Last Tuesday, Janice Perrin stood in her West Tisbury kitchen frantically packing. She had a reservation to leave the Vineyard that evening, but before that she had to dash to Edgartown for an interview and play a game with her volleyball league.
And she had to finish packing.
Deciding what to put in her suitcase was not the problem. It was deciding what to put in her cooler.
“I have my tiny cooler packed,” she said, going down the list. “Milk, cheese, greens, carrots, beets, snap peas, strawberries and eggs. I even have my little grill.”
Until August 28 — her 35th birthday — Ms. Perrin is on a strict diet. Not to lose weight, but to eat only foods which come from a 100-mile radius of her Island home. So when she left the Vineyard last Tuesday, Ms. Perrin had to pack every snack item, lunch provision and breakfast food she would need for the next 11 days.
According to her own rules — Ms. Perrin began the diet one month ago and has not yet slipped — her radius does not travel with her. The food she eats must come from the Vineyard area. Making the food on the Island doesn’t count. It has to be grown, raised or caught here.
“People keep suggesting I get wine from Chicama Vineyards, but they blend their grapes,” she said. “Beer from Offshore Ale — the hops [are imported]. Salsa from the farmers’ market [not strictly local ingredients]. Homemade lemonade — lemons aren’t growing on these trees,” she said.
She admits that her rules came without much research. “I really didn’t prepare well for it,” Ms. Perrin said last week. “I was off-Island the weekend before and I was planning to start on that Monday. I opened the fridge — nothing. I opened the cupboards — nothing. Nothing in there was from anywhere near 100 miles. It was such a shock to me that I had been living this way.”
Ms. Perrin likes to think of herself as responsible. She bikes when she can — she keeps her bicycle on her car roof rack for easy access — and has been a vegetarian for the past 20 years.
A year and a half ago, while working as the executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Boys’ & Girls’ Club, she began a graduate school program in guidance counseling at Goddard College in Vermont. The degree requirement includes a senior thesis. For her thesis she decided to study childhood obesity on the Island. “There are some parts of the U.S. where it would be natural for this to occur, where nutritious food is not available, period,” she said. “Here, you don’t have to be overweight. You don’t have to have these issues. It’s just that people have to be educated on how to provide what is nutritious for their families.”
She pitched an idea to her thesis advisor: she would run a two-week camp for local youth struggling with weight issues. The camp would not be boot camp, but a learning place for promoting health, wellness and integrity. She applied for a scholarship from the Vineyard Fellowship. This spring, the organization awarded her enough money to cover some of her graduate school work and her cost of living for the summer. It would also cover the $250 camp fee for those unable to meet the cost.
The day she received the grant, she left her job at the Boys’ & Girls’ Club.
Called Project Forward Movement, the camp was where Ms. Perrin hit on the idea of the 100-mile diet. “I thought, if I was going to be putting these kids through hell, I should do it too,” she said. She had no idea she was joining a movement whose participants have their own name — localvores. “I didn’t realize it was such an up and coming thing to do,” she said. “When I did it, I wasn’t trying to be trendy.”
On the first day of her challenge, she withdrew $200 from her savings account and set out on a local farm tour. “I asked what was in season and what I could stock up on,” she said. She bought lamb from Beetlebung Farm. She found cheese made in Middleboro at Fiddlehead Farm. She stopped by Mermaid Farm and got tips on how to make her own yogurt. She bought eggs from North Tabor and Native Earth Teaching farms. She came home with $40 left. “Everyone’s been great,” she said.
She also signed up for a share in the Whippoorwill Farm Community Supported Agriculture program.
For the first week, she said she was hungry all the time. “I was having insane cravings. I’ve never been a smoker, but I assume it was a lot like quitting smoking,” she said. But within a few days, her body adjusted.
Ms. Perrin is enjoying the challenge, but has found herself in a bit of a culinary rut. Breakfast most days is an omelette spiced up with fresh basil or chives. Lunch is local greens with a dressing made from Island honey and juiced beet greens. “It’s not very tasty,” she said. She tops it off with hard boiled eggs. “I’ve been eating eggs like mad,” she said. “Like four a day.”
For dinner, she has been loading up on seafood. “I go to Sandy’s [Sandy’s Fish and Chips in Vineyard Haven] and they are great. Sandy is so up on what’s local and what’s not. [Sea] scallops are in season now, as is flounder.” She cooks potatoes and grills vegetables. And occasionally she strays from her no-meat lifestyle. “I thought I should try local meat. If it comes from somewhere I know, I should eat it,” she said. She listed the Chilmark lamb and local venison shot by a friend that she tried, but then shook her head and laughed. “I’m not convinced I’m a meat eater,” she said.
For dessert she has strawberries and for snacks, sugar snap peas. She uses a lot of honey. “I’ve gone through 20 ounces of honey in the past three weeks,” she exclaimed. “It’s the only sugar I’m getting.”
At first, she can think of only two things she misses. “Chocolate and wine,” she said. But quickly she remembers other things. “I miss wheat,” she sighed, adding: “Oh, I miss oil.” Rebecca Gilbert of Native Earth Teaching Farm recently gave her some lard from her pigs to use as shortening. Ms. Gilbert is hosting Ms. Perrin’s camp at her farm.
Ms. Perrin also misses going out to eat. “I am probably saving money by not going out to dinner, but the prices for locally grown are more, so in the end, I’m spending about what I would have been before the diet began,” she said.
She said the experience has taught her many things, including awareness of the seasons for vegetables. Soon sugar snap peas and strawberries will be on their way out, replaced by blueberries, eggplant, squash and tomatoes. She has also reconsidered her shopping habits. “Before I thought I was being responsible when I shopped at Trader Joe’s or when I ate fruit,” she said. “But now, I’ve realized buying frozen shrimp from Trader Joe’s is not responsible. Buying a watermelon in February just because I want it is not responsible.”
On August 28, she will toast her birthday and the end of her diet with a glass of wine. “I hope I will grow more and will continue to buy locally. Not all locally,” she said. “I have asked my roommates to start buying locally when they can. Those simple steps can take us far. But I can’t ask everyone to do this. It’s a huge lifestyle adjustment and change.”
For more information on Project Forward Movement, call 508-280-0393 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
In other farm news, Island Grown Schools, a group working to increase connections between Island children and local produce, is building a new school garden at the Oak Bluffs School on Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. All are invited to come and help. The garden will be the second new school garden they have built this year.
Later Saturday evening, the Farm Institute at Katama will host its annual fund-raising dinner and auction, Meals in the Meadow. The event features locally grown food, locally grown musicians and auction items from locally grown artists. This year, Island businesses, families and individuals all came forward to underwrite the cost of the benefit, so every ticket sold will go directly to the farm’s operating expenses and programs. For tickets or details, call 508-627-7007 or go to farminstitute.org.
This column is meant to reflect all aspects of agricultural activity and farm life on the Vineyard. To reach Julia Rappaport, please call 508-627-4311, extension 120, or e-mail her at email@example.com.