I am game for almost any eating challenge, as long as it does not involve swallowing that hated slimy, stewed okra.
So when I heard that eating okra was an optional part of the Maryland Buy Local Challenge, I was a willing player. The challenge was to eat at least one item from a Maryland farm every day for seven days in mid-July. The purpose of this statewide undertaking, which ended last week, was to familiarize Marylanders with the sources of locally produced fare.
This idea of eating local foods is hot. The word "locavore," someone who eats locally produced ingredients, was named the 2007 word of the year by the New Oxford American Dictionary. According to a recent front-page article in The New York Times, trendy types in San Francisco and New York who don't want to be troubled with fetching or growing local foods have taken to hiring helpers to perform these duties.
These so-called lazy locavores pay gardeners and cooks to tend their gardens or to shop at markets and prepare locally based meals. This, it seems to me, is absurd, not to mention an expensive twist on a good idea. It is more proof to me that the foodies in California and New York just might have more money than sense.
Eating foods grown in Maryland can be good for you and good for the environment. That is what I heard a string of Maryland officials - including Christine Bergmark of the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission, Agriculture Secretary Roger Richardson and Gov. Martin O'Malley - say recently as they stood in the broiling sun at the kickoff event of the buy-local challenge.
Jack O'Malley, the governor's 5-year-old son, also attended the event, held on the lawn outside Government House. Shortly after the adults started speechifying, Jack darted toward a shady section of what, in effect, was his backyard and climbed a tree. I took my cue from Jack and also headed for a patch of the shade.
It turned out to be a propitious move because that was where ice cream made by the Kilby Cream dairy of Cecil County was being served. It was one of the 18 Maryland-produced foods served at the gathering.
The ice cream was a knockout, luscious creamy vanilla with just a touch of Chambourcin wine. Not only was this ice cream decadently delicious, it also got me started on Day 1 of the eating challenge. I considered simply eating this ice cream every day of the challenge.
But that plan went awry when I bumped into a problem of eating local. That would be the problem of fetching the goods. Right now Kilby homemade ice cream is sold mainly at the family's stores in Rising Sun and Chesapeake City. Phyllis Kilby told me that the family is working on a plan to sell it in grocery stores. She said the wine-flavored ice cream that had wowed me was still in the experimental stage.
On the second day of the challenge, I was toiling in my garden in Druid Hill Park. It was hot, and that wacky idea of hiring someone to water and weed suddenly seemed appealing. I picked some tomatoes, the first ripe ones from the garden, and had them for lunch. Grabbing goods from your garden was probably cheating, Bergmark told me later. She reminded me that the challenge was to buy local, not grow local. I never have been much for playing by the rules.
On the third day, I went to the Sunday morning farmers' market in downtown Baltimore and loaded up on local goods. That morning I ate juicy cantaloupe grown on Bob Knopp's Anne Arundel County farm. The next day, I started off with a breakfast of peaches and cream. The peaches, also purchased at the market, came from the Lewis family farm in Washington County.
On the fifth day, I ate Zephyr squash, a bicolor squash, grown in Anne Arundel County by Knopp. On the sixth day, I had Super Sweet corn, grown on the Eastern Shore and sold at the produce truck parked on the Ruxton Road overpass off Baltimore's Jones Falls Expressway.
On the seventh day, I had hamburgers made from Maryland-raised cattle, sold by Roseda Beef. I had a package of ground beef in my freezer, left over from a visit to the small shop Roseda operates at its Carroll Road farm in Monkton. (Roseda also sells beef products online.) For added local emphasis, not to mention flavor, I topped these burgers with slices of Mountain Top Blue, a blue cheese made by FireFly Farms in Garrett County. It is sold at Baltimore area cheese counters, including the one at the Wine Source in Hampden.
I did have to shop a little harder during this challenge than I normally do. But I got good stuff. And the prices - $3 for the cantaloupe, 50 cents an ear for fresh corn, for example - weren't bad.
The state Department of Agriculture has an online directory of farmers' markets that sell local produce, and its Maryland's Best site (marylandsbest.net) lists places that sell other Maryland fare, such as beef, dairy and seafood.
I made it through the entire week without even seeing okra. How some folks, including my wife, eat that stuff is beyond me.
So I guess that after a week of local eating, I can call myself a locavore. Being one in Maryland in midsummer is not much of a hardship. In fact, it tastes pretty good.
See Rob Kasper each Wednesday on ABC2/WMAR-TV's News at Noon.