A Locavore’s Dilemma

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Community, Food and Drink, Locavore, Shauna Lawyer Struby, Travel | Posted on 18-08-2008


 by Shauna Lawyer Struby

The ribbon of highway stretched before us, the corn was as tall as an elephant’s eye, and the hawks were definitely making lazy circles in the sky. While strains of the famous lyrical creations of Woody Guthrie and Rodgers and Hammerstein were making busy circles in my head, my family and I weren’t in Oklahoma or Kansas. We were actually in Iowa City, Iowa, a happening little burg, home to the University of Iowa, and the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. I’d just completed a heady week-long workshop on novel writing held the last week in July, and my family and I were heading out in our gas miserly Toyota Prius to explore Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Black Hills of South Dakota for our summer vacation. Wisconsin 053

 As avid locavores (a snappy word two ladies out in California came up with for those choosing to eat locally grown or produced food), we prefer whenever possible to cook or dine on locally produced food at locally owned establishments. At home here in Oklahoma City, we eat as much as possible from the OSU/OKC Farmers Market, the Oklahoma Food Cooperative, and our own garden and seldom eat at chain restaurants, believing we build stronger, more self-sufficient communities by keeping it local.

Given typical American road fare consists of wave after wave of McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King, and gigantic truck stops with rows of empty calories ripe for the picking, we knew doing the locavore thing on the road could well prove to be an order taller than the proverbial corn in Kansas in August. But during my week in Iowa City I’d already dined on several delicious meals made from wonderfully fresh ingredients sourced from local farms, scarfed down some fabulous pastries and cookies from the weekly farmers market, and there were plenty of Buy fresh, buy local signs scattered throughout the town. The luck I’d had so far with chowing local goodness made me think perhaps my family and I could tackle the rest of the trip with the locavore principle.

First night out in Madison, Wisconsin, we tracked down a restaurant called Harvest using a Wisconsin culinary guide. Later we found out Harvest was named by Organic Style magazine as one of the top 20 restaurants in America, and most recently named one of America's top Farm-to-Table restaurants by Gourmet Magazine.

While Harvest was a little pricey for our budget, since we’d been saving for the vacation, we decided to splurge. I’m happy to say it was worth every penny. From delicate slow-roasted beets, to the succulent Lange Family Farm pork loin, to the artisan cheese tray, this stumbled upon dining experience was total flavor-filled pleasure, a sensational treat for the taste buds.

Wisconsin 050 The next day we headed to Eau Claire and happened upon a roadside farmer’s stand where we picked up beautiful fresh cherries, blueberries, a couple of creamy Wisconsin cheeses, a fresh-baked crusty baguette, and spicy salami. Picnicking like this from farmer’s stands, cheese shops, and small retail food cooperatives was budget friendly, and turned out to be our lunch strategy for the rest of the trip.

After the luck we had in Iowa City and Madison, we went on to sample similar tasty local dinner fare at The Deep Water Grille in Ashland, Wis., and The Craftsman Restaurant in Minneapolis, Minn., cooked a dinner ourselves one night from a bevy of fresh stuffs picked up at the Chequamegon Food Co-op in Ashland, Wis., and later the Saint Peter Food Cooperative and Deli in Saint Peter, Minn. became yet another local food oasis on our journey.

We didn’t quite manage to source every meal locally on our vacation, but in the end we came a lot closer to solving the travelling locavore’s dilemma than I’d ever dreamed possible, all of which seems to prove the sustainable food movement is not only very much alive, but thriving and growing. I can even imagine a day when we’ll be able to make a trip in our plug-in hybrid cars or onboard a roomy train, when every meal means dining on fresh, healthy, local and sustainable food. Wouldn’t that be a trip? Minnesota, south dakota, badlands 001

What about your summer vacation? Have any recent experiences or tips for solving the travelling locavore’s dilemma you’d care to share?

Tips for eating locally on the road:

•    Check out localharvest.org for grocery stores, farmers markets, farms and restaurants.

•     Before travelling, browse your destination state’s tourism Web site for dining recommendations. Most offer a searchable dining database, free travel guides, and many now feature agritourism destinations like u-pick farms, farmer’s markets and other local harvest destinations.

•    Wherever you travel, take time to chat with the locals. Employees at independent bookstores, locally owned gift shops, and food cooperatives are a great source of local food and dining knowledge.

•    If at all possible when road tripping, take the back roads. Not only do you avoid the unpleasant truck juggernaut and concrete jungle of interstate travelling, but you’re much more likely to find farmer’s stands and locally owned restaurants with delicious homemade fare.

Comments (5)

Nice tips! I like this premise, because I think it’s one thing to get familiar with local food in your home town, but quite another to search it out everywhere you go. Much more difficult … I find myself giving into Subway way too often when I’m road tripping.

Thanks John. It is a different way of traveling and one we really kind of stumbled into, but once we did, it was fun — a little like sleuthing local food detectives.
One thing I failed to mention, the idea for the picnicking lunch hearkened back to an experience I had a child.
My parents were missionaries in Africa from 1961-1965. On our return trip to the U.S. in 1965, my dad purchased a red Volkswagon station wagon (anyone remember those?) in Frankfurt, Germany, and since we were very budget challenged, we drove around Europe for a month using the book, “Europe on $5 a Day.” One of their suggestions was to take advantage of all the unique little food shops and beautiful countryside and eat picnic lunches.
We followed the advice, ate amazing food, and created wonderful memories for my family, all at the same time. It felt synchronistic to be creating those same kinds of good memories with my daughter on our recent vacation.

I like your invocation of synchronicity in the pursuit of a more sustainable lifestyle. It’s a perfect term for sustainable reforms because we need changes that aim at numerous problems at once, but even more, I think it highlights the great personal advantage to be gained by living sustainably. Our personal health, the strength of our communities and the cohesion of our families are all built up when individuals make these conscious decisions to live more responsibly.

Great ideas for traveling the back roads. It’s amazing what you might find. It could be a small stand of locally grown raspberries, corn or even kids selling lemonade. Everything we buy like this always seems to taste better, doesn’t it?
We just road tripped from South Dakota to Sacramento, CA while trying to search out as much local food as possible. Traveling the major freeways has it’s challenges for sure! While in Sacramento, we enjoyed an incredible farmer’s market in Cameron Park and a local produce stand as well many meals made by my mom with goodies from her garden and orchard.
Growing our own food is local eating at it’s finest!

Obviously it is critical to get off the Interstate when you travel on wheels. The whole point of the Interstate system is similitude and predictability; an environment that begs for chains and franchises.