Hard to believe, but it's now been four years since I started transitioning to eating as a locavore (a person who eats only locally grown food, as much as possible). I've learned a lot about food, met a lot of wonderful people doing work related to food, and learned a lot about Whatcom County in that time.
I started seeking out local foods because I was beginning to experience some health problems that I was pretty certain were related to my long-term eating habits. I always felt tired, I had been slowly gaining weight, my joints were starting to ache, and I just generally didn't feel good. Not really ill, but not good, either.
At first, finding local ingredients (defined as grown in Whatcom County) was very difficult, much harder than I had expected. I set a goal of preparing one meal a week with local ingredients, and for awhile I struggled to accomplish even that.
Since it was February, there were no farmers markets open, so I had to rely almost entirely on what I could find at the Community Food Co-op stores and at Terra Organica. Potatoes, kale, eggs and dairy, along with some wildcrafted nettles, made up the bulk of my weekly locavore meals. (Recipe below was the first one published on my blog.) Fortunately, that got me through until the growing season began and added more variety to my available ingredients.
Gradually I discovered resources that opened the door to eating locally more than once a week. The most valuable find was the Food and Farm Finder published annually by Sustainable Connections (available at the Co-op and Terra Organica). That small booklet contains an encyclopedic wealth of information about Whatcom farms and what they produce. In it I found the locations of farm stores, u-pick operations, organic growers and so much more.
In that first year I also discovered the wonders of CSA programs (Community Supported Agriculture). Eaters pay an amount early in the season (when farmers need seed money) to purchase a "share" of a farm's anticipated production. Then, once harvest begins, the farmer delivers weekly boxes of food to each of their CSA members.
It was like getting a gift full of surprises every week! There were always some familiar vegetables and fruits, but the farmer also included lesser-known varieties or items I had never tried. I learned what to do with kohlrabi and how to prepare Jerusalem artichokes.
I needed to find a more affordable source of beef, so I learned how to buy beef by the side (half of a cow). The farmer I worked with helped me put together my first cutting order and suggested how long the meat should be aged for best quality.
The next year I began gardening again, something I had only dabbled in previously. I was curious how much produce I could raise in the small space I had available. The results were beyond my expectations in most cases.
One giant late cabbage from my garden led me to discover the wonders of fermenting food at home. I used it to make sauerkraut and we ate from that cabbage for nearly a year.
Planning ahead for winter eating required another set of new skills. During the first full winter of locavore eating, I noted the nonlocal products we had to purchase to supplement our local ingredients. The next summer I purchased extra amounts of those foods to can or freeze for winter use. Tomatoes, pears and pickles required rearranging our pantry storage space.
Other things I learned were less tangible but important to the experience. For instance, those rows of canned fruits and vegetables in my pantry were visually beautiful and gave me a special sense of satisfaction knowing that my family was assured healthy winter food.
Most important, though, were the connections that developed between me and the food growers I came to know. Vicki Robin, in her book "Blessing the Hands That Feed Us," describes this part of the experience as "relational eating." It's the deep connections to people and place brought about by focusing on eating local food.
What started for me as an effort to improve my health has turned into a way of life that I care about in a way I could never have predicted. About 80 to 90 percent of what I now eat comes from local sources. There have definitely been health benefits, but the effects extend so much deeper than that.
Special event: Slow Food and Nourishing Traditions takes place at the downtown Community Food Co-op with Gigi Berardi at 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday Feb. 3. Cost is $8 per person (includes refreshments). The Slow Food movement links the pleasure of preparing and eating food to environmental and community resilience. Check it out!
STUFFED PORTABELLO MUSHROOMS
4 large portabello mushrooms (Twin Sisters Mushroom Farm, Acme)
1/4 pound lean ground beef (Second Wind Farm, Everson)
1 small leek, quartered lengthwise and sliced thinly (Alm Hill Gardens, Bellingham)
1 clove garlic, minced (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped (Alm Hill Garden, Bellingham)
2 tablespoons butter (homemade with cream from Silver Springs Creamery, Lynden)
1/4 cup white wine (Legoe Bay Winery, Lummi Island)
1/4 cup bread crumbs (Avenue Bread, Bellingham)
4 ounces feta cheese (Appel Farms, Ferndale)
Preheat broiler (or grill).
Remove gills and stems from mushrooms and chop for use in the filling. Set caps aside.
In a small skillet, brown the ground beef thoroughly, breaking into small bits.
Melt 1 tablespoon butter in the same pan and add chopped leeks, minced garlic, mushroom gills and fresh thyme. Sauté until leeks are soft and filling is well-mixed.
Add wine and sauté another minute or two until wine is absorbed. Remove from heat.
Brush top of mushroom caps with 1 tablespoon melted butter. Broil caps, gill-side down, on a greased cookie sheet for 2 minutes.
Turn caps over, spoon in filling, and sprinkle with bread crumbs over top.
Broil until bread crumbs are just beginning to brown.
Sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese and serve.
Makes 2 servings.
The last three directions in this recipe were updated Feb. 5, 2014.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959
BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158
Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151
The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190
Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639
Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden
The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.