Citizen Wausau

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You Are Where You Eat, So Eat Where You Are

by on October 17th, 2007

The place you live offers options on what you eat. This past September 2007 the citizens of Wisconsin had an opportunity to participate in the “Wisconsin Eat Local Challenge” and become more aware of food choices that are locally grown or produced.

The Wisconsin Eat Local Challenge was a ten-day food challenge running from September 14th to 23rd, 2007. The purpose of the challenge was to help citizens become more aware of buying food from locally grown and raised sources. The challenge encouraged food shoppers to spend at least 10% of their food budget on food sourced within a one hundred mile radius of their home or from sources within the State of Wisconsin.

The event was organized by a statewide team of volunteers and groups to increase awareness of local food production and distribution (see a complete list of organizers). The supporters include groups such as the Center for Integrated Agricultural Studies at the UW-Madison, and the non-profit organization Michael Fields Agricultural Institute located in East Troy, Wisconsin.

Four steps to eat local

State-wide participation in the challenge included two main steps:

1. Sign up to “Eat Local”
2. Download the scorecard

Fortunately, residents in the Wausau area had the distinct advantage of two additional steps through the efforts of two local groups: the Simple & Sustainable Living Network of Central Wisconsin, and Downtown Grocery, who teamed together to add two enjoyable steps for challenge participants: a Wausau Team and bright yellow tags!

3. Join the Wausau team!

The Simple & Sustainable Living Network of Central Wisconsin is a community–minded group working on a number of projects and their September project was to organize participation in a Wausau “Eat Local” Team to increase the awareness and to provide a support network to maximize the goal to spend 10% of each families food budget on foods meeting the challenge critieria. The Network’s kick-off even for the challenge was a community meeting held in the lobby of the Unitarian Universalist Church, on the corner of Fifth and Grant Streets.

The September Kick-off meeting featured a presentation and discussion lead by a local farm couple, Kat Becker and Tony Schultz, on the economic and social benefits related to purchasing directly from farmers or producers at farm markets, from farmers themselves, or from stores that that emphasis local production, such as Downtown Grocery, which is a Wausau grocery store owned by a local farmer, Blaine Tornow.

4. Look for bright yellow tags at Downtown Grocery!

To assist participants in the challenge to achieve the 10% goal, Downtown Grocery in Wausau added bright yellow tags to over 200 store items that met the “Eat Local Challenge” criteria. The bright yellow tags made it faster and easier for shoppers to find items and focus their efforts to achieve their goal. Store staff saved time for the challenge participants because staff read every label on every item in the store to find all of the selections that met the challenge criteria thus giving shoppers the speed advantage to maximize food awareness and their dollars on local food. Food items were diverse and included fruits, vegetables, milk, cheese, butter, eggs, meats, teas, coffee, crackers, honey, maple syrup, maple sugar, frozen foods such as pasties, quiches, pesto and egg rolls plus baked goods, beer, soda, and snack items.

Shorten distance between food producer and consumer

Eating foods grown or produced as close to home as possible increases local production capacities, local diversity and local economic independence. Locally grown or processed foods can be found through directly purchasing from farmers, visiting farm markets, or shopping at locally-focused food stores. Several web-based search engines can assist consumers in finding farmers, farm markets and locally-minded food stores: for example, Savor Wisconsin, Eat Wild, or Local Harvest.

Shortening the distance between the food producer and the food consumer is valuable for many reasons and the ““Eat Local Challenge” outlined four ideas:

  1. It’s fun to find local foods such as visiting farm markets;
  2. It helps local farmers have a profitable market year;
  3. It helps the earth because local food uses less energy for transport;
  4. It helps communities by keeping more food dollars in the local area.

Sourcing food locally or sourcing food within our foodshed (a “foodshed” is a concept derived from the term watershed) is important because food buying is one of the easiest and accessible methods to help nurture our local economy by increasing local production capacities, increasing the diversity of items grown or produced locally, and helping to grow our local economic independence.

Eat responsibly

The idea to eat foods grown or produced close to home is not a new idea. Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer and philosopher. Over the past 30 years he has written about the benefits of growing local economies and supporting local farmers. A collection of Berry’s essays were published in 2002 and titled “The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry” and a summary of those essays illustrates his notions of local food economies and his idea to “eat responsibly”. The idea to eat responsibly is summarized below through eight approaches to be mindful of when thinking about the food we eat:

  • Deal directly with a local farmer whenever possible
  • Prepare your own food
  • Participate in food production to that extent that you can raise herbs in a window pot if that’s what you can do
  • Learn the origins of the food you buy
  • Buy food produced close to your home
  • Learn what is involved in the best farming and gardening
  • Learn as much as you can of the life histories of food species
  • Learn, in self-defense, as much as you can of the economy and technology of industrial food production.

These approaches by Berry to eat responsibly correlate well with the four reasons outlined in the Eat Local Challenge criteria noted earlier to shorten the distance between the food producer and the food consumer.

Did the Wausau Team meet their goal?

The “Eat Local Challenge” Wausau Team did well. Approximately 30 people participated on the Wausau team and 540 participants were registered state-wide. The full reports have not yet been tallied but overall the Wausau participants reported that they easily met the 10% goal and in many cases they had exceeded 50% or more of their food budget on local sources.

Challenges for the Challenge

The “Wisconsin Eat Local Challenge” opened awareness and discussion about local food options and opportunities to strengthen our local food economy. The challenge, of course had several challenges, for example:

  • Revise scorecard: the Wausau Team will ask the state-wide organizers to revise the scorecard to account better for the value of food grown in one’s own garden;
  • Extend the challenge to more than ten days: the Wausau Team will ask the state-wide organizers to consider extending the challenge to a full month versus only ten days to allow for more activities to be coordinated with the event;
  • Move Kick-off meeting prior to start of challenge: the organizers of the Wausau Team held the kick-off meeting on the third day of the challenge and they’ll work to hold that first earlier to maximize the public awareness;
  • Increase participation: the organizers of the Wausau Team will work to increase the number of participates through coordinated events such as movie nights to feature movies and discussions about food, farming, cooking, and cuisine.
Connect place to people

Eating food from local sources is not necessarily more difficult than eating foods sourced from other places but an awareness of the choices that are available makes food shopping easier. Helpful too are state-wide food events, such as the Wisconsin Eat Local Challenge, and local initiatives, such as local teams and bright yellow tags, to advance more quickly our food awareness to help connect place to people.

[Editor's Note: Kevin Korpela is co-owner of Downtown Grocery.]

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