Rebecca ReisMiller left and Trish Strawn fulfilled their promise to eat only local food for three months

Rebecca Reis-Miller (left) and Trish Strawn fulfilled their promise to eat only local food for three months.

SN EXTRA: Living La Vida Local

“I believe we should eat from home. We would be healthier, we would be happier, and we would be better off economically." — Trish Strawn, chair, Florida Food Policy Council

Rebecca Reis-Miller and her friend Trish Strawn thought it would be easy: A three-month promise to eat only local foods. After all, how hard could it be? They live in Florida, the Sunshine State, one of the busiest food-producing states in the country.

The food activists were in for a surprise.

“Here I am Ms. Local Food and I didn’t know where to get [it] the first day of my challenge, so how’s an average person going to know?” said Strawn. 

As a fifth generation rancher, Strawn thought she knew everything there was about food. She chairs the Florida Food Policy Council, a nonprofit group that seeks to increase access to healthy, locally grown food. Her friend, Reis-Miller, serves as the leader of the Slow Food chapter in Orlando. Together, they founded Growing Synergy, a food and agriculture business consulting firm and distribution company.

SN blog: Chains Evolve to ‘Own Local’ in Their Markets [1]

Their mission to raise awareness for healthy, local eating wasn’t their only motivation.  They also wanted to introduce Florida consumers to the many local food producers in the state.  During their three-month challenge, they met a lot of interesting people and heard their stories.  At a farmers’ market, they met a man who makes doughnuts right there, topped with handmade chocolate glaze. A search for bread led the pair to Miami, home of the so-called Cracker Man. Then there was Dale from Lake Meadows Natural in Ocoee who cooked “the most amazing duck and seafood appetizer,” said Strawn.

Part of their experience included the pleasures of eating at home and at times, improvising ingredients and adapting to what was available. Freezing bread and substituting honey for sugar were changes that took some getting used to.

'We Should Eat From Home'

“I believe we should eat from home. We would be healthier, we would be happier, and we would be better off economically,” said Strawn. “We would be happier because how can’t you be happy knowing you just bought this steak and are supporting six families?”

As the weeks passed, news of their mission spread through word of mouth, Twitter, Facebook, and their website, GrowingSynergy.com [2]. Restaurants and hotels invited the women to dine, cooking local dishes for them. Even the giant Ritz Carlton resort in Orlando took an interest in their local food challenge. The hotel started to buy locally grown rice as a result of becoming involved in Rebecca and Trish’s quest.

“We just wanted to make people aware. We found rice in Florida!” said Strawn.

The very first day of the challenge, Trish found blueberries from a store in Orlando that were grown in her hometown. She was embarrassed to admit that she didn’t know of the blueberries.  

Stores weren’t their only option. Both Strawn and Reis-Miller relied on many farmers’ markets to get them through the challenge. Farmers supported the pair throughout the challenge with locally grown produce. In return they received free advertising and marketing advice from the pair’s firm.    

SN blog: Chains Evolve to ‘Own Local’ in Their Markets [1]

Strawn and Reis-Miller celebrated the end of the challenge with a concluding local meal at The Table Orlando restaurant. Their five-course dinner featured items from 17 local suppliers, including Pure Produce, Deep Creek Ranch, Wild Ocean Seafood and Kissimmee Green. 

“I think 90 days was too long for the average person to do,” said Strawn, adding that future efforts will probably focus on a single meal. “Actually, I think that’s our next initiative — to go and say we are going to change breakfast,” she said.   

Details of Trish and Rebecca’s 90-day challenge can be found on GrowingSynergy.com or on their Facebook page.