The challenge of this October Eat Local Challenge is turning out to be flexibility in the name of long term sustainability.
For all the right reasons, I ate out-of-town yogurt and out-of-town cheese this week (as you'll see when I post my food log). I usually make my own yogurt, not because I'm a homesteader or particularly ambitious but because I don't have a regular, convenient source for it. Making yogurt is a long process because of the six-hour incubation period and it doesn't fit neatly into my schedule: too much time for after work and too little time to run as I sleep or while I'm at work. I need a weekend day, and there are only so many of those to go around, especially in October. So, I ended up eating some of the yogurt I use for starter culture. And while my cheese came from a local producer, deeper research revealed that they source their milk from Vermont (just outside my 100 miles).
There is a local brand of organic yogurt to be had, but my favorite natural foods store doesn't carry it anymore. It seems that it's a slow seller because its consistency varies from week to week. This is a natural occurrence when you use real biological ingredients from nature and no "cheater" chemicals. You'd think that natural foods shoppers would prefer this, but it turns out they don't.
I used to be able to get that brand of local yogurt at a nearby organic foods store, but they recently went out of business because, as they said, "it has not been economically viable to continue with a philosophy of a truly (98%) organic store." To say that the owner was inflexible in his dedication to organic products would be an understatement. I feel that his rigidity did a disservice to the community. Perhaps a philosophy of 80-90% organic would have kept his doors open. Perhaps a degree of flexibility now would have better served his goals for the future. I took his going out of business personally--he went out of business right before the October ELC and I'd counted on them being a food source when I signed up!
The woman who makes most of my raspberry jam also makes fig jam. She grows the raspberries herself and they are organic. She buys the figs in a supermarket. She tried cultivating fig trees in the past, but the Connecticut winters were too much for them (even bringing them indoors). She mentioned that she may try again in the future. I imagine that each time I buy her locally-made-with-non-local-ingredients fig jam, I am part of the encouragement for her to try to grow them again.
I believe that if we buy from local producers even when some of their ingredients are not local, they will eventually realize there's a market and start producing for that market. I make a point of asking each time, "Where do you source your ingredients and do you think you could ever source them locally?" When you see not-exactly-local items in my food log, they represent a small compromise on the path to a bigger goal (and it's certainly not for lack of trying!).
One day, there will be a food store on my way home from work that carries all of the local foods and ingredients I need. The proprietor will be able to tell me where everything came from. Since this is my fantasy, they're also open past 6 PM on a week night.
Sophie lives and eats in Newtown, CT (just east of Danbury). She chronicles her adventures as a local foodie at Late Bloomers Farm.