Every August, the Merc (Lawrence’s hip, organic, as-local-as-possible food Co-op) hosts the “Eat Local Challenge.” You buy local food and get stickers for buying that food (1 sticker=$5 worth of food at the Merc, one local dish at participating restaurants, 1 bag of food at the Farmer’s Market). This year they added a cool new way to earn a sticker—take a photo of yourself in your garden (we all know I have a lot of those). I think this is an important change because growing your own food is about as local as you can get. When you earn a certain number of stickers, you officially complete the challenge. And you get a prize.

I know…it’s like I’m in kindergarten again, earning stickers on a chart for pushing in my chair and putting away my crayons. At least I’m not convincing other people to give me their stickers and promising to give them a small portion of the stickers back at the end of the challenge like my sister did in first grade. At the end of the year, she cashed in on pencils, erasers, markers of various colors, and candy. Lots of candy. She was shrewd. Or those kids were dumb.

Last year, the prize was entrance to the Merc’s fancy end of the challenge reception (complete with a local food, a band, fancy sodas in glass bottles, and Free State beer) a free t-shirt, and packet including postcards with tomatoes on them and a “Kaw River Valley” local food bumper sticker. At this reception, I got interviewed by the Lawrence Journal World and they took my photo. I look like Billy Idol, though, so I’m not posting a link.

This year, the prize was a $5 token to the Farmer’s Market, which is way more useful than a t-shirt. I know what you’re probably thinking—“How much money did Kara spend to get a $5 token?” Not that much, honestly. I only bought things that I would normally buy—veggies for the week at the FM, Kansas flour from the Merc, a cantaloupe for a potluck.

I think it’s the word “Challenge” that gets me.

One, who doesn’t like a challenge? This is America, dammit.

Two, I attempt to live out this challenge every day. I garden, I go to the Farmer’s Market every weekend, I try to make as much of my food as possible from scratch. Yes, I still eat my weight in animal crackers, but I’d say that as a whole, I do a good job. I really love that the challenge encourages people to eat local, but if other people are getting a prize for something that I already do, then I definitely want a prize too. What will I buy with my $5 token? I dunno. I will think about it, though, and I won’t spent it all in one place.

Another cool change this year is a community potluck hosted by the Merc (instead of a fancy reception). Preparing a local dish earned a sticker. I had explained my sticker collecting obsession to my friend Sam, so she came along to the picnic with me. I made a quiche with: local eggs, swiss chard, basil, onion, and flour for the crust. Sam prepared a local broccoli and potato salad with a lovely vinaigrette. I’m proud to say our dishes were some of the tastiest. They had a band and local businesses giving out samples and Free State beer. There was also a $50 Merc gift card awarded to the “People’s Choice” dish, but a strawberry-rhubarb cobbler won out. Desserts are hard to beat. I think having this potluck was a positive change—the community got to come together, celebrate local food, and cook for one another.

Even though we didn’t win the gift card, we did get our photo in the newspaper. And nobody looks like Billy Idol.

Dear readers,

I have let you down yet again. I may be giving myself too much credit, but I like to think that you look forward to my blog, that you read it because it gives you some sort of pleasure. Maybe you like to mock me. Maybe you actually think I’m funny. In all honesty, I’m quite embarrassed that it’s taken me this long to write. Trust that I’ve been writing, just not about the garden.

Mid-July until now has been busy. I am now going to list my excuses for not being more attentive to the blog and to you.

1) In a stroke of genius, I decided to take a two-week seminar. It was intense. I spent the weeks leading up to the class reading poetry to prepare. During that two weeks, we met for three hours every day. I spent the weeks following it writing a paper. So, it was essentially a summer-long course. Okay, I don’t feel like talking anymore about school.

2) During the paper writing stage of said class, I moved apartments. This is super exciting. There are many perks to living alone—baking whenever you want, blasting Emmylou Harris and Fleetwood Mac, keeping your vitamins in the kitchen cabinet, leaving the bathroom door opening while showering, calling people and talking loudly on the phone.

As if those Kara activities aren’t mildly weird enough, there’s this fun fact: My favorite thing about this apartment is that for the first time ever Grandma’s canned stuff (green beans, salsa, jelly, pumpkin, etc) actually has a place in the kitchen. When I moved out of the dorms four years ago, Grandma started giving me food she canned. It has always had to live under my bed because with roommates, there was never enough kitchen space. Now, I still glance under my bed and ask “Where are the green beans?” but I think I’ll get used to it soon enough.

3) I went of family vacation to Sedona, AZ and Las Vegas, NV. Sedona was beautiful, though Alyssa got a terrible sunburn and was attacked by a few cacti.  I fell in love with quite a few different desert plants and one or two European men. The Bollingers hiked a lot and climbed a few mountains and found wild blackberries and looked at cool art and ate cake. In Las Vegas, we did not see this, though we did witness a bikini-clad blond slide down a volcano into a blender at Margaritaville. When she was finally rescued from the blender by a giant fish hook, she danced around the restaurant. If I’d had a margarita, that could have been me.

4) And now, my last excuse for not blogging, but the whole reason for blogging…the garden. My two green thumbs have lost a some of their magic. I blame the 100+ degree-days.

A lot of things simply couldn’t handle the heat and turned crunchy, so I dug them up: green beans, pumpkin plants, pursaline. Rodents are eating the tomatoes before they even start to turn yellow. When I got back from vacation, it looked like something had started to dig up the sweet potatoes, but I need to investigate further. I’m leaving out the dying garden photos. Nobody wants to see that.

The kale and chard are doing great. I also harvested more carrots. Luckily, the tomatoes, peppers, and basil in the communal space are fine, so I’ve at least gotten to have some of those.

I’m frustrated about the rabbits/squirrels/people eating the sweet potatoes, but as a whole, I’m not that upset. I plan on planting some fall greens and ending on a good note. Spinach always grows, right?