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Locavore Stocks Up for Winter

Justin Rothboeck's local-food experiment is about to get a whole lot harder. Rothboeck is trying to eat food grown, processed and sold in Oregon or Washington for an entire year.

He started June 23. It was the heart of the farmers market season, where booths at Salem's Wednesday and Saturday farmers markets overflowed with local berries, greens and other vegetables, and locally raised meat. But his supply of easy-to-access, locally grown food will dwindle at the end of October when the outdoor farmers markets end.

"I don't think it will be a matter of starvation. It will be a matter of will," Rothboeck said. "There will be enough meat and grain, but I am going to be lacking some fresh fruit and vegetables."

He plans to binge-buy at the farmers markets, preserve fruits and vegetables for the winter and change his diet to reflect the lack of food diversity in the winter. He'll still have Salem's oldest farmers market to patronize -- the indoor market on Rural Avenue SE -- but the pickings will be slim with the cold weather.

That's not to say that his experiment has been easy so far. In the past several months Rothboeck has been forced to make more concessions to his local diet than he would like, and has not been able to keep his daytime snacks and restaurant fare solely local.

The biggest obstacle: time.

He's asked at various restaurants around town if their food is local. Some people don't know. Some say they try to buy local but couldn't be sure at any given time which food is local. Some use local meat or vegetable suppliers but don't know where the suppliers get their food.
"I decided it was too much work to investigate," Rothboeck said. "I sometimes wish I had an assistant to investigate these things."

And as a Willamette University law student working at the state Department of Justice, Rothboeck doesn't have time to plan snacks -- he often has to eat on the go.

His meals at home, however, are all local, and that means more work depending on what he has an appetite for. Take spaghetti, for example. Throwing dried pasta into a pot of boiling water and heating a jar of sauce would suffice for most people.

Not someone on a Pacific Northwest diet.

Rothboeck had to make the pasta from scratch: roll it out, cut it into fettuccine-like strips and let it dry a bit.

Other must-have ingredients can foil a would-be local eater. Or at least take an entire day to make. To can jam, for example, Rothboeck needed pectin, a natural substance found in fruits that is used as a gelling agent. So he made some from apples. He's not sure it worked.

"The efficacy of my pectin remains unverified," he wrote in his blog on Aug. 21. " ... the general jam recipe includes mashed blackberries, honey and liquid pectin. The problem with this mixture, and maybe I'm stating the obvious, is that it's all liquid. First of all, I don't think any strength of liquid pectin could solidify this mixture in the 1-minute boil time of most sugar-pectin jams. Second, I don't know if pectin reacts with honey in the same way it reacts with sugar, or at all."

When Rothboeck canned corn, he spent an entire day picking it and another day canning it. "It is a little nerve-racking because the consequences of not doing it properly are serious -- botulism," he said.
Even though he has had to make concessions and spend long hours preparing food, Rothboeck's experiment has yielded some of what he had hoped. For one, he's connected with local farmers. He knows the vendors at the farmers market by name.

He cooks more with basic ingredients instead of processed foods -- meaning his food is fresher. Locally grown fruits and vegetables are usually sold within 24 hours of being harvested.
Rothboeck also has inspired others to notice where their food comes from and buy local, keeping even more money than just his own in the community. According to the Eat Local campaign by Ecotrust, buying food at a farmers market means that more than 90 cents of every dollar goes to the farmer.
Rothboeck also wants to reduce the pollution associated with food traveling thousands of miles from farm to table. In the United States, an average dinner travels 1,500 miles before being eaten. When the source of food is that far away, it is hard to determine how it was grown. Was it grown in a way that conserves soil, with fair wages to workers and without many chemical inputs -- or not?

"We have a much higher likelihood in being able to gather information about production practices of food when we are closer to the source," said Deborah Kane, vice president of the Food and Farms program at Portland-based Ecotrust. "It is easier for me to see the farmer's practices down the road than for me to fly to Argentina to see practices."

In the end, Rothboeck's experiment might reveal something about human nature that is more basic than food miles traveled, money remaining in the community or agricultural practices.

"People are happier when they are connected to the landscape where they are living," said Willamette University Professor Kimberlee Chambers, who is teaching a class this semester called the Geography of Food. "It gives people a sense of belonging. In order to appreciate something, we have to understand it."

Reprinted courtesy of the Statesman Journal and Beth Casper