FARMINGTON — Once Erin Beal learned more about how food is processed, grocery stores became a scary place.

It led the University of Maine at Farmington senior and her roommate, Kellie Sanborn of Gray, to try eating locally produced foods for six weeks, Beal said during a presentation Wednesday at UMF.

Beal, of Kennebunk, was one of several students and faculty members who presented their work as part of this year’s UMF Symposium. It was a day for “celebrating undergraduate research and creative achievements,” according to a program of events for the day.

Beal’s presentation, Eating Locally on a Student Budget, reflected her experiment in buying foods grown within one hundred miles of the UMF campus on a shoestring budget of $75 a week for the two.

Their shopping ended up within 50 miles of the campus, she said.

“On average, food travels over 1,500 miles from harvest to home,” she said. “This impacts our climate through carbon emissions.”

What made grocery shopping scary was learning things like 80 percent of antibiotics do not go to humans but to animals and most processed foods contain corn and soy that is genetically modified, she said.

The experiment explored what locally grown food is available during February and March and their cost.

The students allowed themselves to finish whatever they already had in their apartment cupboards and were furnished with eggs from Sanborn’s family in Gray, she said.

Beal did allow Sanborn to have Carrabassett Coffee, locally roasted but not grown, Sanborn said. Milk replaced coffee creamers.

Otherwise, they lived on meat, dairy, beans, potatoes and carrots from Sandy River Farms in Farmington. They found apples, ground wheat, flour and other items at the Better Living Center, she said.

While two winter vendors at the Saturday Farmers Market only offered pies and soaps, they found items through the market’s online shop. Items ordered from local farms are delivered to the Better Living Center every Friday, she said.

The hardest part for Beal was a lack of sugar. She found apples and cheese helped fulfill her desire for sweets.

There’s an initial sugar crash and period of detox but once past this, she found herself fuller on less food and nutritionally better fed, she said. Her workouts and preparation for a triathlon are going better.

“It’s a lifestyle change,” she said.

Time was another issue to consider. More time was needed for food preparation. A cup of milk and an apple sufficed for a quick meal on the go, she told students.

The experiment also required more planning ahead. Fortunately Sanborn likes to cook, she said. 

During the winter months, a crock pot is a way to make a good soup, she added.

In response to questions, Beal said they normally spent about $85 a week at the regular grocery store before trying the experiment.

Audience members brought up other local foods to include, such as honey, maple syrup, oatmeal and homemade yogurt.

Beal admitted she has had pizza since ending the experiment but for the most part intends to continue the new lifestyle.

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