Staff tries to eat local for a week

We started out with a noble goal: to spend one week eating only foods that had been grown locally. Specifically, we'd be trying to follow the 100-Mile Diet, a concept laid out in the book "Plenty" by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon (Harmony Books, $24). For a year, they ate only foods from within 100 miles of their home in Vancouver, Canada.

The idea behind the diet is that eating locally not only supports your community, but also saves on fossil fuels and other resources used to transport food.

The numbers on the couple's Web site (www.100milediet.org) are scary. It seems the minimum distance that North American produce typically travels from farm to plate is 1,500 miles. And 80 percent of tomatoes in the U.S. are harvested while they're still green.

For us, following the 100-Mile Diet by the letter would have meant that every ingredient in every product we ate had to come from within 100 miles from Lawrenceville. To begin with, we agreed that it was OK to use cooking oils, butter and salt. But we quickly realized we were going to have to expand our boundaries to encompass the entire state of Georgia if we wanted to eat more than grits and scrambled eggs.

The first hurdle was the season. When we first scheduled the late-May week to follow the eat-local diet, we were imagining a bounty of fresh summer produce - strawberries, peaches, tomatoes, corn. But we arrived at area farmers markets to find greens - lettuce, kale, spinach - and not much else.

We also weren't able to find a Georgia farmer who grows wheat ... so there went any sort of bread or pasta. Instead, we quickly learned why the South is known for cornbread and grits.

By paying close attention to the packages at Publix and Kroger, we did manage to find fresh chicken, in both whole and breast form, from Springer Mountain Farms in Mount Airy, 54 miles away. At Publix, we also found grass-fed beef from White Oak Pastures, a Bluffton farm that's 212 miles away from Lawrenceville.

In hindsight, it probably would have been better to do a two-week diet. The first week would have been a dry run, with cheating allowed, as we figured out reliable places to purchase foods and learned to pack homemade snacks for away-from-home emergencies.

Still, getting to know our local farmers - there aren't many left in Gwinnett - as well as finding out more about where our food really comes from was well worth the efforts.

We're not advocating a strict 100-mile diet, but we do encourage you to at least check out a local farmers market. Now that it's June, that summer produce should be rolling in. And if there's one thing we learned, it's that fresh, local foods really do taste better.