2017-09-14 / Front Page

Aquidneck Food Challenge Back for Second Year

By Brooke Constance White


It can be done. Locally grown, raised, and produced foods are at your fingertips; fruits, veggies, meats, and even butter! Sign up for the local food challenge and find out for yourself. It can be done. Locally grown, raised, and produced foods are at your fingertips; fruits, veggies, meats, and even butter! Sign up for the local food challenge and find out for yourself. Move over paleo, Whole30 and vegan, there’s a new kind of diet in town, quite literally. For seven days this month, from Sept. 23- 29, Aquidneck Community Table (ACT) is challenging islanders to only eat things grown or produced on the island.

So, while the Aquidneck Food Challenge does not specifically lay out what food a participant can and cannot ingest as with diets, the island’s resources and its residents’ creativity will determine what’s available and what’s eaten.

ACT Director Bevan Linsley is aware some participants might want to tailor the challenge to specific needs or wants, and maybe only commit to a few days or one meal of locally sourced food a day. But that’s the best part, she said. It can be as easy or as difficult as you wish.


Bevan Linsley and Lisa Lewis of the Aquidneck Community Table, setting up the registration area for patrons at the Wednesday Farmers' Market for the Local Food Challenge. (Photo by Lynne Tungett) Bevan Linsley and Lisa Lewis of the Aquidneck Community Table, setting up the registration area for patrons at the Wednesday Farmers' Market for the Local Food Challenge. (Photo by Lynne Tungett) “It’s all about focusing attention on where our food comes from and the distances that many of our food products travel to get to us,” Linsley said. “There isn’t the same quality of freshness when your food is being transported from Florida or California.

I really think the [tomato] you pick off the vine and the one you get at the grocery store are two different fruits.”

Aside from raising awareness about how far away many foods are grown and produced, Linsley says the challenge is an opportunity to support the island’s farmers and highlight the ways local economies benefit when their residents shop locally.

“We all should be more supportive of the people who grow our food,” she said. “When we spend locally, the money is going into our state and region rather than disappearing into out-of-state coffers.”

Last September about 70 people registered for the challenge, and this year Linsley is hoping at least 200 Aquidneck Island residents participate, if only in part. Those who register will be given resources such as recipes, shop- ping lists, an area food map and priority access to local foods at Aquidneck Growers Market.

Thanks to a group of generous sponsors, there’s an extra incentive so anyone can participate no matter their financial circumstance. Those on the SNAP/EBT program will receive a 100 percent match on their bonus bucks rather than just the usual 40 percent bonus. So, if they spend $10 in SNAP or EBT, they will receive $10 bonus bucks for the market.

The challenge also forces creativity in the kitchen, since some ingredients aren’t produced locally such as grains, coffee and certain sweeteners. During last year’s challenge, Middletown’s Simmons Farm began making butter. This year, the recently launched Newport Sea Salt Co. is offering locally sourced seasonings for anyone taking the “all-in” approach.

New to the 2017 program are the local restaurants offering various locally sourced offerings. While the list is growing, Linsley said it currently includes Castle Hill Inn, Revolving Door, Bouchard’s, Brix Restaurant at Newport Vineyards, and Village Hearth in Jamestown.

“Think of it as a stay-cation for your stomach,” said Food Challenge Organizer Liza Burkin. “We live in a broken food system, and this is a fun way to explore some ways that we might fix it.”

Mary Weaver, owner of local culinary school Newport Cooks, participated in the first Aquidneck Food Challenge last year, and learned how to be innovative in her cooking. For example, she started using an herb, lemon verbena, in place of lemon zest and used sea salt that Burkin made by evaporating seawater.

This year, Weaver planted sunflowers so she can harvest their seeds during challenge week to incorporate new flavors and textures into her food. Although she wanted to be a purist last year and follow the challenge to the letter, Weaver said she realized that some things, such as coffee, are necessary for her day-to-day well-being. And as no coffee is produced locally, she made an exception and purchased fair-trade, organic grounds from Middletown’s Custom House Coffee.

“It really made me realize that we’re so accustomed to using ingredients that aren’t grown or made locally,” she said. “We’re pretty lucky to have good wine made here on the island. That helped in getting through the challenge last year.”

At the heart of the challenge is a desire for the community to consider where food will come from in the future, Linsley said. Although she doesn’t want to be the “voice of doom and gloom,” she said the fact that gas is increasingly expensive could mean that trucking in food from elsewhere might not be sustainable down the road.

“Who knows what other disruptions might come to our other food sources,” she said. “It’s something we as a community need to plan for.”

Registration is $20 per person or $45 for a family or household, and participants have the option to donate more to allow another person or family to take part in the food challenge at no cost. Those who register are invited to a challenge kick-off at Stoneacre Brasserie & Cafe on Sept. 21 from 5 to 7 p.m.

Visit aquidneckcommunitytable.org for more information about the food challenge.

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