Festival launches this area's Eat Local Challenge


Published: Saturday, May 1, 2010 at 9:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 1, 2010 at 9:02 p.m.

Sabrina Lutes figures that about 75 percent of the food she eats is grown or raised locally. The most difficult food to find? Meat.

So Lutes was happily munching on a buffalo burger prepared by a local restaurant with meat from a local rancher at Saturday's kickoff to the third annual Eat Local Challenge, which will last through May.

"I love it. It's really good," Lutes said of the burger. "I think it's important to know where our food comes from. The health value is important too, and knowing the farmers."

This year's challenge was launched with a festival Saturday at Swallowtail Farm north of Alachua. It featured a cooking demonstration using produce grown on the farm, booths from local farmers and related organizations, music and games.

The challenge is run by Stefanie Hamblen of Hogtown Homegrown, a Web site and newsletter that promotes the local food movement. Challenge participants log the food they eat and the location from which it came with the goal of getting as much as possible from growers within the region or the goal of eating local food at locally owned restaurants.

Swallowtail Farm runs on a community-supported agriculture model. Customers commit to buying a certain amount of produce that is in season. The farm then delivers weekly boxes to the customers, said Swallowtail's Noah Shitama, who farms about two acres of land owned by his in-laws.

No synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals are used.

"From the consumer's perspective, they make a relationship with the source of their food. They get to know us and the farm it is coming from. They know exactly how it is grown and where it is grown," Shitama said. "From the farmer's perspective, we have an assured market in that people are making a commitment to us when they sign up for the season.... It's a great thing because a lot of the struggles that I see other growers deal with is how to get rid of their food and how to get a fair price for it. It's really challenging."

Among those participating in the cooking demonstration Saturday was The Jones Eastside, a Gainesville restaurant that buys much of its produce and other ingredients from local sources -- including water buffalo meat from local rancher and retired University of Florida professor Hugh Popenoe.

Owner Maya Garner said the restaurant often participates in events to promote local food, and she said interest is growing among other restaurants.

"Three years ago we were the only restaurant involved in the Local Food Challenge and now 20 restaurants are involved," she said. "I'm into social entrepreneurship and I think the more people that are on board with locally sustainable food and locally sourced products, the better."

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