Where Is Your Food Coming From? The Bullseye Evaluation

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It has been a few years since I've done a really close examination of how much of our food we're producing/getting locally/getting from elsewhere. In that time, some things have changed at our place - some of our fruit trees have begun producing, we've gotten more and different livestock, we've built relationships with some new sources. On the other hand, foster children have meant we are required to provide some purchased milk and other items we didn't buy previously, and we also have been the beneficiaries of a lot of things given to us by our dumpster-diving buddy.

I think it is time for me to sit down and figure out what we're eating and where it is coming from in a consistent way, and I'd like to invite others to do so too. Many years ago, Aaron Newton and I imagined "The Bullseye Diet" (see previous post) as a revision of the then-popular "100 Mile Diet" to help people think about how to bring the local into their diets - you start with the 50 yard diet (from your back steps or your kitchen garden) and move out from there. The goal is to get most of your food from the inner rings - and to rely on the outer as much as possible for luxury items, rather than things you really depend on.

Different people in different places will have very different abilities to do this - and that's fine, this isn't a competition. What it is is a chance for us all to compare notes on how much food we can produce on our own properties and how much we can forage and buy from nearby - and where exactly it is coming from. By pulling together regional information and how big our personal land bases are, we can get a sense of what, say, urbanites in Pheonix or suburban dwellers outside Sheboygan can grow, and what an emergent local food culture really looks like.

I'd like to invite you to join me, starting April 1, in keeping track of how much you are producing, and where the food you aren't producing is coming from. Over the course of a year, with monthly self-analysis, we'll take a look at what we local eaters are actually eating, where we're getting it, what we can change and what needs work. We know that the local food movement has made enormous progress over the last few years, but how much in any given region is hard to quantify, and few regions have full local food evaluations. This isn't that - but it is a start at collecting experiences.

It shouldn't be too onerous to track - most of us can quickly note where our meals are coming from - and again, this is not about competing. Instead, we need to think about what would happen if we couldn't buy everything we wanted - and tbe first steps in that are taking a good hard look at what we are really eating. But not just a hard look - this is a chance to look with pride and joy at all we've accomplished both personally and as communities. It is a chance to show off what we're eating, and the delicious, local meals we're producing. To ask ourselves about substitutes for things we buy from far away and to share our collective wisdom at finding new resources and new ways to include more vibrant local food in our diets.

Anyone in?

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Very cool idea. I can't say I'm up for it this go around, as I'm currently trying to eat down the massive (and hugely un-local) food stores I've acquired in various states of panic, although I certainly plan to keep expanding the garden, gathering the eggs, and buying local for what I do need as well. In terms of keeping track of "how much" of your diet comes from where, would you say thinking in terms of calories is the most accurate way, or would some other formula work?

One problem for me is finding local "calories". Almost all of my vegetables and eggs are homegrown or very local. Local meat and seafood are too expensive for more than occasional purchase. And local grains and pulses are essentially unavailable. Roots can partially replace grains for most of the winter but by spring (the starving season) they have mostly deteriorated. Wheat is difficult in New England but I'd really appreciate field corn for corn meal and to process as hominy but it is almost impossible to find. Beans and corn really don't scale to small gardens and I suppose they are too uncompetitive for small farmers so we need to think of some way support their culture in the absence of subsidies.
I'd love to keep track of my food bullseye for the year. What do you propose that we measure? Items, expense, calories, dishes, meals? It will be more informative, I think, if we all use the same system.

Excellent concept! I'll be in soon. I'm currently buying 25 acres in rural NZ. I'll be instituting this philosophy as much as humanly possible :) Great blog!!!!

I'm in - even when we don't have enough of our own milk, there's a raw dairy not 3 miles from here that we use. I wonder if I could transport the milk - half gallon Mason jars - by bicycle....

How do you account for the feed for the critters? We use Blue Seal, which is manufactured in New Hampshire, but I don't know where they source their inputs.

Given that transportation is only a small part of the cost or energy in producing groceries, I see little reason to care about how close to home my food was grown. The first and last three miles to truck it likely was more wasteful than the couple of hundred in between. Even if you buy at a farmer's market. Perhaps especially if you buy at a farmer's market.

It's gonna be different from the last time I tried this scheme as wheat and I no longer play well together. If I want something resembling "bread" so far I have to use imported tapioca flour or rice flour as part of the ingredients, however potatoes are either 50 yard or 20 miles to my favorite produce stand run by some Plain People(Amish/Mennonite/Dunkard). Cornmeal and oats I can get from a mill in northern Indiana, that uses area farmers for their grains. For other non-gluten carbs we use a lot of rice. Rice,well,we buy imports rather than Louisiana/Arkansas rice as Dearly Demented Spouse likes his luxury of basmati rice and I have a lot of it in the pantry, along with lots of other "it's a great sale" non-local foods from SPAM to rice noodles to chocolate to 25 lbs of pinto beans Kroger grocery had a $.40/lb one day last fall.

The University Meat Lab offers meat raised in the county -- no, not grass raised, but affordable - some of the cuts get a bit strange - it's students learning meat cutting. Cheese, too, but it is rather dear. Some years we also have been given local venison and domestic rabbit. Fish is a problem as Lake Michigan fish are iffy, the local streams are polluted, so what fish we buy is frozen and from Chile, Canada or Alaska if we can find it.

Fruits, if this is not the "zombie weather" year, I'll be freezing raspberries, blackberries, black currants,cherries and apples from the yard, maybe a bit of strawberries. I can get peaches, more keeping apples, grapes, maybe pears locally, but they are pricey. I can get assorted seasonal veggies year round from a guy who has a high tunnel, but he's also organic and quite pricey. My own garden should give me onions, potatoes, leeks, peas, green beans, garlic, chard, tomatoes, peppers, squash, cabbage, some lettuce and spinach, radishes, carrots, parsnips and herbs. The Plain People produce stand will fill in holes with things they and their neighbors grow, including maple syrup and sorghum syrup.

Dairy products are an issue as I balk at paying $4.75 a quart for 100 mile milk and $16.00/lb for cheese. DDS also has to have his snack foods and certain brands - Frito-Lay plant is a county away, but who knows where the potatoes or corn were grown. Eggs will be on the 50 yard list when the pullets ever decide to start laying.

We haven't given up citrus yet, mostly lemons for salted preserved lemons, a few limes and clementines in the winter.

Our garden won't be producing for a while - the last of the carrots, green onions, parsnip and leeks need to be dug ASAP for peas to planted. We'll be processing root-cellared items for the freezer as it's getting too warm for good preservation.

I know there are many other things that are way outside the Bull's Eye Diet and it will be an interesting project tracking our dietary behavior.

By Sara in IN (not verified) on 15 Mar 2012 #permalink

Eating locally isn't just about reducing transportation miles - it is about shifting towards an appropriate diet all together (although the impact of refrigerated shipping is actually pretty significant). The point is to shift away from industrial (or industrial organic) production towards lower inputs - grassfed local beef instead of grain fed stockyard beef from CAFO producers, etc...

Focusing only on food miles misses the point - but the reality is that we need to cut the ties between oil and agriculture as a whole - taking transport out of the equation entirely doesn't make sense either.


Hmmmm.... Let's see. I'm 75. My only income is from Social Security. My abode is a rental unit which doesn't allow for a garden other than a few pots on the patio and I do grow a few extra veggies (radishes, lettuce, tomatoes, chard) and herbs as the seasons allow, but nowhere near enough to feed myself other than a pleasant addition to the food I must purchase. I shop for food at the nearest market with the lowest prices (not WalMart - I won't even enter the parking lot) with an occasional trip to a local butcher who features locally-grown and organic meats. Late in the season I'll hit the farmer's markets when their prices are more within reason to pick up some fresh green beans and/or corn or squash. All of which means that most of my food probably comes from pretty far away, so I reckon I'm not a likely candidate for the 'Bullseye evaluation. I reckon there are thousands like me out there....

I disagree with some of the rings of the bullseye. I know this does not work for everyone, but I think in general people should try to match up their foodshed with the watershed in which they live. I am in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and try to eat as much from that foodshed. It helps to associated that farming, particularly grain and vegetables are particularly polluting on a per acre basis. tree nuts, orchards and grass fed ruminants tend to be low polluting on a per acre basis.

I can do our evaluation pretty quickly.

A small, but growing (roughly 2%) of our diet comes from our garden. All but about 0.5% of the rest comes from supermarkets. We do buy local eggs from a friend and sometimes veggies from the Amish which are a couple of hours away, but we can't afford to shop at the local farmer's markets. They want $6 for a dozen eggs, $9 for a pound of tomatoes, $5 for a pound of squash, etc. Those prices are just not within our reach. I don't begrudge the farmers for charging them; if people will pay that, I say go for it. But we can't afford it, and neither can thousands of others.

Hi Sharon, I hadnât seen this post when I replied to the other one. I have tracked this in earnest for the past 5 years and include a yearly summary below. Overall, we grow as much as we can using organic practices, focusing on traditional Yankee crops suited to our climate. We extend the season to very nearly year round via the greenhouse, fabric covering, crop selection, rotation and indoor seed starting. We supplement from the local farmerâs market, which is also year-round. Fresh produce is enjoyed in season as it comes on, with a portion being processed and put by each week throughout the year. Some things we canât seem to ever have enough (tomatoes and carrots) while others weâre entirely self-sufficient (kale and squash). Weâre fortunate to have two hydroponic tomato growers nearby for the off-season, otherwise we simply do without once a particular vegetable is used up. Half the year is spent filling the freezers, root cellar and pantry while the other half is spent drawing down whatâs been put by (on a rolling basis). Composting consists of a third each of kitchen scraps, garden waste, and chicken manure, made in a tumbler on a continuous basis during the season. We place bulk orders in two different buying groups that we run, as well as organizing the cow & pig share. All of our staples are heirloom/organic seeds. All of the farmers we support are local/organic/sustainable/non-GMO/humane. Seafood is wild/certified sustainable/Gulf of Maine caught. Our milk is raw in glass bottles. Bottom line is that sustainable self reliance can be achieved with minor adjustments in lifestyle, habit and household infrastructure. The totals below are year-round averages for our family of three:

StapleGrewbought @ FMdisposition

Potatoes25lb35lbroot cellar
Carrots25lb40lbroot cellar
Beets30lb20lbroot cellar
Cabbage1 doz4easauerkraut
Squash1.5 doznoneroot cellar
Pumpkin1 ea.5 dozpuree
Onions50lb50lbroot cellar
Zucchini1 doz1 dozrelish
Celeriac1 doznoneroot cellar
Cucumbers3 doznonepickles
Peas1 galnonefrozen
Green beans2 galnonefrozen
Asparagus3 galnonefresh
Broccoli.5 doz1.5 dozfresh
Dry beans1lb20lbpantry
Salad greensall except for 4 bags in mid winter
Eggsall except for 2 dozen in mid winter
Kale10 galnonefresh/frozen
Peppers.5 bu1 bufresh/frozen
Herbsvarious, roughly half grown/half bought

Not grown on site:

Strawberries 36lbfresh/frozen
Black raspberries3galfresh/frozen
Peaches12 qtjam
Pears12 qtjam
Plums8 qtjam
Cherries8 qtfresh/frozen


Beef.5 cowfrozen
Pork1 pigfrozen
Chicken1 dozfresh/frozen
Turkey24 lbfrozen
Duck, lamb & game on occasion for variety
Shrimp6 qtfrozen
Fish, shellfish50 lbfresh
Smoked fish12 lbfresh

Milk100 galfresh
Cheese(various local)120lbfresh
Yogurt (made from milk above)50 qtfresh
Ice cream26 galfresh

Flour (various local)150lbbulk
Oats (local)50lbbulk

Wine30 cases
Sea salt (local)12lbbulk
Olive oil15 litres
Maple syrup (local)4 gal

On-hand exotics, limited quantities, imported:
Peppercorns, vanilla beans, dates, nuts, seeds, various oils & spices

By Glenn Harmon (not verified) on 19 Mar 2012 #permalink

While I can applaud the Bull's Eye Diet for its basic premise of knowing where our food originates, I think that a greater energy savings--and many other benefits as well--would come through a vegan diet. I eat as few processed foods as possible in my non-animal, predominantly vegetable, fruits, and legumes diet. About 75% of my intake is raw which also saves energy. But to provide variety, fruits and vegetables are transported long distances. I, as with many other people who rent, cannot grow more than a few containers of my own food. Yet I do not think the Bull's Eye Diet would have lower energy input than a vegan diet.

I'm not sure I like the "From My Nation" after "From my State" circle. The midwest and associated bits of Canada are a lot closer to one another than much of their respective nations. If I could get wheat from Michigan rather than Alberta, does that count as a win?
Or if a fellow in Michigan imports strawberries from the Holland Marsh instead of the California Valley... well, you get my point.
Common sense over patriotism for the border regions.

By T.M. August (not verified) on 26 Mar 2012 #permalink