The first of September brings many things. The first day of school, my aunt’s birthday, the anniversary of the death of the last passenger pigeon, the greatly over-exaggerated reports of the demise of summer. And once again the Eat Local Challenge rears its delicious head (of lettuce? broccoli? radicchio?).

I volunteer for the group and helped last weekend with the Eat Local Resource Fair, a gathering of local vendors and organizations looking to promote the local foodshed. Held at the Urban Ecology Center, the event attracted more than 400 folks interested in sampling cheeses, bread, ice cream & more and learning about the Challenge through educational workshops and informational tables.

Hey Oak Leaf Trail runners, stop on by!

Hey Oak Leaf Trail runners, stop on by!

A list of some of the food vendors attending:

I cranked through my Challenge last year (read more about each day’s menus, starting here with Day 1) by eating totally locally as the goal, with “grown in Wisconsin” as my definition of local. This year I’m taking a more relaxed approach–using primarily the produce I’m growing or buying at Farmers Markets but not eschewing items which aren’t primarily available from the Wisconsin ecosystem. Those items I simply make sure I buy from local establishments, something I’ve already been doing all year as part of my own Local Challenge.

Eat Local Volunteers at the fair

Eat Local Volunteers at the fair

I’m also hoping to visit some of the restaurants featured in the Eat Local Milwaukee Restaurant Affiliate List. I started on Wednesday night with a visit to one of my favorites, La Merenda. Their chalkboard of ingredients from local sources is lengthy and impressive, and some of their dishes–such as the Colombian calabacitas dish of zucchini, squash, tomatoes, corn, peppers, cheese, and scallion aioli–are 100% local save for the salt and pepper. The meal was a real treat, and Chef Peter thoughtfully stopped by for a quick chat about the “state of local” after we were done.

Someone at the resource fair asked me, “Why should I care about local?” It’s a straightforward question, enough. It’s a question which has different answers for different people, however. For me it’s about promoting real food and the farmers who have chosen to grow it. It’s about explosive taste and the earthy wholesomeness of a product not reliant on synthetic chemicals or genetic tampering. It’s keeping my food dollars close to home, rather than having my money sprinkled across the globe into the pockets of faceless stockholders.

And, bottom line, I want to eat stuff that doesn’t suck.