For many people, eating is about the flavor. Or maybe it’s about how quickly we can grab a bite. Perhaps it’s about how little we can pay for it. As a society, we seem more willing to spend money on remedies for various ailments than for healthy food choices that might prevent them in the first place. And generally, if we really think about our meal at all, it is seldom to consider where the food has come from.
However, our attitude about food sourcing is now changing.
In 2007, the
New Oxford American Dictionary
named locavore its word of the year. Referring to people who attempt to
eat only food grown or produced within a 100-mile radius of their homes,
the locavore movement was developed by four San Francisco women in
response to the knowledge that most food travels an average of 1,500
miles before ending up on our tables. As the organization’s Web site,
locavores.com, explains, "This globalization of the food supply has
serious consequences for the environment, our health, our communities
and our tastebuds."
Here in the mountains of central Idaho, eating only food that has come from within a 100-mile radius is a considerable challenge. But help is at hand. A small group of people with big dreams and workable methods created Idaho’s Bounty, an Internet-based, grassroots food-distribution organization. Promoting and distributing organic (produced without the use of preservatives, growth hormones and pesticides), ethically produced and all-natural foods from as local a source as possible, Idaho’s Bounty is trying to create a new model for food consumption. Members peruse an online catalog of available foods for the next delivery cycle, place their order via the Web site and then gather with like-minded neighbors in convenient Ketchum and Hailey locations to pick up their food on delivery day.
"What we’re trying to do is help create a new paradigm for food production and distribution," said Jeannie Wall, Idaho’s Bounty’s director of operations. "One that harkens back to the wonderful aspects of traditional cultures and food cultivation on a local scale. But that also uses modern advances—like biodiesel for our delivery truck—to allow us to have the selection, convenience and quality people have come to demand, without the destruction that we’ve created in conventional, industrial agriculture today."
Idaho’s Bounty hopes it can
also help local food retailers reduce the time and money spent
researching those products by becoming a one-stop source for the best
local and organic foods. This means that even people who are not members
of Idaho’s Bounty’s might still partake of high-quality local foods by
continuing their regular shopping habits at local markets.
"Idaho’s Bounty is helping fuel community by supporting and distributing food that is fresh from the family farm, ready for a family’s table in only a day’s time," said Wall. "We’re creating jobs through a thriving local network that brings kids back to the farm while eliminating the need for mass-produced food, transported over hundreds and thousands of miles that burns up millions of gallons of fuel, and spews out life-depleting pollutants."
Wall also emphasizes that through supporting a local food network, people are fostering a sense of local stewardship and responsibility to their neighbors. This in turn helps keep communities intact, air clean, water pure, environment life-giving, bodies healthy and taste buds bursting with flavors not experienced by conventional, industrial and processed food.
"We realize, of course, that we won’t be able to source everything within 100 miles," said Wall. "But, we can do our utmost given where we are now, and promote new local producers and methods. For instance, we have an abundance of fresh greens produced locally throughout the summer, but we hope to be able to offer fresh greens well into the winter, too. They’ll be grown in a geothermal-heated greenhouse (in Hagerman, along the Snake River) in the next year or so."
If it cannot be found close to home, Idaho’s Bounty will source high-demand items like chocolate and olive oil from reliable fair-trade sources.
If there is skepticism about this local supply chain, it concerns perceived cost. But that may be a misperception.
Ed and Christa Lucero own and operate Morning Star Organic Farm in Richfield, located between Carey and Shoshone. A dairy farm, they also provide vegetables to Idaho’s Bounty and local farmers’ markets. "We do everything we can to keep our prices as low as possible," said Christa. "We think this quality of food should be available to everyone." Wall agrees. "Idaho’s Bounty is very value-oriented. If people compare the cost of our suppliers’ goods with goods of equal value from other sources, they’ll find that our pricing is very competitive. Part of our mission is to build community, and not to be exclusive."
Well before the current interest in eating from local food sources developed, a slightly different upstart idea came out of Italy. The slow food movement was founded on the concept of "eco-gastronomy," a recognition of the strong connections between plate and planet. Slow Food International (and Slow Food USA) proclaims slow food is "good, clean and fair food." Proponents believe that food should taste good; that it should be produced in a clean way that does not harm the environment, animal welfare or our health; and that food producers should receive fair compensation for their work.
Many Wood River Valley chefs heartily endorse this belief. Chris Kastner of CK’s Real Food in Hailey has followed slow food’s tenets for years. A slow food offering is on CK’s menu every night. Ketchum Grill’s Scott Mason also regularly serves local, organic and slow food options. Many of the valley’s restaurateurs and caterers buy from local food producers whenever possible and eagerly await an increasingly strong and reliable supply chain, the likes of which Idaho’s Bounty and Slow Food International have in their sights.
As Christa of Morning Star says happily, "Big Belly Deli (Hailey) now features our homemade soups, and people actually call ahead to ask, ‘Which one of Christa’s soups do you have today?’ The more demand there is for our products, the more we believe farmers like us can stay in business."
"One Farmers’ Market producer routinely uses a three-legged stool as his metaphor for healthy business operations," said Lynea Newcomer, manager of the Ketchum Farmers’ Market. "One leg represents the Farmers’ Market, another represents sales to local restaurants and the last represents caterers or special orders." The point is that producers need different options for points of sale so that if something goes wrong—as with the Castle Rock Fire last summer, which cancelled one peak-season market and decreased attendance to subsequent ones—they are still guaranteed profits elsewhere. Idaho’s Bounty offers a growing opportunity as yet another stool leg."
Of all the logical and practical reasons that exist for eating local organic food, perhaps the most fulfilling is the emotional response to knowing where our meals come from. Often, shopping at the farmers’ markets is as much about reconnecting with neighbors and vendors there as it is about good food. It’s a social scene with a function.
"We feel really strongly about what we are doing here," said Christa. "This farm we’re on was homesteaded in 1907 by my grandfather. We didn’t actually realize that what we were doing here had the label of ‘organic.’ It’s just the way we did things. We love our animals, and we’ve raised our family on this farm. It’s our passion. It’s such a great thing to take our vegetables to the Farmers’ Market and have people be so appreciative, to have people thank us for being here and following through in what we believe. Well, it just restores our spirit."
For more than 50 years, residents of the Wood River Valley have been blessed with a wide variety of excellent foods available at the locally owned and operated Atkinsons’ markets, and the recent addition of seasonal farmers’ markets in Ketchum and Hailey has been met with much enthusiasm.
Clearly our local food merchants have long had their finger on the pulse of the valley’s demands for organic foods.
Remember, when you shop the farmers’ markets in the summer and fall, you are getting to know your food sources up close and personal. Your closest farm may be Wood River Organics (woodriverorganics.com) in Bellevue. Look for owner/farmer Judd and Heather McMahan at the Farmers’ Market.
Check out Morning Star Organic Farm (morningstarorganics.com) in Richfield. Well within 100 miles of the Wood River Valley, they also sell at the markets and supply local restaurants. Ditto Clarence and Tona Stilwill of Fairfield’s Fair Mountain Farm. See them every week at the Ketchum Farmers’ Market. Carol Rast of Prairie Sun Farm in Fairfield also grows vegetables for the farmers’ markets and through Idaho’s Bounty. Get organic meat products from Lava Lake Ranch. Located between our valley and Carey, they raise organic lambs in ethical, responsible and sustainable ways. Grow your own food when you can do so. Learn to preserve your crops by canning, freezing or drying, and trade with friends and neighbors to add variety to your pantry.
Join Idaho’s Bounty
Hungry for trout, grass-fed beef or free-range chicken? Pork from MM Heath Farms? Danish Havarti-style cheese from Ballard Dairy? Apricot jam? Lamb from Lava Lake Lamb? Beans, squash, eggs, raw milk? Alligator for the dogs? All this and much more is available year round in Idaho’s Bounty’s Food Shed in Hagerman.
Founded in 2007, Idaho’s Bounty is a nonprofit Internet cooperative based south of the Wood River Valley in Hagerman that links consumers with organic farmers and producers. An initial membership fee of $75 allows consumers to shop from a changing list of seasonal produce every two weeks.
Visit IdahosBounty.org and click on "Join," then place products in your online shopping cart. Once the order cycle closes, the producer uploads weights and prices. Tax is added along with a 15 percent co-op fee (which pays for delivery and all the work in between). Then pay online with Pay Pal or bring a check to the pickup site (the National Guard Armory in Hailey and Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum) and collect your goods. Drop-off is available for an extra charge.
Find your 100-mile radius on this Web site. For a Hailey resident the 100-mile radius stretches west to Boise, south to beyond Twin Falls, east to Pocatello and north to Stanley.