By Johanna Bergan
love food – all kinds of food—restaurant fare, home cooked hot dish, fresh picked green beans, and potluck —anything gets me smiling. However, one season out of the year gets me excited about food in a far different way than any other – and we are in it. Late summer in Iowa is the best time to love food! My exploration and love of this season stems from corn-husking parties at Grandma’s house, an annual event since I was young. We paired our corn with my favorites: garden-fresh green beans, radishes, and kohlrabi at the dinner table. But don’t think Iowa foods are limited to vegetables, Iowa has a lot to offer. An example of what I love about Iowa food is honey. Honey is good any day – golden, sweet and syrupy, but honey collected from hives in a field of mint, bought on the roadside of a windy highway along the Mississippi and served with blackberries and ice cream is divine. So I have decided to fully take on the Eat Local Challenge with a goal of 80% local foods. This year I am determined to spend the month of September (when I am at home nursing a new little boy and cooking with my daughter) enjoying local Iowa food to the fullest. I want to invite you, no make that challenge you to join me.
I urge you to take on this Eat Local Challenge for THREE reasons. The first, and hopefully most fun for you and your family, is to explore new Iowa grown heirloom foods for an entire month. Nothing can compare to a Moon & Stars Watermelon* shared by a campfire, followed by a seed-spitting contest. Local producers often focus on growing unique fruits and vegetables to provide variety to the norm seen on grocery shelves in January. Sungold tomatoes burst in your mouth, dark purple Italian lettuces bring a color never seen at the kitchen table and Luscious pears bring a new sweetness to the definition of fruit. The search for these wonderful fruits and vegetables native to our area is the second reason to take up this challenge. Just like the Driftless Safari** will send you on an adventure around Winneshiek County exploring natural places while being physically active – looking for local food can do the same. Farmer’s Markets are up for operation well past September in at least 25 towns in NE Iowa alone. Roadside stands exist in nearly every county (might I suggest the Amish Farmer’s Market featured in Minnesota Monthly’s August edition just outside of Harmony, MN) with friendly producers ready to sell the freshest from their fields. More and more frequently restaurants are listing local food producers on their menus and even in each dish; making eating out during this season fresh and easy.
The impact your family’s search for local foods will make is a strong motivator in taking on this challenge as well. Feeling good about finding fresh, nutritious foods at farmer’s markets is like eating a bowl of ice cream and the cherry on top. It’s handing money earned right here in Winneshiek County to another member of our community. The knowledge that money will be invested in the local economy at a greater amount than the dollars just spent at a corporate store based across state lines brings a smile to everyone involved. Who knew that eating the food I love could also expand and grow the community I love and live and eat it in.
So please! Join my family and me as we strike out to eat an 80% local diet throughout the month of September. Know that we welcome you on this local journey at whatever pace you are ready to take. Whether your goal is to eat one local fruit or vegetable in each meal or to eat an entirely local Sunday brunch each week of September, both are excellent (and delicious) places to start.
*Heirloom Watermelon variety available through Seed Savers Exchange.
**www.drifless-safari.org to learn more about this countywide treasure hunt sponsored by the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative, which creates an opportunity for families and children to play outside together.