Three years before she led a group of Lombard residents seeking the right to keep chickens in their backyards, Emily Prasad started eating locally.
And that doesn't mean grabbing a bite at the neighborhood McDonald's.
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Earth Day everyday. Think globally, act locally. Mobilize the Earth. The modern environmental movement has had a lot of catchphrases since it began with Earth Day on April 22, 1970, and a generation of adults has grown up hearing the messages and taking them to heart. With Earth Day 2012 approaching, this week we'll introduce you to six of our neighbors who have found individual ways to protect the planet and share their love of Mother Earth with others. Today, we meet Emily Prasad, whose commitment to eating locally produced food led her to campaign for approval to keep chickens in her yard.
It means choosing food grown and produced nearby to reduce transportation costs and fuel use.
It means shopping at farmers markets, buying shares in community-supported agriculture co-ops and gardening.
It means putting more effort and thought into food sources.
But Prasad, 37, said it also means savings and great tastes.
"The food is so good," she said. "Even if it weren't for those other things, I would eat this way because it's so enjoyable."
So even though the backyard chicken proposal was denied in December 2010, Prasad said she's hooked on eating locally. She's working to educate more of the community about the advantages of eating foods grown as close to home as the backyard.
When Prasad, her husband, Naren, and her 4-year-old son, Peter, began eating locally, the change wasn't anything drastic. Prasad simply spent $20 or so a week on produce from nearby farmers markets, buying whatever looked good.
The more she enjoyed the taste and environmental benefits of eating foods grown in the area, the more she found ways to buy them, purchasing shares in community-supported agriculture co-ops that brought her family meat, vegetables and variety.
"If you try to jump in all at once, it can be overwhelming," Prasad said about the lifestyle. "I don't think anyone should just jump in and try to eat 100 percent local right at once."
Still, eating locally is a positive environmental action everyone can take.
"When it comes to household kinds of things, those are real concrete changes that we can make," Prasad said. "Not everyone can go to Washington, D.C., to lobby, but we can all make decisions about how we spend our money and the products we buy to use in our homes."
Making decisions that are good for the environment always has seemed natural to Prasad. She grew up in Western Michigan, along Lake Michigan, where she enjoyed camping and hiking. She became an ecology instructor, teaching the science of the ecosystem at Hadley Junior High School in Glen Ellyn and in the Morton Arboretum's public education department.
About the same time she had Peter, she fell in love with local food because it helps support family farms and connects suburban residents with the area's more agrarian roots.
That's why she's instructing friends, neighbors and others about the strategy behind eating locally. She's given a talk about being a "locavore" at the Helen Plum Memorial Library and started a Facebook group called Eat Local DuPage for residents who want to join together to buy honey, popcorn (yes, real popcorn), beans and other crops straight from area farmers.
People are beginning to see Prasad as a local food expert, said Lombard resident Lonnie Morris, who leads the River Prairie Group of the Illinois Sierra Club. Prasad's background as an educator makes her a successful ambassador for the local food movement because she explains the technicalities of purchasing food from a community-supported agriculture co-op and other ways to find local produce year-round.
"She is just so grounded and wants to make this accessible for everyone," Morris said. "She likes to start at the very beginning and make people feel comfortable from the get-go."
Anyone who wants to take local eating to the extreme and eat only foods grown and produced within, say, a 100-mile radius, faces challenges because some foods just aren't grown here, Morris said.
Sugar is one example, but Prasad knows how to find even that sweet ingredient. She's identified a farm in Michigan and "found the closest source of sugar," Morris said. "She is absolutely brilliant at sourcing local food."
Prasad wanted eggs to be among the foods she could produce hyper-locally, in her own back yard near Lilacia Park. So she formed a group called CLUC, or Citizens of Lombard for Urban Chickens, and began asking the Lombard village board to allow up to eight chickens to be kept in coops in backyards. By the time the proposal was denied only four chickens would have been allowed.
Prasad says she thinks Lombard residents are conjuring up the wrong image when they picture backyard chickens.
"One of the big hurdles related to that is when people think about chickens, they think about poverty, old ways of doing things," Prasad said.
But what Prasad supports is a new model, in which keeping backyard chickens can complement the choice to buy local foods.
As more people begin buying local food through summer vegetable deliveries from community-supported agriculture co-ops, Prasad thinks minds might change.
"People won't be as opposed to it as they learn more about it," Prasad said about the keeping of backyard chickens. "As local food interest grows, it just starts to seem a whole lot more natural."