By Carol Havens

Slow Food Skagit River Salish Sea, our region's brand new convivium of the Slow Food Movement, is participating in Eat Local Week this year, from September 9 to 16. There will be tastings, demonstrations and special restaurant menus. But, what does Eat Local Week really mean?

I believe that Eat Local Week will be most rewarding if it is different for each of us. If each of us participates in our own, personal way, we can truly have an affect on our local food world of restaurants, grocery stores, farmers markets and farm stores, as well as our own gardens and home kitchens.

Sustainable Connections and Slow Food Fourth Corner, both based in Bellingham, held their first Eat Local Week last September. We here in the Skagit/Island region are joining them this year, to spread the concept to a greater audience. We hope that the Eat Local Week activities will also help to bring attention to the Slow Food Movement.

In Bellingham the week is kicked off by their Harvest Dinner fund raiser on the 10th of September. Throughout the week restaurants will challenge themselves to provide specific, pre-publicized meals and specials, creating a calendar of lunches and dinners at different restaurants throughout the week. They will work with their local Food Co-Op and create other attention raising events. They will also offer an Eat Local Pledge, through which individuals can "pledge" the level to which they intend to eat local for that one week period, or longer. These are all great projects, which we hope to duplicate, in our own way, in our region.

We will start small this year, and hope to grow our activities and publicity for next year. So, let's think about how we can all "celebrate" Eat Local Week. How can we all practice Eat Local Week in our own way?

The best way is for each of us to think about each food item we buy, cook and eat. Ask questions of yourself, and of others. Where did these potatoes come from? Why am I considering potatoes from the mid-west when the most wonderful potatoes are fresh, local and in season? Can I make the time to go to my local farmers market? Can I swing by the SV Food Co-Op on my way through Mt. Vernon? Can I talk to my supermarket produce manager about carrying fresh local potatoes? Or lettuce? Or cabbage? Why am I shopping in the industrial cheese section of the market when we have such amazing local cheese producers right here in the Skagit region? Have you tried Gothberg Farm's wonderful goat cheese? What is the difference between the industrially produced, corn feed-lot raised hamburger and the organic hamburger from grass fed, healthy cattle, raised right here at Skagit River Ranch?  Have you tasted the difference between the usual supermarket eggs from who knows where, and eggs from local chickens raised outdoors eating bugs and grass and organic grain? Have you tasted an heirloom tomato from Hedlin Farms? These foods are so full of flavor and nutrition, and the energy and concern of their producers that a meal becomes a meaningful, enjoyable occasion.

Some of these foods may cost more, some will not. But, even those that are more expensive than their bland, industrial, well traveled "equivalents" are sincerely a better value when you think about returning your money to the local economy rather than adding to the riches of giant corporations. Would you rather your money goes to your neighbor, working hard to produce quality food for our community, or to some conglomerate far away? And, taste the difference. Are these two foods really "equal"? Not even close!

Talk to your friends, neighbors and family about the food on the table. Sit down together and talk about it. Where did this come from? What food traveled the farthest to reach our home? Do you know where I can get local butter, or lamb, or whatever you are interested in? Have you thought about all the fuel spent to bring you this processed, packaged, microwaveable, item? Can I make the same thing easily? Can I buy this from someone closer?

Ask your local restaurants where their food comes from. You might be surprised. The Edison Inn features local hamburger and potatoes. Adrift Restaurant in Anacortes is focused on serving as much local food as possible. Rexville Grocery carries all kinds of locally produced foods. Many other restaurants and markets make a serious effort to support the local food growers and producers whenever possible. Ask, encourage, support! Write and tell me what you learn.

What about the foods that just can't be grown here? Which ones can you just not do without? How can you localize or improve your purchase of those items? I've decided that I have to have olive oil and salt to cook with. We can't grow olives here, but California is closer than Morocco. Maybe someone processes some artisanal salt locally. I could buy it to support that process, and use it some of the time, at least. I can live without lemons, if absolutely necessary, but I would hate to. In Europe citrus is raised in "orangerie's", or long glass houses, so that local lemons are possible at higher latitudes. Is that impossible here? I don't know.

Can we encourage the local supermarkets to expand their local buying programs? Can we encourage and support brave producers with dreams of greater local variety? We have so many wonderful local food products, from quince preserves to live oysters, that we truly can "eat local", and eat well. The dollars that go directly to your neighbor in return for high quality, wonderful tasting food, are the best dollars you can spend.

Please, share your ideas with me so I can share them in our next newsletter. Think about Eat Local Week before and after, as well as during the week of September 9 - 16. Talk about it! Start the conversation and get others thinking, too.

The Food Demonstration at the Anacortes Farmers Market, the Field Trip to Gothberg Farms and the Slow Food Community Pot Luck will all take place during Eat Local Week. Let's each create our own "activities" to spread the word. Invite some friends to dinner, at home or in a restaurant, and talk about where your food comes from. Thank you!