As a new mom with a 3-month old baby, Lauren D. had a lot on her plate as it is – late night feedings, changing diapers and finding time for herself. Even with her hectic, sleep-deprived schedule, she decided to take on the 30-day Eat Local Challenge in October by only eating food grown and produced in Santa Barbara County. After winning the CEC prize basket, she was able to discover a few more local options to use during the challenge.
Before the month began, she was feeling pretty confident, given that it was her third year taking the challenge. Her social life wasn’t nearly as active with a newborn, which she figured could work to her advantage. She knew she could rely on go-to recipes from the past such as vegetable gratins, pasta dishes, and fruit-based desserts.
Her friends and neighbors helped out, bringing her locally-made dishes, giving her cookbooks to spark ideas, and trading her for local ingredients. In her ag-oriented urban neighborhood, many of her neighbors have backyard gardens and hold garden exchanges. She traded with eggs from her three backyard chickens and fish from her husband’s local fishing trips along the coast.
Even with the support of friends, she still struggled with certain things. It was difficult to plan and have enough energy with the demands of her newborn. There were certainly nights when she was not motivated to cook a full meal of local foods. On these nights she made a special effort to support local businesses, especially those that source some ingredients locally like Pizza Guru.
She also didn’t want to waste the items that she already had in her cabinets, so items like spices weren’t replaced with locally grown counterparts. And every now and then, she couldn’t help but break the rules for some chocolate and local Mexican food.
Her husband Gus was participating in the challenge…sometimes. Lauren chuckled as she explained, “he was always ready and willing to eat local, provided I prepared the meals, but for him, it was hard to break habits.” Gus was used to his morning coffee and cereal before work each day, and it was difficult for him to break that routine — although they did switch to Green Star Coffee, which is locally-owned, but not locally grown.
Despite those challenges, Lauren discovered a few new tricks in the kitchen, including throwing together combinations she’d never considered and using locally-produced wines to sautée food. She also discovered Plow to Porch, a local business that delivers various sized boxes of produce from local farms, as well as extras like honey, spices, and more. She plans to continue ordering produce boxes from them as she thinks they will make great gifts for friends. She used farmers’ market coins for olive oil and vinegar, which came in handy for a number of different dishes.
She and her family also took the challenge into Thanksgiving, by making everything from farmer’s market vegetables and backyard produce. She and her family cooked a feast of sweet and mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, home-made ice cream and plum pie. Lauren says that celebrating the holiday this way was “much more meaningful” and goes back to the tradition of celebrating the harvest and giving thanks for what surrounds you.
The greatest unanticipated benefits of the challenge were getting to know her farmers better, discovering new recipes and vegetables, and losing weight. She didn’t spend much more money on food than she would in a normal month, but she says “a small increase in price was totally worth it.”