Forsyth County residents were encouraged to eat local last week at a Locavore Challenge Potluck.
The event was organized by Lynne Mitchell, a registered dietitian in the county health department, with help from the county extension office and Forsyth Community Food Consortium.
Mitchell chose August for a locavore challenge because so much local produce is in season now. She also noted that 2017 is the 10-year anniversary of “locavore” being chosen word of the year by the New Oxford American Dictionary.
A locavore is defined as “a person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food.”
Though there aren’t many who meet that definition, more and more people are interested in eating what is grown in their area. The reasons may include to know the source of one’s food, to support the local economy, or just to eat the freshest, best-tasting food available.
Mitchell’s job in the health department is general nutritional education. “And I’ve always been interested in food access and local foods and farmers markets,” she said.
This summer, Mitchell has been visiting many of the different farmers markets in the county, sharing brochures and other information about local and healthful eating, and generally talking up local food to whoever will listen.
“I’ve really just been trying to engage people,” she said. “If you can devote just 10 percent of your food dollars to local food, it makes a huge difference.”
Like many others, Mitchell sees a local diet as a healthy diet, one high in fresh fruit and vegetables.
That certainly was true of the potluck on Aug. 8. Marinated tomatoes, pea-shoot salad, watermelon and feta, fresh peaches, green beans, corn salad, squash casserole, tomatoes and eggplants — almost every summer N.C. vegetable was represented. Even the brownies had zucchini in them.
About 40 people showed up — a mix of farmers, extension agents and other food lovers.
Displays offered help with determining what’s in season and starting your own garden, orchard or beekeeping operation. Mary Jac Brennan, a local extension agent, spoke about the importance of supporting local farmers. Mark Jensen, a professor of divinity at Wake Forest University, spoke about his involvement with the consortium, whose mission is to promote an environmentally, economically and socially just regional food system.
Emma Hutchens of the NC 10% Campaign, spoke of the importance of eating local all along the food chain — from consumers to restaurants to university food-service systems.
The NC 10% Campaign is part of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), a statewide organization that operates with support from Golden LEAF Foundation and N.C. Cooperative Extension.
Hutchens works with college students to give them a unified voice in demanding better food in university dining rooms. The program also helps connect farmers and chefs so that restaurants can serve more local food. Individuals, too, are part of the program. People are encouraged to pledge to eat 10 percent local, and the group’s website has tools to help people keep track of their food dollars.
“Accountability is really important,” Hutchens said. “It’s easy to say I’m supporting local by eating this local jam.” But it’s more useful to keep track of how much of the food budget is actually spent on local food. That’s the heart of the 10 percent campaign — getting people to work harder to reach at least 10 percent local in their food budget.
“It becomes about making incremental change,” she said.
Fortunately, local food is easier than ever to find.
“It’s an exciting time to live in North Carolina,” Hutchens said, “where we have so many food hubs and restaurants using local food.”
Farmers markets are more popular than ever. And grocery stores small and large are beginning to embrace local food.
Mitchell is working hard this month to get people to take the locavore challenge. “I’ve been going to people and saying, ‘The next time you have a church potluck, why don’t you make it a locavore challenge?’’’
People in Forsyth County can learn more about local food on the consortium’s website, www.forsythlocalfood.org. The site also has details about the consortium’s monthly meetings, which are open to the public.
To make a pledge to the NC 10% Campaign, visit www.nc10percent.com.