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Eat Local Challenge 

  Access to locally produced foods is improving quickly around New Orleans. Just ask anyone gearing up for this year's Eat Local Challenge, which asks participants during the month of June to eat foods produced within a 200-mile radius of New Orleans.

  "It's so much easier now than when we started this, and that was just three years ago," says Lee Stafford, co-founder of the annual event. "We can get more food at the grocery stores and there are more specialty shops for some of the stuff that had been hard to find before, especially meat. The first week is still hard, but once your refrigerator is filled with all local items, you're good to go."

  Stafford and New Orleans native Leslie Brown, a Covington pediatrician, started the Eat Local Challenge as a way to encourage people to explore the richness of local foods and connect with local food producers. It since has evolved into a month of events, from workshops about making your own wine, sausage or gelato to a bicycle tour of urban gardens to wild berry foraging excursions along the batture.

  This year, there will be a garden-to-glass cocktail contest June 17 at the Old New Orleans Rum Distillery (2815 Frenchmen St., 504-945-9400; www.oldneworleansrum.com) for drink recipes using all-local ingredients at 6 p.m. May 31, the day before the start of the eat-local month, Rouses Market CBD location (701 Baronne St.) will host a kickoff party at the rooftop garden.

  "That's a chance to mingle with people who have done it before and get some of their tips," says Anne Mueller, an Eat Local Challenge organizer.

  Mueller completed the challenge last year and says the experience was especially valuable for helping her teach her young son what really goes into their meals. Her experience also demonstrates that there are different ways to approach the Eat Local Challenge. An self-described "addict" to iced coffee and certain New Zealand wines, Mueller says she couldn't commit completely to the 200-mile radius rule. But that's fine, because people can sign up for the Eat Local Challenge at different levels, from "ultrastrict," which is just as it sounds, to "ultra ultra lenient," for people who just want to give it a shot for a few days.

  Participants don't have to rely entirely on home cooking either. Forty New Orleans restaurants have promised to offer at least one Eat Local Challenge-compliant dish on their menus in June, more than three times the count of last year's participating restaurants. Eat Local Challenge registration costs $25. Sign up online at www.nolalocavore.org or at the May 31 kick-off event.

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