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It's a bountiful life: Wheels in motion

March/April 2018 California Bountiful magazine

Tool helps connect people with local foods and food traditions

Jessica, food expert/researcher (left): "I was working as a chef and a local foods educator and advocate and wanted something that would express the bounty and beauty of local foods." Sarah, illustrator (middle): "I do all the illustrations. Working on the wheel has been a way for me to learn even more about local foods and bring this to others." Maggie, designer (right): "I design the wheels and help edit the content. For me, the Local Foods Wheel is a fun marriage of my creative side and my career working in local food systems and food policy."

Wondering what's in season where you live? A turn of the Local Foods Wheel—created by Bay Area residents Jessica Prentice, Sarah Klein and Maggie Gosselin—will provide the answer. The trio has developed wheels for five U.S. regions, including the Bay Area and Southern California, and is working on a sixth. They are sold online at and dozens of stores and farmers markets.

How do you create the wheels? Jessica: We start each wheel with a master list that Maggie and I refine with the help of content editors who are deeply familiar with their local foodshed. Once the list is complete, Sarah illustrates any new icons, which she passes on to Maggie, who adds color and places them on the wheel. There's also a reference list on the back that Maggie and I refine and edit.

What do you enjoy about the project? Maggie: I love seeing how people use the more than 30,000 wheels we've produced over the past decade. Some people bring their wheel to the grocery store to reference when they shop. Some people use their wheel to teach children about what grows locally. Some people just stick their wheel on the wall as a constant reminder of the local agricultural bounty. They've been used in schools, at farmers markets, by chefs and nutritionists, and by folks who just moved to a region and want to become familiar with what grows there.

Tell us something surprising you've learned. Sarah: Working on this project has helped me learn so much beyond just when items are in the market—for example, learning that not all strawberries are the same. Now I can spot the transition times between the different varieties of strawberries, planted by farmers for their seasonal attributes. Rather than having just one strawberry icon on our Southern California wheel (where the strawberry season lasts seven months), I drew icons that captured the differences between the early- and late-season strawberries.

What is one seasonal item you love during spring? Sarah: Something about the taste of a rhubarb and strawberry crisp really makes it feel like springtime. Jessica: If I can get my hands on some garlic scapes in spring, I am in heaven. These are hard to find and not easy to grow either (I tried last year), but one of the best-tasting and most fun vegetables on the planet. Maggie: I feel incredibly excited when I see the first local blueberries in the market in late spring. I mostly eat them out of hand or in a compote with other berries, but I wouldn't complain if someone made me a blueberry pie.

The top layer of the 12-inch Local Foods Wheel displays foods that are available year-round, such as eggs and olive oil; items peeking through the window are available seasonally.

Jessica, you're credited with coining the term "locavore," voted Oxford University Press Word of the Year in 2007. What is your definition? Jessica: A locavore is someone who makes eating locally and seasonally a priority. She goes out of her way to buy directly from farmers, to visit farms and ranches, and to build relationships with the people who supply her food. She may garden or raise chickens or even be a homesteader. At the very least, she contributes to building a local food system by educating herself and putting her money where her mouth is.

The Local Foods Wheel was your idea. What do you hope it accomplishes? Jessica: I had the idea for this wheel after looking at lots of seasonality charts and finding them uninspiring and incomplete. Our mission is to connect people with local foods and food traditions—to help them learn about the foods that are grown, raised, caught and foraged near their homes and the amazing people who bring food to our tables.

Aside from collaborating with your team, what do you enjoy most about the project? Sarah: I like it when we brainstorm extra things for the wheel that celebrate the abundance for a particular region. For example on the San Francisco Bay Area wheel, we added "cider pressing season" when we have an abundance of apples and "fermentation season" when pickling and fermenting ingredients such as cabbages and radishes are abundant. On the Southern California wheel, we honored the date and olive harvests with special icons. Jessica: I like watching the local foods movement evolve and responding to that. As interest in wild and foraged foods grew, we incorporated those into the wheel. Our latest version of the Bay Area wheel has acorns and bay nuts on it.

You also offer a 30-inch wheel made of plywood. How are those used? Sarah: The large wheels are used in a range of settings—at farmers markets, in people's kitchens, in classrooms. We even sold a large display wheel to Adobe Systems, the software company, that's now part of an amazing display on local agriculture in their cafeteria.

What's next? Maggie: We are currently working on a Local Foods Wheel for the Rocky Mountain region and have many ideas for other food-related educational tools that we hope will someday come to fruition. 

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