Last year I enthusiastically registered for the Co-op’s First Annual Eat Local Challenge. I reviewed the resources in the registration materials, excitedly found a few of my family’s favorite recipes, and researched how I could find all the ingredients locally. Shortly into the Eat Local Challenge I realized the biggest challenge for me, as single-mom working full-time, would be to find the time to cook. I then spotted the information from REAP Food Group and the listing of their Restaurant Partners.

REAP (Research, Education, Action, and Policy) Food Group’s mission is to build a regional food system that is healthful, just, and both environmentally and economically sustainable. They do this by “connecting producers, consumers, policy makers, educators, businesses, and organizations to nourish the links between land and table,” according to their website, www.reapfoodgroup.org. They are committed to projects that shorten the distance from farm to table, support small family farmers, encourage sustainable agricultural practices, preserve the diversity and safety of our food supply, and address the food security of everyone in our community. One such project is REAP’s Buy Fresh Buy Local program. The program helps area chefs and food service providers build lasting relationships with the farmers that can directly supply the foods they need. Partner restaurants are required to be independent, locally owned, businesses which commit to increasing their purchase of locally grown foods through an annual goal-setting process. Partner restaurants are then listed on REAP’s website and other materials. It was this listing of 33 local restaurants that I ran into last year. I was excited to learn that they included a number of my favorite restaurants that were within walking distance to Willy East—Alchemy Café, Bunky’s Café, Roman Candle East, Tex Tubbs Taco Palace, and The Weary Traveler. While the Roman Candle West is really the only REAP Buy Fresh Buy Local restaurant partner within walking distance to Willy West, there are an increasing number of partner restaurants on Madison’s westside within the last couple years. You simply may need to take a bike ride to get to them! For a full listing, visit REAP’s website.

This listing helped me easily focus my take-out and dining-out habit to restaurants that use local products, much like the “locally grown” and “locally prepared” stickers on the Co-op shelves help me focus my Co-op purchases on local products. I achieved my personal Eat Local Challenge goal last year, despite my lack of time to cook, thanks to the help of REAP Food Group Partner Restaurants.

In addition to the Buy Fresh Buy Local program REAP also publishes the Southern Wisconsin Farm Fresh Atlas, runs the “Farm to School” program, and hosts six annual events. One of these events, the “Food for Thought Festival,” is happening during the Eat Local Challenge, on Saturday, September 17th from 8:00am to 1:30pm. Willy Street Co-op and other local businesses and organizations sponsor the Food for Thought Festival. The festival features informational and interactive displays, speakers and presentations, cooking demonstrations, kids’ activities, and of course, great food! So, if you are like me and found last year’s Eat Local Challenge more challenging than expected, or are not sure you can “commit” this year, consider this festival as yet another opportunity to learn about the wonderful resources Madison has to help all of us eat well, locally, and sustainably.

Good luck to everyone participating in this year’s Eat Local Challenge. I hope you learn much and achieve your personal goals during this month and beyond!