Day 5: The home stretch

Daily blog and photos by Robert Plain(update) Robert Plain's final article will run in Saturday's issue of The Daily Tidings.

Friday 7:45 a.m. — With something like 48 hours left in my Eat Local Week, tonight will be my biggest challenge. Ever since I was a child, I have always maintained a tradition of ordering pizza on Friday night. Tonight Julie and I will make our own pizza, which is delicious in its own way but not — by any stretch of the imagination — the same greasy pleasure that pizza parlor pizza is.

All things being equal, there are delightful and difficult aspects to eating locally. Because there is nothing more important than the food we eat, it makes a lot of sense to devote a large portion of our lives to our diets, and it is very satisfying to do so. On the other hand, I sure did want to eat a bag of potato chips while watching a movie last night.

Instead I had home-made plum fruit bars. It felt a little bit like drinking red wine with fish.

Speaking of wine, tonight I will celebrate making it this far with some local libations. Alcohol, it seems, is one of the easiest items to attain locally. A friend is supposed to set me up with some of his friend’s home brew, and if that falls through I’ll either grab a six pack of Caldera or stop into Standing Stone for a few pints.

Julie, my life and eating-local partner, is a wine drinker, and as such, has an easy time tying a buzz on within the constraints of the 100-mile diet.

It strikes me as kind of curious that its so easy to find locally-made cocktails, while basic staples need to be imported. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that we want life to be easy. It’s certainly easier to buy cheap, mass-produced food than it is to grow or prepare your own.

Maybe all that will begin to change as gas prices continue to rise. If so, this week of eating locally has definitely taught me about both the costs and benefits of trying to keep myself nourished with a smaller carbon footprint. Day 4: The Tidings tomato taste-off

Thursday 1:45 p.m. — Charlene Rollins, co-owner of New Sammy’s Cowboy Bistro, said it best when she told me yesterday, “You can only get the best tasting tomato from your own back yard.”

As far as my taste buds are concerned, the best part of Eat Local Week — and eating local in general — is fresh, garden-grown tomatoes. They are among my favorite things in life.

If I do say so myself, we grow a pretty tasty tomato — ours won the Tastiest Tomato at last year’s Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market annual competition. Therefore, I thought Eat Local Week was the perfect opportunity to show off our award-winning, vine-ripened beauties to my co-workers.

I brought in a Brandywine, a Purple Cherokee, a Black Russian and a Rainbow. The first three are heirloom varieties, and the last is one of the newer, hybridized breeds. Heirloom plants, or heritage varieties, are the vegetables that early farmers grew before industrialization entered into agriculture.

— — —

From left to right: Purple Cherokee, Rainbow, Black Russian and Brandywine. All these tomatos were grown in our garden.

— Unlike the tomatoes you may find in the conventional grocery store, heirlooms are rarely perfectly red or round. Brandywines are kind of pinkish, and the Cherokee and Russian varieties are a swirl of red, black and green. All three kinds can be better described as bulbous than round.

Another difference between heirloom tomatoes and conventional varieties — and a much more important distinction — is the taste. I’ve yet to meet the person who doesn’t agree that the taste of the heirlooms far outstrips the Big Boys and Early Girls varieties that are found in the grocery store. (I brought in the Rainbow so the staff could taste the difference between an heirloom and a conventional tomato.)

Everyone in the newsroom had their own favorite — some preferred the Purple Cherokee, while others liked the Black Russian better — but the one thing we all agreed on is that heirlooms are far and away more tasty than are the genetically modified, store-bought tomatoes most of us grew up eating.

I think I may have won a few converts. Though I can’t tell; they might have just been being polite.

— — —

City Editor Myles Murphy masticates an open-faced tomato sandwich made with homegrown Russian Black tomatos.

— This time of year, I eat about two tomatoes every day. It can get a little monotonous, but considering in June I eat spinach pies every day, a couple of tomatoes a day is a welcome change, and probably helps keep the doctor away too. Day 4: Local beverages

Thursday 7:45 a.m. — Last night’s dinner was peppers, stuffed with cheese made from our neighbor’s goat milk, covered with homemade salsa. The peppers were roasted over an open fire, then deep fried. Eating locally can be like heaven on earth.

Drinking locally, on the other hand, is not quite as easy. Of course, there are plenty of local beers and wines which I’ll get into closer to the weekend but if you want to stay sober, drinking locally can involve some preparation time.

— In the summertime we live on homemade lemonade, which beyond the water has no local ingredients. In the winter, we drink mint and chamomile tea, which we forage from the back yard.

We also drink a lot of kvass and kefir. Both are fermented, probiotic beverages that are a little bit like homemade, kambucha-style drinks. Both are also hyper local.

, I often joke, is like beet soda. We take beets from the garden, put them in a bucket of water with some salt and whey, and then let it sit in a closed, plastic container for about a month. Viola, you have beet soda! It’s tastier than I make it sound, although my editor says it tastes like vinegar. — — —

I take a swig from my jar of .

is like drinkable yogurt. We got some granules from our neighbor who milks goats. Because it is a living organism, it reproduces and we can hardly drink it fast enough. It tastes a little sour to me, but we mix in fresh peaches or blackberries and - confession time maple syrup.

Day 3: Eating out

Wednesday 2:20 p.m. — Despite what it may seem like based on this blog so far, you really don’t have to totally change around your lifestyle in order to eat locally. In fact, there are a number of Ashland area restaurants that offer local cuisine.

One of the oldest and most popular area restaurants that serves local faire is New Sammy’s Cowboy Bistro. For 18 years outside of Ashland, and for 30 years in total, the high end eatery has been preparing local, in-season gourmet dishes.

“You can only get the best tasting tomato from your own back yard,” said co-owner Charlene Rollins. “When you buy produce from across the country, you have to pick it before it is ripe. Once you taste the difference, why would you serve a bad-tasting tomato.”

New Sammy’s sits on seven acres on Highway 99, and Rollins and her husband Vernon have a garden in the back where much of their produce comes from. The remainder comes from other farms in the area more acclimated to growing greens.

So local is New Sammy’s that they don’t even serve summer produce in the winter time. Instead their winter-time menu includes veggies that store well over the winter, like carrots, potatoes and brussel sprouts.

Pangea, on East Main Street, is another local restaurant committed to serving fresh, local food.

“Whenever what we are looking for is in season, we buy it locally” Roanna Rosewood, who co-owns Pangea with her husband Marc, said. “This time of year, it’s easy to get almost anything locally.”

Rosewood grew up eating local foods. Her mother, Rebecca Wood, is the author of “The Splendid Grain” and the “Whole Foods Encyclopedia,” two of the more well-known books about the local, organic food movement.

When she first met her husband, who was trained as a chef in a culinary school, they felt they could combine their two food skill sets to make a business model that would work for Ashland. For nine years now, Pangea has been thriving in downtown Ashland.

“We do it because we think it is the right thing to do,” she said. “We want to support local people rather than corporations. I think it matters more to our customers than it did in the beginning.”

Grilla Bites, Geppetto’s and Pilafs are other downtown restaurants that serve local ingredients on their menu. Geppetto’s owners Ron Roth and Kathleen MacMichael also own Eagle Mill Farm and get much of the produce for the restaurant from the farm.

Grilla Bites, a new restaurant to Ashland, also gets a portion of its produce from Eagle Mill Farm. This week, to celebrate Eat Local Week, they are offering a special sandwich called the Roasted Local Veggie Sandwich. It includes roasted eggplant, peppers and onions, cheddar cheese from Rogue Creamery in Central Point and a sourdough wheat bun, baked by the Village Baker on East Main Street.

Day 3: Eating our neighbor

Wednesday 7:15 a.m. — Like so many a meal for the localvore, today’s lunch was no easy affair. In fact, Julie and I spent nearly an entire Saturday cooking the pot roast that I will today eat as leftovers for what seems the umpteenth time.

A neighbor of ours buys his beef by the side, right from a nearby farmer. When he heard about my eat local assignment, he offered to donate a roast to the cause. A roast is a thick cut of beef that always seems to be the last one to be eaten. Not necessarily because of its taste, but more because of its rigorous preparation requirements. To cook such a thick cut all the way through, it’s got to bake all day.

Having a lot of garden chores to attend to, and with a baseball game on the radio, we decided to roast our roast in a cast iron pot on the backyard hibachi. Seem like a lot of work? Not to us; indeed slow cooking a side of beef over an open flame for the better part of a Saturday, while we weed and listen to the Red Sox, is what it’s all about. Considering that side of beef was once a neighbor of ours, it seemed fitting to do something special.

We don’t typically buy our meat directly from farmers, mostly because we don’t have the freezer space to store it. Our neighbor, on the other hand, does. Every year he buys a half a cow from the farm that abuts both of our houses. For $2.50 a pound, he gets enough ground beef, steaks and other assorted cuts to last his family all year and he told me they eat meat a few times a week.

He didn’t give me exact figures, but he led me to believe it was a tremendous cost savings compared to including a couple of middlemen in the process. Sure, if you’ve got a meat locker and a couple hundred dollars to invest in a portion of your annual grocery expenditure. If you’re a tried and true carnivore, eating locally is more difficult, regardless of the size of one’s foodshed.

Ashland City Councilor Russ Silbiger does it, though. His girlfriend lives just outside of Ashland on 10-acres and raises one cow each year that gives them an ample supply of local, all grass-fed, beef. To help me through my Eat Local Week, he said he’d drop off a steak for me to sample....

Day 2: Far-flung farmers and CSAs

(Sept. 11) Tuesday 12:30 p.m. — The Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market, which meets every Tuesday of the season at the new Ashland Armory on East Main Street, is undoubtedly the best and biggest collection of local food in Ashland. Shoppers can find everything from local fruits and vegetables, to home-made bakery and lunch items.

However, of the approximately 40 farmers who have booths at Ashland’s lone farmer’s market, only Eagle Mill Farm is from the Ashland area - right outside of town on Eagle Mill Road. The next closest farm to frequent the market is Fry Family Farm, which is on Wagner Creek Road.

Ashland City Councilor and organic grower Eric Navickas, whose farm is in Prospect, said the high cost of land has made new farms a scarce commodity in and around Ashland.

“If we wanted to buy a place around here our mortgage would be double or triple what it is in Prospect,” he said on Tuesday.

Navickas runs the farm, Upper Rogue Organics, with his brother Ryan. Both have been commuting to their far-flung farm from the Ashland area for the past six years.

Ryan Navickas said the commuting costs him about $160 a month.

Both Eagle Mill Farm and Fry Family Farm have found a business model that allows them to save on gas. In addition to frequenting the farmer’s market, they both operate community supported agriculture, or CSA, models.

A CSA is when customers pay for produce at the beginning of the season and pick of boxes of food as it is ready. The Fry farm has been doing it for years and has more than 100 members, Laurie Hultquist, a seven-year employee of Fry Family Farm, said.

This is Eagle Mill Farm’s first full year running a CSA, and they already have almost 20 members.

“Our goal is to get the community involved in our farm,” Timothy Land, an employee, said. Some CSA members buy their produce in cash, others, Land said, purchase it through work trade.

On Wednesday, from 6 to 8 p.m., Eagle Mill Farm will be holding a harvest party, at which anyone is invited to help them bring in the bounty.

“It’s very grounding to be working in the soil,” Land said. “I guess, pun intended.”

Every Tuesday I try to make it down to the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market, held at the new Ashland Armory on East Main Street.

Ashland's Grower's Market patrons participate in tomato tasting Tuesday at an event organized by Wendy Siporen, right.

Day 2: Coffee or local, you can't do both

Tuesday 6:30 a.m. — If there is one item in my diet that I can’t do without, and can’t obtain locally, it’s coffee. That’s right, I am one of the literally hundreds of millions of Americans who, cumulatively, spend tens of billions of dollars on coffee annually. In 1999, a research firm estimated that the average coffee-consuming American spends about $164 a year on coffee. That actually sounds pretty cheap compared to my addiction; if someone bought a cup of coffee every day for a year from a coffee shop, he or she would have to shell out almost a thousand dollars.

I buy it in bulk — grind and brew it myself — and still spend more than $200 a year on coffee. My choice is Mellelo, a Medford company that roasts the beans themselves. The closest a continental United States resident can get to local coffee is to find a company that roasts their own coffee berries, or beans. Mellelo is just one of many local businesses that roasts their own. My coffee beans may come from Sumatra, half-way around the world in Indonesia, but the value is added locally.

Another trick to localling-up your morning pick-me-up is to mix it with chicory root. An invasive weed that grows all over Southern Oregon, and the U.S. in general, chicory root has for generations been used as a coffee substitute in Europe. The downside, of course, is that it is naturally decaffeinated...

I’m a cream and sugar kind-of coffee drinker, and if I can’t do without the coffee I can at least live without these rarely-local coffee condiments. I considered using goat milk instead of cream, but haven’t mustered up the courage to throw that kind of monkey-wrench into my morning routine.

Cheers!!! I’ll post again later, after I get back from the grower’s market later today.

Day 1: Shopping at the Co-op

Monday 2:00 p.m. — I was wrong; the Ashland Food Co-op still sells locally grown flour. Despite what I said in my last post, Gary Black, of Black Ranch in Scott Valley, California, still delivers his organic, whole wheat flour to the food co-op in Ashland. You can even buy the flour in berry form, which is the edible part of wheat before it is ground into flour.

A popular way to celebrate Eat Local Week is to participate in what is known as the 100-mile diet, a diet consisting of foods from a radius of 100-miles. Because this is the boundary the Co-op uses for a local diet, Black Ranch flour qualifies.

As part of Eat Local Week, I went food shopping today with Annie Hoy, Outreach Manager of the Ashland Food Co-op, and she told me that offering locally grown and/or made products has always been a part of the grocery store’s core mission.

She didn’t know what percentage of the Co-op’s overall business is local, but she estimated 20 percent of the fruits and vegetables they sell this time of year is from local growers.

“We’ve often tried to come up with a number, but we’ve got so many products its daunting to flush out,” Hoy said. “The highest percentage is in produce, and we’re not so high in packaged, dry grocery items.”

Hoy said when they are in season, the Co-op will sell six local tomatoes for every one conventional, organic tomato they sell from California.

“But it really depends on how they look,” she added. “If the California tomato looks better, its’ going to sell.”

The 100-mile diet also allows the Co-op to label Emerald Hills beef, from Riddle, and Magnolia Farms lamb, from Roseburg, as local. — — — Outreach Manager Annie Hoy inspects local produce at the Ashland Food Co-op Monday. —

As far as locally-produced meat, available at grocery stores, this is as local as one can get.

The reason, Hoy explained, is “because there are not enough USDA-certified slaughter facilities. The nearest processing facility is in Springfield.”

She said there are plenty of people raising their own meat, especially chicken, but because federal regulations are stiff about how it gets cut up, its hard for those farmers to bring it to market. She said those who are lucky enough to know ranchers, don’t have to worry about the regulatory process.

Like me, the Co-op doesn’t have a local source of olive oil. They sell the variety that Rising Sun Farms bottles, but that oil is no more from the area than any other variety, Hoy said.

“Olive trees just don’t grow around here,” she said. “Certainly not in the scale that they do in California. You could probably grow one in your yard.”

The Co-op still lists Dagoba chocolate as locally made, even though the Ashland company was recently bought by the Hershey’s company, and the chocolate they use comes from many thousands of miles away.

“They are still part of our community,” Hoy said.

One change the food co-op is making this year during Eat Local Week is they will begin to label what the local products are. She said if it helps consumers think about where their money is going it is worth the effort.

“It forces people to think on a deeper level about the consequences of buying an apple from New Zealand or one from an Oregon farmer,” she said.

Day 1: a near miss with garden parmThin-sliced filets of fresh eggplant and zucchini, covered in thick mozzarella, made from the milk of nearby goats, and deep red, pepper and onion marinara sauce, the product of home-grown produce that only hours ago was still growing in the garden. All of its ingredients — except for the salt and olive oil — were raised right in my back yard.

That, a glass of carrot juice, and a slice of homemade bread was my inaugural meal in the annual Ashland-area Eat Local challenge. For the next seven days I am challenging myself, with some cajoling from my newsroom cohorts, to maintain the diet of a localvore.

A localvore (or locavore, or foodie, as some are calling this new phenomenon) is someone whose food comes from local sources. As I discovered on my first meal of the challenge, even here in the ever-fertile area around Ashland, it is near-impossible to derive one’s entire diet from the Rogue Valley. Localism, therefore, is more broadly understood as the attempt to eat from within a given foodshed. — — — Robert Plain —

My goal is to limit my gastronomical boundaries to the rural road I live on outside of Ashland. Others are choosing the Rogue Valley, Oregon, the Pacific Northwest, or wherever their foodshed may be. The Eat Local Challenge is happening all over the country, and has even been attempted in New York City.

Because the local food movement is a grassroots reaction to the fear that diminishing oil reserves will make the current system of food distribution exorbitantly expensive or impossible, it’s more of a social statement than a hard and fast benchmark. For some it may mean goat milk, rather than cow cream. For others, it may mean Omar’s, rather than the Outback.

Think of it as organics for the economy. The idea is to give the money you spend on food to your neighbor rather than a corporate food conglomeration, where businessmen — not farmers — reap the lion’s share of the profits.

Though mine may be a fruitless objective, if you’ll pardon the pun, it’s not as far a stretch as the average American food consumer may suspect. We grow — and put up — fruits and vegetables, have neighbors who raise and trade beef and eggs, and participate in work/trade relationships with nearby goat dairy farmers.

Even with all these advantages, my girlfriend Julie and I still can’t bake a loaf of bread without violating the parameters of our foodshed. Yeast is much easier to buy than to brew at home, and flour is a commodity not yet conveniently available in the boutique food market. A grower from the Shasta region used to sell bulk organic, whole-grain wheat at the Ashland Food Co-op, but has recently ceased. Butte Creek Mill, in Eagle Point, sells individual loaf-sized bread ingredients at several area markets, but one package costs more than a bakery-fresh loaf of specialty bread.

I’ll be keeping a Web-journal of the near-misses of my mostly-monotonous, though often delicious, diet, as well as visiting with some of the local institutions that make eating locally easier, such as the co-op, the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market, and — expense account-willing — at least a few area restaurants that boast of locally-grown ingredients.

…Talk to you all later, after I enjoy another helping of garden parm, and then go food shopping at the co-op!

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