Year without grocery store for Austinite
Addie Broyles: Relish Austin
It has been a year since Carla Crownover set foot in a grocery store.
"I saw `Food, Inc.,' and it freaked me out," she says of the 2008 documentary that explored the ills of the conventional meat and agriculture industries. "I had already been a big farmers' market shopper and gardener, but I was inspired to see if I could know where all my food has come from."
Crownover, co-owner of Austin Urban Gardens, set some rules for herself: She still could eat out, but she'd try to go to restaurants that source ingredients locally. She could buy toilet paper and cleaning supplies at stores such as Home Depot or Breed and Co., but not in conventional grocery stores. If local farmers' markets didn't have what she was craving, she wouldn't cook it. Period.
She hit farmers' markets several times a week to stock up on eggs, meat, produce and premade products like jams, bread and, her favorite, Doña hot sauce from TacoDeli. In the almost 365 days that she's been on her no-grocery-store challenge, she's seen the variety of local products grow "exponentially." She found local sources for flour, cornmeal and popcorn (Richardson Farm), rice (Lowell Farms) and even Parmesan cheese. "I met (Kendall and John) Antonelli before they started their cheese shop, and they asked me one of my difficulties," she says. She told them that, as a gardener who frequently has too much basil on her hands, it was going to be hard to go a year without Parmesan cheese to make pesto. "On opening day, I walked in the store and they had Brazos Valley Parmesan cheese."
Crownover says that one of the big changes in her diet has been the kind of meat she eats. "I can't even tell you how many times I had duck this year," she says, because it's readily available from local vendors. "It used to be something I only ordered at a restaurant." She's seen the number of charcuterie products from local companies like Kocurek Family Charcuterie, Dai Due and Salt and Time expand, too. "It's really cool how many new local food people there are." (Nearly every day of the challenge, Crownover blogged about her discoveries and her challenges at austinurbangardens.wordpress.com.)
She is frequently asked how much more money she spends on local food, but it's not something she tracked. "The meat is definitely more expensive, but I cut some of the higher-end costs by growing more food" in her backyard garden beds, she says.
Besides avocados, did she miss anything else about shopping at grocery stores? "I used to miss the variety of prepared foods. I could whiz into Whole Foods and come home with a whole week's worth of Indian food or whatever, but now I just try to plan ahead and cook." If she wants to eat chicken on Wednesday night, she has to take one out of the freezer on Monday so it will have time to thaw.
(Because she's learned so much about the inner workings of the farmers' markets and local vendors, Crownover is offering free tours of the markets so other people can see the market through her eyes. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org to set one up.)
"Grocery shopping was kind of a hobby, and now the farmers' market is my hobby," she says. "It's a lot fun."
Three questions for Carla Crownover
What three local products are always in your fridge? Steady supply of cheese from Antonelli's, eggs and a tub of doña hot sauce from TacoDeli
What's your favorite local condiment? I like the mustards that both Dai Due and Kocurek do.
What's the first thing you pull out of your fridge in the morning? Milk for my coffee. I hit the button on the coffee pot and stand there with the milk in my hand waiting for the light to go off.