Local Food Challenge
At The Frontier Project, we’ve done our fair share of employee challenges—feedback exercises, minimalism purges, and transportation competitions. When our Sustainability Committee announced that we’d be doing a local food challenge for the month of September, I was stoked. For every meal you ate, if 60% or more of it was locally grown or sourced you got a point. I didn’t have to be convinced to participate. I’m aware of the better quality of local food (that hasn’t been dying on shelves for weeks) and the environmental benefits. Plus, I thought the challenge would be a breeze. Turns out it wasn’t as easy as I anticipated, but there were some unexpected benefits that far outweighed the costs.
Out of the gate, the [in]convenience factor was real. The first week, going to the farmer’s market just couldn’t happen, so I had to shop at a grocery store where finding local food was definitely harder. My first strategy was substitution – swap my normal yogurt brand for a Virginia-made yogurt. Even at the fancy local grocery store, I had a hard time making 1-for-1 substitutions, so I shifted to looking for what was local and made those items work. I found local cheese, apples, and eggs, and, while different than my usual yogurt, still seemed like a perfectly lovely breakfast. My new strategy was to shift my focus to working with what I did have instead of what I didn’t. And even though it ended up being more expensive per item, I bought only what I was going to use which meant I bought less.
The second week, I did trade the ease of the grocery store for the Saturday morning farmer’s market. The challenge that week was not about finding local food, but rather from adjusting priorities and breaking old habits. Not going to lie, it was less convenient. The market is only open on a certain day and time of the week, parking is a pain in the ass, and not knowing the produce or where to find things made it take longer. But if I was going to do this, I had to fit this new priority in with everything else and plan accordingly. I met friends at the market instead of a coffee shop. I had to go really early one morning so I could make an appointment. My new farmer’s market ritual evolved to be just as efficient, if not more, than the store. Much like you learn that peanut butter is on aisle four, I learned which vendors had the best produce, who to go to first because they sold out, and even what containers to bring. All I did was swap one routine for another based on different priorities and got an added bonus of supporting my community and spending time with friends.
The last weekend, I didn’t go to either the grocery store or the farmers market, but with the help of family and neighbors, pulled on other local resources. Literally. We dropped crab pots in the river that yielded a few, delicious crab cake meals. My dad and brother fished and divvied up their bounty. Their neighbor shared veggies he’d grown in his garden. Procuring food this way wasn’t easy or fast, but it was fun and done with family and friends. My dad and brother shared a hobby and spent time outside. My mom and I sat and picked crab and talked for hours. We all watched my 90-year old grandma throwback to her childhood and catch crabs off the dock with a chicken neck on a string. Not only did I get to partake in delicious, fresh, local meals, but I also realized how much I appreciated the environment, my community, and the support from the people around me.
When I talk to people about the challenges we do here at Frontier, everyone says “oh, that’s so fun” or “oh, that’s so cool.” And the truth is: they are fun and cool, but they’re also rooted in what we teach our clients — how to help people change. I gained some very personal things from this challenge:
- I figured out that decision paralysis is real – turns out it’s easier to decide what to eat with fewer options.
- I learned how much I had been over buying, over planning, and wasting for meals.
- I found a new way to create invaluable time spent with family and friends.
But overall, this challenge for me was largely an exercise in embracing your constraints, changing your habits, pooling support, and trying something different. I learned I could pretty easily change a routine, make creative substitutions, and adjust my focus to what I could do instead of what I couldn’t.