Local Harvest Challenge week; done and dusted. Bought local, ate seasonal, grew edibles, thought, learned, acted. Glad we did it.
Have you ever noticed that the minute you commit to something the rest of your life jumps up and down in protest?
The Local Harvest Challenge was only days away from starting when I received an event invite in Facebook. I really wanted to do the challenge – though just about everything was against us: short notice; travel plans; poor health; work commitments; lack of funds. What the hey; signed us up (as a family team).
About day one I was wishing I hadn’t been quite so bold. Perhaps if we defined local as within our country might have been more do-able? For starters, we hardly saw my grown daughter all week, so decided we were a team of two very early on. We didn’t have time to plan or prepare but, seeing as how we do already try to follow a lot of the aims of Local Harvest we thought what we had on hand and from our garden would get us close to the mark.
We chose 19 challenges from a long list and decided ‘local’ for us this week would be within 160km of home. We could have chosen a ‘bite sized’ challenge – as few as 7 activities or we could have gotten serious and chosen to eat only local and sustainable all week. We could have chosen various distances for our ‘local’ challenge (from within our country down to pushbike-close).
So, how did we end up?
Well, all in all, we got through the week reasonably well; learned a few things and enjoyed some new experiences. We think the challenge is in the thinking about our food choices and possibly changing our ways if there are better options available.
It was a real shame that the Challenge was run at the time it was (the week of Easter and including the Easter Monday public holiday as well as going into Autumn when our homegrown seasonal produce was considerably less). The bad weather once we were home from our Easter holiday and having commitments and health issues really meant we didn’t get to sink our teeth into the Challenge as we would have liked to but we successfully completed nearly all our goals, so we were quite chuffed after all.
If we had more notice, the fact that our homegrown resources were low could have inspired us to ‘get out there’ to find local options. We believe, sometimes, we get just as set in our good ways as in our bad ones and a shuffle up is good occasionally, just to keep us fresh.
Well we steered clear of the multi-nationals which wasn’t really a challenge; we both detest the supermarkets and our local Coles is disgusting for fruit and vegetables, though our local independent grocer IGA gets our vote. We heaped some praise on our local suppliers. We missed the farmers market but we have two local fruit markets which source their produce from as close to home as possible. We actually appreciate the experts choosing our fruit and vegetables for us and we are always pleased with the quality. Much of the produce comes from under 30km away.
We investigated our local suppliers: firstly on the internet – the Local Harvest maps are a great resource whether you are at home or travelling across Australia; secondly, we travelled some country roads and discovered some farmgate sales while sparing a coin or two to some local cafe’s along the way.
We found out that there is an organic meat supplier at West Gosford and an organic meat, poultry and egg supplier at Somersby. We also found out there is a FIG (Food Integrity Group) at Ourimbah and had a chance to find out what that meant. They are a not-for-profit co-op bringing in produce for weekly food boxes, but only from within a 160km zone. There is also a Food Network at Woy Woy. We very much expect there are more suppliers in the area that are yet to register on Local Harvest. We hope more people will encourage their favourite local suppliers and farmers to register.
We have recently found Organic Plus at Erina (which has bulk hoppers of dried fruit, nuts and seeds as well as a range of fresh fruit and vegetables and a whole lot more. Only thing we don’t like is that their system is for plastic bags to be used at the hoppers. Can only suggest they think about changing that.
This week (like most weeks) we harvested food from our own garden. Bad time of year for backyard gourmet. We are going into Autumn here and our tomatoes, rockmelons, etc are finished (we actually pulled the cherry tomatoes out because they were getting heavy fly infestation and the dog decided most of the Roma tomatoes looked better on the lawn – she has always found green tomatoes good to chew up).
We are still enjoying fresh rocket (arugula), perpetual lettuce and various spinaches (chard, baby spinach, spinach mustard) and rhubarb. We have many herbs (rosemary, thyme, flat and curly parsley, garlic chives, oregano, shallots (green onions), mint and lemon grass as well as a miniature bay tree and a curry tree. We have just harvested the last of our Tamarillos (as anyone who knows me knows – I am very excited and enjoy finding new uses for this unusual fruit).
We let our rocket go to seed recently and collected seeds for our use as well as for gifts. Obviously, some got away as we now have rocket growing in a gravelled decorative garden. It loves it there, so we have just extended our food producing area. There is plenty for salads, sandwiches and stir fries with enough left for an Almond and Rocket pesto to go in the freezer, too. Frozen in small quantities, this is so handy for stirring through pasta or putting on a cheese and biccy platter for guests or for picnics.
We are lucky to have many mini butternut pumpkins (squash) and sweet potatoes ready for the eating from our backyard, also. We let the pumpkins run rampant (along with rockmelons) when our dog dug up buried compost and brought seeds up to the top so they could grow. The plants helped the garden survive some heatwave conditions and the mini pumpkins were the result of not cutting back the vines, I believe. We love them baked whole and have been able to hand them out to family and friends, too. Our sweet potato plant grows crazy and we rarely dig to harvest. Anywhere the vine touches the ground it takes root and the sweet potatoes form. Whenever the vine gets out of hand, we brutally pull it up and fossick for buried treasures.
We finished the week with a Pumpkin Sauce Fettucine using lightly sauted onion, garlic, zucchini and spinach. I’d usually use coconut milk to create the sauce (but I don’t think there are any coconut trees within 160km of our place so homemade chicken stock is a lot more local). No, the fettuccine was neither homemade nor produced within 160km, but everything else was good.
We always eat lots of fruit and vegetables and we only had to check that our purchases at the fruit market were within our challenge zone (160km isn’t that far when you are talking about some items. Until recently grapes were coming in from California, USA). The Central Coast area sits between the large cities of Sydney and Newcastle so it is possible to obtain a range of ‘local’ produce fairly readily. There are still some farming areas pocketed around the area (though a lot of small farms have become hobby farms and weekenders). Our Somersby Plateau has been maintained for agricultural purposes, though it too probably doesn’t produce anywhere what it used to as properties have changed hands over the years.
If ever we have a meal which is a little short on veg, we usually have a fresh fruit platter or fruit salad with homemade yoghurt to finish. Same when we are visiting; we always volunteer to bring the fruit and/or salad.
We love to top our breakfast cereals with fruit, yoghurt, nuts and seeds. Definitely helps to pack enough fruit and vegies in if you include some in all meals and snacks throughout the day. We always have healthy banana bread (yes, it is possible) and zucchini bread in the freezer, stored in chunks (say a third of a loaf) – just enough for a day’s worth of snacks for the family or ready to pull out when guests arrive.
We ate seasonal this week. Growing your own produce is a great way to keep seasonal. Another big indicator is price. If the goods are not readily available locally, you can bet the suppliers will get them from far and wide just to quench the consumers, “must have always” mentality, especially if we are prepared to pay through the nose instead of just saying, “what’s in season now?”
Our best fun cooking adventure this week was a Layered Pancake Pie. We had once had something like this at a cafe and we had some ready-cooked crepes in the freezer already (no idea whether they were made with local produce, sorry). I just roasted vegetables (carrot, onion, zucchini, sweet potato) and layered them with cooked chicken, sweet chilli, cream cheese spread thinned with a little milk. So easy and you could use any ingredients you like or have on hand.
We had chosen some activities that we already do: make yoghurt; compost kitchen scraps (we have tradition on-ground heaps, a tumble composter and have been storing and using Bokashi for about a year and are mixing traditional compost methods, permaculture, vermiculture and Bokashi together with lots of success (records of my trials will eventually be on my blog); wormfarm; visit local community garden; herb garden; preserve foods; ‘like’ Local Harvest on Facebook; read relevant books and research everything on the internet (yes, including bees).
What we did was to try and step these things up a notch or do something extra this week.
- I made Sweet Yoghurt Cheese for the first time;
- we added yet another compost pile (this one is a 205L drum with the top and bottom cut out – I had once used two of these alternatively as my only source of compost, with great success);
- my husband brought home prunings and garden waste from his home maintenance clients (something he had avoided for a while as it can be a bit of a bother with importing weeds). I will put the prunings through our mulcher to top up garden mulch;
- we didn’t visit a community garden though we often do. Our daughter’s partner works with a wonderful not-for-profit that develop community and school gardens across the Central Coast. Equilibrium Future Solutions uses and trains Natural Gardening methods;
- we have in garden herbs as well as smaller (at the back door) pot so we are now trialling some new-plants-from-old techniques which I’ll blog about later (we have celery, shallots (green onions) and onion bottoms nestled in ramekins lined with damp paper towel (so far seem preferable to sitting them in a glass of water). Our garlic, turmeric and ginger started sending shoots up so all we needed to do was pop them in the ground.
- I’m always reading my Permaculture books (Bill Mollison and Reny Mia Slay’s Introduction to Permaculture has been my constant companion for 25 years now and I still just want to read it). I chose “Extraordinary uses for ordinary things” for something different this week. Interesting, though I stop short of suggesting you rush out to buy the book. Some ideas were just the teensiest bit very strange (such as using marshmallows between your toes when doing your nails….really?)
- I had only just been investigating bees the past few weeks. I have a bee allergy so probably won’t be getting a hive, though we love to aid native bees to make themselves at home in our garden.
There are a few things we just didn’t achieve during the challenge:
1) Join a relevant group. My mind immediately went to Permaculture and I have been hesitant to become involved with the local group as I haven’t heard much about them and their meetings are a fair way from my home. I was a little bummed that I had chosen this challenge, but wasn’t going through with it anyway. On Sunday night we were watching a docco on the TV about landcare and I suddenly realised where I would better fit in. I will follow this up later.
2) Collect coffee grounds from a local cafe. I had been going to do this eventually, but hadn’t got around to it. Well, we still didn’t. It was a big week, we’ll put this back on the to do list.
We are already looking forward to next year so we can really sink our teeth in. In the meantime, we will continue evolving and changing and hopefully heading forwards with our food choices. We are proud to live in an area where ‘normal’ shops are sourcing products locally where possible. This only happens because everyday people are asking for it…everyday.
The Local Harvest Challenge gave us food for thought AND thought for food!
For USA residents: you can find the USA Local Harvest here.
Note: I will be including recipes separately on my blog shortly and, once I’ve got them entered, I’ll update pages with the links to them.