Spotlight on local produce

Bodie Pettis, 4, carries a box of locally grown peaches up to a picnic bench with a little help from his mother, Erin, where other fruits and vegetables wait to be consumed as part of the annual Eat Local Challenge.

Jason Henry/Special to The Sun
Published: Monday, June 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 31, 2009 at 11:12 p.m.

Most people try to eat healthy, but May was the second annual Hogtown Homegrown Eat Local Challenge where for 31 days Gainesville families scoured farmers markets and local produce stores for items to serve with every meal.

"We were having so much fun," said Valli VanMeter, a 48-year-old mother of two "active teenagers" who, for the first time this month, started paying attention to where her food came from.

"When I do something, I tend to do something all the way," VanMeter said as her 18-year-old daughter Ally Dickinson nodded in exaggerated agreement.

"I love Ward's bagels. They're like so fresh," Dickinson said. "As long as she keeps cooking and buying home-grown foods, I'll keep eating them."

VanMeter and Dickinson were at Westside Park with about 20 other participants in the Hogtown Homegrown challenge enjoying the first sunny Sunday evening in a few weeks.

Stefanie Hamblen, editor of the Hogtown Homegrown newsletter and Web site, organized the Eat Local Challenge in an effort to "get people to eat seasonally and buy locally."

The benefits, she said, are numerous:

Fewer fossil fuels burned to ship food the nationwide average of 1,500 miles

Healthier organic produce, meats, fish and dairy

And supporting the local agricultural economy, just to name a few.

On Sunday, Hamblen handed out door prizes to families who kept a log of meals they cooked using locally grown foods.

Erin O'Meara Pettis, who has a master's in nutrition, said she, along with her two toddlers and her husband, always tries to eat healthy organic meals.

"I think if you are a little bit savvy about freezing things coming into season, you can actually save quite a bit," Pettis said after her 4-year-old son had finished playing kickball with the other participants.

"We try to do as much as possible in produce," Pettis said. "Meat and dairy is the next step, but that's a little more difficult. They're making it easier and easier though."

Pettis had brought peaches from Citra to the event and others had brought locally grown oranges and other produce.

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