Quills & Queues: By Angela Howe-Decker — The folks at the Ashland Food Co-op and the Rogue Flavor campaign are challenging all of us to eat regionally produced food for one week.

Eat up, Ashlanders. The greater Rogue Valley produces a treasure trove of good food, a bounty of produce, seafood and meat, dairy products, grains, beans, and even locally grown and pressed olive oil. Our fish doesn't have to travel from Maine or our potatoes from Iowa. Experts say eating food grown locally is healthier and better for the environment. The folks at the Ashland Food Co-op and the Rogue Flavor campaign know this and are challenging all of us to eat regionally produced food for one week.

The Eat Local Challenge is part of Eat Local Week, a festival that kicks off Sept. 11 with a food film, "Ingredients: Who's Your Farmer?" at the the Headwaters building in Ashland, and continues with other fun activities throughout the week, including cooking classes, a tomato taste-off at the Saturday growers market, wine tasting, lectures and an auction at RoxyAnn Winery.

Annie Hoy, the Co-op's outreach/owner-services manager, is pleased with all the events lined up, "It's an extravagant week," she said. "The movie is going to be excellent, and during the festival the Port Orford fisherman are going to be grilling up their rockfish and serving them with tortillas we'll make from local wheat."

It was with some nervousness that I signed up for the challenge. There are three levels to choose from: Purist, Idealist and Optimist. The Purist level demands that everything you eat for the week must be local, which means grown, raised or produced within 200 miles of the Rogue Valley. Everything. Hoy recommends this level only for hardcore locavores, people who routinely eat locally.

"You have to give up coffee if you're a purist; coffee, bananas and chocolate. I can't give up coffee," said Hoy. She added that, if you are brave enough to be a Purist, the Co-op will help out with a Local Food Essentials Basket containing locally dried herbs, house-made vinegar and Port Orford sea salt.

"We've been making salt at the Co-op with sea water that the Port Orford fisherman bring when they bring seafood," she said. "We just boil the water down to salt. It's really clean and, of course, local." At the end of the week, Purists will also be honored at an award ceremony.

For most people, Hoy recommends the Idealist or the Optimist level for the challenge. The Idealist need only eat one meal each day in which all ingredients are local, and is free to chug as much coffee as desired. The Optimist level asks only that participants eat two fully local meals during the week.

Everyone who accepts the challenge will receive a local food directory, weekly menu plans, recipes, a small supply of the Port Orford salt (I'm intrigued by the salt; I'd do it for that alone), and an Eat Local Week calendar of events.

"We're going to make it a no-brainer. When you sign up you'll get a list of so many resources, it'll be easy," Hoy said.

In addition to the challenge and other festival events, Hoy recommends the Monday night lecture "Our Rogue Valley Food System" on Sept. 14 at the Co-op Community Classroom. "We'll have a great panel of lecturers to discuss food security and food self-sufficiency," she said.

Eat Local Week is co-sponsored by the Rogue Flavor campaign, which invites Ashlanders to celebrate both the bounty of food choices in our region and the local farmers who bring it to us. To sign up for the Eat Local Challenge or to view a complete calendar of the week's events, visit www.AshlandFood.coop or www.RogueFlavor.org.

Tidings staff writer Vickie Aldous and Tidings correspondent Angela Howe-Decker alternate as author of the weekly column Quills & Queues.