Smokey Point blogger’s challenge: Can you eat local all winter?

Laura McCrae is ready for winter.

She has a quarter of beef, half a pig, 20 whole chickens, all locally raised, in her freezer.

Canned tomatoes, peaches, cherries, pickles and jam fill a pantry.

Fingerling potatoes, peppers and cabbage from the summer garden wait in cool storage in the barn.

This is what it looks like to eat local in the off season.

While it’s easy to profess a green, sustainable, eat-local lifestyle in the peak of summer when the corn is high and the berries are bountiful, it’s another story in the dark days of fall and winter.

It’s why 31-year-old McCrae, who has been blogging for the past three years about her adventures in eating local and raising laying hens, honey bees, horses and vegetables, is putting on her third annual Dark Days of Winter Eat Local Challenge.

It’s a call to bloggers everywhere, as well as readers of her blog — the (not so) Urban Hennery — to cook one meal a week focused on sustainable, organic, local, ethical ingredients, or SOLE.

Participants are asked to write about their meals and, ideally, include recipes and photos for the challenge, which begins this week and continues through March 31.

“It’s only fun when it’s a challenge,” said McCrae, who does energy conservation marketing for the Snohomish County PUD. “You can find local products all year long.”

Though sustainable, organic and ethical are important food attributes for McCrae, her challenge is about eating local first, which she defines as within 150 miles of home.

That gets her fresh-milled flour from the Bluebird Grain Farms in the Methow Valley and fresh fruit from Yakima.

McCrae started her Urban Hennery blog in the fall of 2006. She and her husband lived in Everett at the time and McCrae was eager to share her humorous stories of city chickens with family and friends.

Her eat-local adventure started in 2007, when she took another blogger’s One Local Summer challenge to prepare one locally sourced meal a week. She dove into the challenge with a passion and quickly discovered numerous local farmers and ranchers who could help her in her quest.

But when the summer was over, she needed something to take its place.

“I thought, ‘What am I going to blog about all winter?’” she said.

Thirty-five bloggers from every corner of the country participated in the first Dark Days Challenge, sharing successes, failures and photos.

“You get a lot of ideas,” McCrae said. “I had never cooked with kale until the first year we did the Dark Days Challenge. You can only eat so much squash and potatoes.”

Today her blog’s called the (not so) Urban Hennery because the McCraes aren’t so urban anymore. In February 2008, they moved from a small house Everett to a slightly larger home on 3½ acres near Smokey Point.

Since then they’ve created a 2,000-square-foot vegetable garden, built a chicken coop for their hens, bought two horses and, this past summer, raised and slaughtered 80 broiler chickens for meat. They also started tending honey bees with friends.

McCrae isn’t an eat-local purist. Her pantry also contains Oreo cookies and ramen noodles.

And it’s taken years for the McCraes to get to a point where they can easily eat local meals throughout the year.

McCrae’s first gardening attempt back in Everett failed miserably, despite her experience growing up on her grandparents’ hobby farm in Minnesota.

“I really had no clue, actually, how to grow anything,” she said.

These days McCrae is holding the virtual hand of aspiring locavores such as Brittney Baldwin of Everett.

Baldwin and her fiance, Tyler Rourke, inspired by McCrae, turned 1,000 square feet in their back yard into a thriving vegetable garden earlier this year.

They are raising hens in a homemade chicken coop. This fall they are converting their grassy front yard into an oasis for asparagus, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries.

“For me, meeting her, knowing she lived in my community and seeing her progress through her blog was the impetus I needed,” Baldwin said. “I really felt like she and I were on the same track.”

Part of McCrae’s search for local also is a quest for gourmet flavors.

“The best ingredients you can get are from farmers that you know,” she said, looking forward to yet-another Dark Days Challenge. “We’re just going to make a meal and celebrate food, local food.”

Sarah Jackson: 425-339-3037, sjackson@heraldnet.com.

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