Sharing local foods with the wider community

BlogHer Original Post

As October comes to a close, the Eat Local Challenge is thinking bigger and looking for ways to spread locavorism beyond our home kitchens.

Week Four (October 24 - 31): Taking it to the Community

Week four will focus on eating locally within our communities. We can host potlucks and eat local parties, we can check in with our schools to hear whether they are supporting local farmers with their buying decisions.

Potlucks and local parties
The beauty of a locavore potluck or Jars of ciderparty is that it really isn’t all that different from a regular potluck or party…and by spreading the food and beverages between the attendees, it’s possible to try a wider variety of locally-based dishes than you probably would have thought of on your own. And the results? Beautiful and delicious.

Jill Richardson of LaVidaLocavore provides a pictorial recipe for throwing a locavore pizza party. Hers took place on an organic farm, but seeing as it’s awfully cold in most of the country for an outdoor party, someone’s house could work just as well.

Laura of Urban Hennery threw a Dark Days Potluck and Seed Exchange last year, an event that celebrated participants in her annual Dark Days Challenge. The challenge, which is starting up very soon, encourages people to eat and blog about one local, sustainable, ethical meal per week over the winter. I encourage you to sign up this year, if you’re a blogger interested in trying that challenge! It gets underway on November 15.

Finally, Jennifer Lance provides some great ideas as part of her post on hosting an organic local foods potluck on Green Living Ideas. “Although you may not be ready to adopt a complete locavore diet, hosting a locavore potluck is a great way to have fun with neighbors while experiencing the 12 reasons one should eat locally,” she wrote.

Farm-to-school efforts
Much of the work on farm-to-school programs has come up through grassroots efforts. Back in late summer, I wrote about the Time for Lunch movement sponsored by Slow Food USA, and Andrea Dean wrote up the eat-in at Waimea School on the Big Island of Hawaii. “Our local “eat in” at Waimea School was great,” Dean wrote. “The cafeteria was full and the local food was great- lots of fresh, local food prepared lovingly by many hands.”

You can learn more about the ongoing Slow Food USA campaign at the Time for Lunch website.

Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is getting involved in the movement with their Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative. The biggest breakthroughs this program brings to the table include developing Farm-to-School Tactical Teams to help school cafeteria managers figure out the best way to get local food in front of students, $50 million to help schools purchase locally-grown fruits and vegetables, and the development of new purchasing guidelines that emphasize locally-grown foods. 

Deborah Lehmann and Ann Cooper, the editors of School Lunch Talk, addressed this in a recent post:

In the United States, at least up until now, farm-to-school initiatives have expanded thanks to grass-roots efforts, with little to no government support. But in other countries, local food has flourished precisely because of government policies. Italian schools, for example, are required to purchase ingredients that are either organic, traditional or local. Italy’s school lunch legislation sounds a lot like ours in that its goal is to support domestic agriculture while nourishing schoolchildren. The difference is that Italy uses school lunch to support local and sustainable agriculture, while the United States uses school lunch to support large agribusiness. With all the new policies coming out of this USDA, things might be about to change.

First of all, the allocation of $50 million to states to spend on local food for schools is a big deal. That’s as much money as the USDA devoted this year to promote organic agriculture. The Farm-to-School Tactical Teams will visit cafeterias around the country and help schools use that money. Working with farmers, school districts and local authorities, they’ll look for ways to get more local produce into cafeterias. On top of that, the USDA has mentioned that it will partner with the Department of Education and non-profit organizations to “enhance these resources.” Wow. Education and school lunch? This could be the start of bringing food, nutrition and health into the academic curriculum.

How will you take eating local to your community? Have you hosted or participated in a local foods potluck? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

Genie blogs about gardening and food at The Inadvertent Gardener, and tells very short tales at 100 Proof Stories. She is also documenting her year in photos at 365 in 2009.  

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