Local Food Forum & Real Food Challenge

I don’t think you can get much more “real” than chicken feet stock- but in hopes to keep it real, I have joined in Jenny’s Real Food Challenge at The Nourished Kitchen. Every day she is emailing an assignment to help learn about the principles of a nourishing diet including the importance of grass-finished and pastured meats, wholesome fats, sprouted and soured grains and probiotic foods. (her words)

Great idea right? Think it’s easy? NO! Day #1’s assignment- throw out all the non-real food items in your pantry. Already I was a failure, and we hadn’t even gotten started yet. I was chatting with someone on twitter about it and she said just do it- you’ll fell so much better for it. I’m sure she’s right, but I am too cheap for that. And I can’t do that to the kids. So my (cheating) approach to this is baby steps.

I did go shopping yesterday and purchased some of the real foods that were on her list in day #2’s assignment. I was pleased to find every thing I wanted to buy except sprouted grain. Don’t ask me exactly what that is, I bought whole wheat flour instead. I was pleasantly surprised to find these things at my local Shaw’s: sea salt, turbinado, sucanat, quinoa, whole flaxseed, and raw honey.

I also bought a container of yogurt to use as a starter to make my own. I went to the Local Food Forum on Wednesday and was talking to a man I met there about homemade yogurt. It was something I have been thinking of for a long time and that conversation made me think now was finally the time to give a try. My most exciting purchase was Rhody Fresh Milk. If you have been reading any of my “adventures” with food, you know that I am very frugal when it comes to the grocery bill, but I also decided that it was time to put my money where my mouth is so to speak. Yea local!!

So, as far as the real food challenge is going- I am thinking more about what we are eating. I am trying some new recipes- (hint, more crazy chicken parts.) Not following the rules at all, but good enough for me.

As I mentioned, I went to the Local Food Forum this week, an annual event put on by Farm Fresh RI. This years theme was “fresh for all”- to discuss the goal of all Rhode Islander’s having access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Currently WIC gives farmers market vouchers to use as cash at approved markets. They are also starting a new program to also give separate fruit & vegetable vouchers. These could be used at farmers markets or anywhere fresh fruits or vegetables were sold.

This years keynote speaker was Gus Schumacher who was the USDA’s undersecretary for Agriculture during President Clinton’s tenure. Currently he is the chairman for the Wholesome Wave Foundation. This organization, amongst other things, matches WIC dollars for families to purchase fresh foods at local farmers markets. He discussed some innovative things happening all over the country in farmers markets and the changing faces of America’s farmers. For example, one market would give prizes to children if their parents brought them to the farmers market in successive weeks. The first was a coloring book, the next a tee shirt and the third was extra vouchers for more vegetables! In Connecticut, they are using the market mobile idea (see here for an explanation) to purchase second grade vegetables from the farmers at a reduced cost and selling them at the farmers markets for half price. This way the farmer gets some money for produce they would have otherwise had to waste and people get access to less than perfect (but still perfectly acceptable) produce. That is win-win!

Another win-win concept is using WIC or SNAP dollars better at the farmers markets. There is about 700 million dollars going out to WIC recipients in produce dollars. What if even 1% were to go back to the local farmer? If my math is right, that 7 million dollars!! Not to mention the health benefit to the families- 30% of children under the age of 5 are pre-diabetic. What is more cost effective- paying for these children to eat more produce as children or paying for their health care costs as adults- hmmm…….

Another thing that I found to be a very progressive RI idea was Johnson & Wales has students that go to farmers markets and prepare dishes focusing moistly on WIC approved foods. Not only can parents buy healthy foods, but they can learn what to do with them & try the prepared food right on the spot.

After the keynote speaker, it was networking time. The idea was to sit with a new group of people every 15 minutes or so- they would come over the mic and encourage us to switch tables. I met so many interesting people- big & small farmers, local Tiverton farmers living right around the corner, restaurant owners, graphic designers, people interested in sustainable living, many people interested in teaching kids how to eat healthy. I even met a friend of a friend that I have been interested in connecting with for months!

After lunch (all delicious local foods) we again had round table discussions this time on specific topics. I chose to go to the new farmer table. The friends I went with went to the RI meat and local food tables. I learned a bit about what some other farmers are struggling with and met someone from the RI farm bureau and the New England Farmers Union. I wish we had more time to for a few more discussions but we had to get the kids off the bus. I was very excited to receive an email list of all who attended and their contact info so maybe I can still make some of those connections.