The concept is simple enough: only eat foods grown or produced within a 50km radius of your home for one week. If buying processed foods (like sauces or jams), the ingredients should be at least 50% from within the locality. What could go wrong?
As it turns out, this little project (which I completed over the summer) was eye-opening for me – even though I already try to buy local whenever possible.
My home base was the town of Thurles, where, until recently, we were renting. This meant a 50km radius which extended into the counties of Limerick, Offaly, Waterford, Galway, Clare and Kilkenny. Lucky me!
I spend around €200 on groceries each week. This feeds myself, my husband and my three children.
Regular items include: fresh fruits and vegetables, grains like oatmeal, rice and bulgur wheat, pantry staples like flour, baking powder, sugar and vanilla and things for my kids’ lunches – sliced ham, cheddar cheese, crackers, yoghurt pots and orange juice.
I enjoy shopping locally and, when time allows, I like to make my way around some of the farmers’ markets in the region.
I often buy meat, like lamb, in bulk and keep it in the deep freeze. The rest of my shop is done at either Dunnes Stores, Lidl, SuperValu or Aldi.
I was mainly worried about my children, who are very picky eaters. What were they going to eat all week? Could I get what they would eat within 50km? Could I make their Sunday morning pancakes from native wheat flour? Sometimes my concerns were justified.
The Irish Country Living team was happy to take on this challenge but we all agreed we needed one cheat item we couldn’t live without. For me, this was coffee. I start each day with three cups. I generally buy coffee from within my 50km (Ponaire in Newport, Co Tipperary), but I think we all know the beans – the only ingredient – aren’t grown locally.
I ordered much of my food directly from local producers. This took a bit of online research, emailing, online shopping, direct messages on Twitter and a few phone calls. Actually, this was fairly time consuming.
I ordered beef from Blackcastle Farm. They specialise in Piedmontese beef which is naturally low in fat. I love their beef sausages, so I ordered one of their barbeque boxes from their website (€40).
I had Lacka Organic Lamb in the deep freeze (€200 per whole lamb) and I bought a Ring’s Farm chicken (€12) from the Thurles Farmers’ Market.
On our last evening, to celebrate, I reverse-seared a thick striploin steak for two (about €20) from Lacey’s Butcher’s.
My vegetables mainly came from Annie’s Organic Farm in Cashel (€35). She delivered a gorgeous veggie box which lasted more than the week.
I bought eggs, local honey, chicken bone broth and homemade mayonnaise from Magner’s Farm (€60), who produce everything except the honey (they sell that for a different local producer).
We visited The Apple Farm in Cahir and, as this was the middle of July, we were able to purchase fresh strawberries and raspberries. We also bought strawberry jam, plum jam, apple juice and locally grown garlic, while the kids were treated to a bag of O’Donnell’s Tipperary Crisps. This all came to around €25.
For baking, I bought native wheat flour from Kells Wholemeal in Bennetsbridge, Co Kilkenny (€16).
For treats, we stocked up on ice cream from Boulabán Farm (€20 per 2L tub), near Roscrea. This is my favourite ice cream, although it’s not always easy to buy as you need to order and then arrange pickup on a Friday. It’s worth it though.
Milk, buttermilk and cream came from Thurles Centenary. Butter came from Tipperary Co-op. Cashel Blue was selling a Greek-style yoghurt at the time, which was delicious. In Tipperary we are spoiled for choice with cheese. I bought from Cooleeney and Cashel Blue this particular week.
Wine was off-limits for my husband and me, but luckily we live in an area with lots of great beer. We had a few Friday and Saturday night pints from Whitefield Brewery in Templemore.
For taste, quality and general feel-good factor, the week was really successful. We feasted on strawberries, cream (sweetened with honey) and ice cream for our desserts. My carnivorous children enjoyed their mostly-meat-and-potatoes dinners.
I enjoyed not worrying about the fat content of my meals and relished putting butter and cream in my veggie dishes and sauces. We grilled a lot of meat and vegetables this week, and really enjoyed our dinners.
I also liked meeting farmers and food producers (some for the first time) and supporting their businesses.
I mistakenly bought Charleville cheddar for my kids before realising they were well outside my 50km.
I couldn’t source porridge (my husband’s favourite) within our 50km – plenty of oats are grown, but not for human consumption!
I made pancakes with native wheat flour and my children thought I was trying to punish them. They were not the nice, soft texture we are used to (but I loved them as a bread replacement).
My kids really missed their “snacky” bits – like cream crackers and chorizo.
I spent over €350 on food this week, which effectively blew my food budget for the remainder of the month. It should be noted, however, that I paid a fair price to primary producers for these foods and most of the ingredients I bought lasted a long time – many could be frozen or kept in the pantry.
That said, if you’re living on a weekly wage, this kind of diet would be difficult to maintain as you pay for everything up front. It’s easy, as a journalist, to reach out to a farmer or food producer to get harder-to-find items and also as a proficient cook it’s easier to be creative with what you’re given.