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Front row: Mark Fennell, Gina Fennell, Katie Haldeman. Back row: Matt Dubberley, Charity Dubberley.
Not pictured: Ben Haldeman

With the Eat Local Challenge right around the corner, many local residents are preparing to shift the way they eat for the month of October – and a few are taking it even further this year.

As veterans of the Eat Local Challenge, Goleta residents Mark and Gina Fennell have decided to up the ante this year. They have engaged their friends Katie and Ben Haldeman and Charity and Matt Dubberley to participate in the month-long challenge with a new twist: this October, the group of friends will spend the first week sustaining themselves (mostly) off of foods from their own backyards.


During the month, this group will eat dairy, meat, fruits, vegetables and a handful of other food products that were grown or produced within a 100-150 mile radius from their homes. They will also trade with locals who keep non-commercial dairy animals, such as goats and chickens. For the first week, however, they will limit their radius to their own backyards. This task has required significant planning, and they have been preparing for it all summer by strategically planting foods at certain times. Take a look at what they have planted in their gardens:



The friends have allowed themselves a few exceptions – salt, pepper, vinegar, and olive oil – but are cutting out coffee and tea completely. Gina is especially going to miss her morning cup of joe, but is optimistic that she’ll be able to make it through the month.

During Week 1, they also have agreed to trade products with local growers, non-commercial food producers and other Eat Local participants. For example, Katie is planning on trading avocados, bananas and apple sauce in exchange for eggs and other protein sources, since she doesn’t have chickens herself. She is also willing to trade squash and zucchini for anything she can get her hands on, and is interested in obtaining honey or other sweeteners.


All six group members know that their Backyard Challenge in Week 1 of the Eat Local Challenge will be somewhat tricky, but they remain confident in their ability to maintain their active lifestyle throughout the month. They are expecting less trash, a smaller food budget, and a bit more planning to provide them with sustainable results.

Meet the team

Mark and Gina Fennell

An avid gardener and self-proclaimed “locavore,” Mark is participating in the challenge because he recognizes the heavy reliance on toxins and fossil fuels in the industrial food system. “I want to learn from this experience,” says Mark. He thinks that developing enough satisfying meals is going to be one of his challenges because it’s going to take “some extra creativity to use those staples in interesting ways, especially with the limited number of additional ingredients.”

For Gina, cooking and discovering new recipes is half the fun, and she has already added a number of new ideas to her personal cookbook. “Every time I look at a recipe, I think ‘what do we have?'” Gina explains. While she may miss a few items throughout the month, she is ready and willing to invest the prep time for these upcoming sustainable and delicious meals.

However, when Mark and Gina asked their 17-year-old football-playing son if he wanted to participate in the challenge, he replied “NO WAY!” Trading the regular team pizza parties for a dinner of eggs and kale did not appeal to him, so Gina will continue to assist with his meals separately.

Ben and Katie Haldeman

Katie works in the ranching community and aims to further support local farmers and ranchers by eating local. She’s already discovered a few unforeseen challenges – such as finding a garden-sitter during vacation, pests (slugs, “dive-bombing birds” and rabbits), and even people unknowingly weeding through some of her quinoa. Logistically, she’s struggling to organize all of the harvested items in her freezer. She also worries that the challenge might create some awkwardness when she goes out to restaurants for working lunch meetings with her boss and others, but already has a few ideas in mind for how to work around this.

Luckily, Katie’s husband Ben is also participating and has been active in the garden and planning process. They are interested to see how much variety they’ll be able to create with her available ingredients and in what they’ll be able to bring to work.

Matt and Charity Dubberley

Matt wants this challenge to be a learning experience. He is interested to find out what he really can do with his own yard, how he can expand his garden, and what plants are going to give him the “most bang for the buck.”

As a runner with an extremely active lifestyle, Charity plans on growing grains in order to achieve a well-balanced diet during the challenge. She doesn’t want to compromise her exercise routines, as she’s training for a 50-mile trail race in November. She’s planning to maintain her usual diet but knows that there may be some challenges ahead.

Charity also writes a blog about local eating called “Garden Eats.”

You can eat local too

There’s still time for you to join the Eat Local Challenge. First, define your challenge. Then, connect with other participants on the Eat Local Challenge Facebook page to ask questions, share ideas, and arrange food swaps. Once you get started, share your progress on Facebook, Twitter (#EatLocalSB, @CECSB, @EdibleSB), and Instagram (#EatLocalSB).

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