes that end up making families miserable. Rather, the eating local movement is about having people be more aware of the foods they choose to eat.

“Many people participating or observing the Alaska Food Challenge have expressed guilt or frustration at the non-local foods that they are unable/unwilling to give up,” Esslinger said in her blog. 

She encourages people to “celebrate in the abundance of the local food that we are eating.”

Small steps can make a big difference — that might mean “starting a garden, doing a bit more food preservation, going mushroom hunting, or just buying more local food,” Esslinger said via email.

“Everyone has the capacity to do a little more, no matter how busy, how poor, or how inexperienced they might be. And if we all do a little more, it adds up to a lot.” 

Katir Britton is a Homer resident.

For more information:

• http://www.eatlocalchallenge.com/ 

• http://williamsstreetfarmhouse.com/