100-mile challenge a natural fit for central Albertans

Thanks to a book by authors Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon titles, The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating, a new movement has begun in which the public is encouraged to test themselves by eating foods produced and/or grown within a 100 mile radius of their homes and has even spawned a television show following the citizens of Merritt, B.C. as they rise to the challenge. And while the movement may ultimately result in a few smaller waistlines and provide some much needed revenue for local farmers and producers, there’s a lot more to it than simply food and it’s an idea that might work very well in a communities such as Rimbey, Bentley and everywhere else within the area.

For example, not only will committing to the challenge result in a healthier lifestyle and keeping tight dollars within the local economy, it’ll also contribute to other equally important aspects such as social interaction, a firm pledge to the environment and a re-connection to the land that has been lost for many decades – especially since the ‘fast food’ boom on the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s that still exists today.

For one thing, eating locally creates a bond between the producer and consumer that will only grow in time. According to a recent survey located on their web page, Smith and MacKinnon found that people who utilize their local farmer’s market spend ten times longer in conversation than their counterparts at a supermarket. Further, the consumer knows exactly where the food has come from and if they have any doubt, they can simply drive there to find out for themselves.

Additionally, in many cases produce and meat is generally picked or packages within 24-hours of hitting the market thereby ensuring the freshest and highest quality as opposed to lettuce from California for example, which most likely spent at least three days and traveled thousands of miles before ending up on shelves in central Alberta.

By committing to the challenge – which in the case of the citizens of Merritt is for only 100 days, those involved also get the opportunity to discouver many new items and flavours they may have never known existed in their corner of the world, and they’ll always be doing it in season.

It’s also an ideal opportunity to involve small children by letting them see exactly where their food comes from. By visiting farmer’s markets and traveling to local farms and producers, children can see first-hand where staples such as milk, bread and meat comes from and will even provide some quality family time as an added bonus.

Of course, the hugest impact one can make by committing to a 100-mile challenge is both with the locally economy and the effects on the environment.

For example, a recent study conducted in the rural state of Iowa found that a regional diet consumed 17 times less oil and gas than a typical diet based on food shipped across the country and another conducted in England found that ingredients for a typical British meal sourced locally, traveled 66 times fewer ‘food miles’, thus saving significant amounts of fossil fuel in transportation.

Obviously the local economy will also be huge benefactors of such a commitment with studies indicating that the money reinvested locally will stay locally many times over.

Most importantly however, is the impact on personal health provided by such a challenge with the biggest impact being what’s been left out of the equation.

For example, caffeine junkies and those with a sweet tooth may have a bit if a tough time adapting – at least at first because, obviously, coffee and sugar are two items you most definitely wont find growing in Alberta. Nor will you find a multitude of other fruits, vegetables and other items that have commonplace, but there’s certainly more than enough left to provide nutritious and delicious meals at any time of the year, especially around here.

Of course it helps that cities such as Edmonton, Red Deer and Camrose; along with a number of large towns like Drayton Valley, Ponoka and Lacombe are also within a 100-mile radius of Rimbey and Bentley and therefore are prime territory for food processing and little cottage industry-type producers, as long as they’re using all locally produced ingredients.

And let’s not forget the local farmer’s markets themselves. Be they in Rimbey, Bentley, Winfield, Alder Flats or anywhere else in central Alberta, the freshness of fruit, vegetables and baking in second to none while patrons can also shop from a wide variety of preserves, honey, dairy, meat and poultry as well.

It goes without saying that in this day and age, living exclusively and indefinitely off of food produced within a 100-mile radius will involve plenty of work – including growing and maintaining a backyard garden, and perhaps a bit of a modified challenge may fit the situation a bit better whereby consumers begin to relay more on locally-produces food and utilize local grocery stores to compliment their tastes.

Either way, the 100-mile challenge is gaining popularity day-by-day and is an idea worth some serious consideration, especially with spring upon us, and gardening season quickly approaching.