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City councilwoman blogs about eating locally

February 01, 2011|BY TIFFANY ARNOLD |
  • Ashley Haywood is a locavore, which means she eats foods that are locally grown. She has been blogging and grading her efforts to eat locally every day. She is standing in her downtown Hagerstown cafe, Skyline Coffee and Catering, with bacon, eggs, cheese and bread from the area.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff photographer

An earnest New Year's Eve resolution evolved into the chronicles of a 26-year-old locavore.

The blogging locavore, Ashley C. Haywood, has been posting anecdotes and recipes and attaching letter grades about her attempts at eating locally harvested food daily on her Wordpress blog,  Haywood Eats Hagerstown.

At 26, Haywood is the youngest member of the Hagerstown City Council. She runs Dig In, Hagerstown, the city's community garden program, and is a regular at the city farmers' market. The Herald-Mail caught up with Haywood to talk about her foray into blogging and the challenges of eating local.

Haywood spoke candidly about kitchen fumbles — check out her pot roast post — and successes. Mainly, she said she's hoping her blog will encourage people to support their local farmers.

"The last thing I wanted to do, as someone in the public, is say any lifestyle choice is bad or wrong," Haywood said. "I don't believe it is. Just like any diet, no food should be bad for you or you shouldn't be eating the wrong thing. Everything's OK, there's just things you want to strive for."

That's why she created a grading system, a "Good Practice Average" (the GPA), based from the number of steps it takes a product to get from the ground to your plate. Eating a salad made with produce her own garden, for example, would earn her an A+. In contrast, going to a big-box discount store would earn her a D+, according to her scale.

"Everything has a price, everything impacts our environment," said Haywood, as she fielded a few espresso orders during the interview at her downtown Hagerstown cafe, Skyline Coffee and Catering. "We should shoot to be as sustainable as possible, understanding it's a modern world and sometimes things get in the way of that and that's OK."

Find her blog on the web at

Q&A with Ashley Haywood about her blog, Haywood Eats Hagerstown

HM: What made you want to do this now?

HAYWOOD: You mean in the middle of winter when there's nothing growing? To be honest with you, we started the vegan brunches back in the summer time. In the process, I found myself becoming more interested in where the food came from. I'm a big fan of Hagerstown's farmers' market. I go every week, as much as possible. I also run the community gardening program for the city. It was just one of those "aha" moments, where everything I was doing led me into this direction.

HM: What made you want to blog about it?

HAYWOOD: It's important as a small business owner to highlight the businesses I patronize and try to advertise for them, especially when they are local farms. Many of them don't have websites. Many of them are part of cultures or religions that don't allow the creation of websites.

HM: What's the most challenging thing about being a locavore?

HAYWOOD: Probably the most challenging thing is thinking outside the box with the food. It's very easy, especially in the winter time — god help me if I eat another turnip — when your selection is limited. But it actually is kind of freeing. When you're limited in the kinds of foods that you have, it really allows you to be creative with that food.

HM: That said, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things to come out of this experience?

HAYWOOD: The most rewarding experience was going to my first farm (Windmill Meadows Farm in Leitersburg) and picking out my first batch of meat after not eating meat in years, being able to tour the farm, see exactly where the food came from, talk to the farmer who grows the food. I just remember driving away from that farm having a smile on my face. My cheeks hurt from smiling so much. That interaction, having some one say, "Thanks so much for coming, we'll see you next time, appreciate your visit," having that relationship with someone was so different than at a grocery store.

HM: What made you want to start eating meat again?

HAYWOOD: Food is limited during the wintertime. I wanted to make sure I got the appropriate amount of iron and vitamins, and without super fresh produce, like citrus and fresh greens, which may not always be available to a local eater, I wanted to make sure that I got a balanced diet. Knowing the meat itself was free range, grass fed, and that the animals live longer than animals at factory farms made me feel a lot more comfortable about eating meat.

HM: Where'd you get the recipes you post? You had some good ones on the site, some neat things with turnips.

I worked in restaurants ever since I had the opportunity to work. When I was living abroad, some of the only jobs that were available to me were in the kitchen.

I lived in London for a couple of years; I lived in the West Indies for a little while. I had a research grant for my college (Dickinson College and the University of East Anglia in the UK). I was researching the sociological effects of the volcanic crisis of Montserrat, a tiny little island in the West Indies. My research was oriented around how the community maintained itself because obviously there was a big diaspora of people. My travels took me to the island and also to London and New York City to speak with displaced individuals.

HM: So, this idea of sustainability has been an interest for you for a while.

HAYWOOD: Especially in my travels, when we were working with the individuals in Montserrat. It was wrecked by the volcano. Sustainability became a big factor in how they lived. Everyone on the island had a backyard garden and that's how they ate, for the most part. Ever since living in that environment, I became very aware of exactly where my food comes from, how the places I get my food from effect the livelihood of the people in my community and the overall economy.

HM: What's a lingering impression you'd like this blog to leave?

HAYWOOD: Making the decision to support your local economy, your local farmers is a really selfish decision because there's so much gratification that you can glean from the experience. From the chats you can have at the market, to the food just tasting so much better, I mean, it really is a selfish endeavor. It brings you so much joy and happiness.

It's really different from any other eating experience.

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