Fresh from the Farm
Tracing the roots of our food
photography: Glen Allison
(page 1 of 3)
“This is Biggie. She was nominated all-American,” says Eric Butterworth, pointing out a very large cow at the Willonna Holstein Farm in Buhl. Butterworth is manager of the Cloverleaf Dairy, and he proudly knows the names of all the cows.
“This one with a little white on her face is Dinah. She’s my favorite cow. She’s one of the prettiest cows.
“She knows she’s pretty.”
Every cow at the Willonna Holstein Farm has a name and is individually cared for. A happy, healthy cow is the first goal of longtime farmer Bill Stolzfus and his wife Donna, who own both farm and dairy. The cows are a part of the family.
You may have seen their Cloverleaf Milk in local supermarkets in old-fashioned glass bottles with grass green caps, reminders of the days when milk was delivered daily to our doorsteps. To the Stolzfuses, it’s more than a nostalgic memory. When a cow is milked on a Friday, the milk is delivered to Wood River Valley stores on Monday.
That’s about as close to “direct from the cow” as you can get.
The quest for fresh-picked, vine-ripened food is a national passion—so much so that a new word has entered the lexicon. “Locavore,” from the Latin “locus” (meaning place) and “vorare” (to eat or devour), means just that—a person who seeks out and happily devours local fresh foods. Locavorism unites gourmets and environmentalists alike on the benefits of eating fresh and local.
Eating food from within 150 miles of its creation is more than just about freshness, it’s also about the environment, economy and community.
One grassroots group that has risen to take control of the food chain is Idaho’s Bounty. Their goal is to connect the Idaho farmer to local residents. On its website you can order exactly what you want from local farms—greens, squash, potatoes, asparagus, beets, fresh herbs, apples, cheese, eggs, milk, turkey, chicken, elk, beef, pork, and more. The Idaho’s Bounty truck drives from town to town, farm to farm, receiving freshly-picked produce to deliver once weekly direct to the Wood River Valley.
Lending national credence to the overall locavore concept was a recent lecture given here by bestselling author Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) who stated that “local farming rebuilds the local economy while also reducing reliance on fossil fuels.” He pointed out that locavorism improves the health of the community in every sense when locals socialize at outdoor farmers’ markets, at the same time taking back control of their resources.
Here are a few of the farmers that work hard to bring fresh healthy local produce right to your table.
Rainbow Carrots and Golden Beets
Prairie Sun Farm
The Camas Prairie, named after the flower that patterns its meadows vibrantly blue in spring, is rich in farmland and a short drive from the Wood River Valley. Prairie Sun Farm’s owners, Carol and Jeff Rast, are well known for rainbow carrots and multi-colored beets, among many other homegrown vegetables.
It began with a 50-by-70-foot backyard plot in Fairfield where Rast grew vegetables for her family.
Tona Stilwill harvests organic at her Fair Mountain Farm in Fairfield
“Our neighbors would laugh,” she remembers. “I’d be out planting things. They’d say, you can’t do that. You can’t plant that in April. You can’t do that til the middle of June! I didn’t have a greenhouse but I covered things with wool blankets every night. I’d be harvesting things when the neighbors were just getting started. I pushed the envelope and tried new things. We had bountiful stuff that I was giving away.”
This bounty led the couple to eventually purchase their 10-acre farm—not that it made any money at first. “I sold at the Hailey market, but when I subtracted all my expenses—I made 10 cents an hour!” That challenged them to improve their soil. The more fertile the soil, the more productive it could be.
Rast learned about gardening as a child.
“I grew up a missionary kid in Guadalajara, Mexico. My parents were good Southerners who had to have their lima beans and English peas, so we had a garden in somebody’s vacant lot in the middle of the city.” But, “My parents used poison. Everybody did. Because of that I’d come home from working in the garden with rashes, swollen eyes, a sore throat or a cough.”
That’s why she worked hard to be certified organic for eight years until, like many small farmers, she felt that maintaining certification wasn’t worth the trouble. It required a lot of “expense and endless paperwork” that is geared more for huge farms.
Rast switched to “natural” (basically organic without the certification—pesticide-free using organic compost). The growing process begins in winter, when Rast searches through dozens of catalogs looking for new and interesting seeds.
Carol Rast, who harvests unusual and multi-colored beets and carrots at her Prairie Sun Farm nestled on the Camas Prairie.
That’s how Rast found her famous rainbow carrots––purple, yellow, red and orange. The colorful purple carrots have orange or yellow inside.
“There are three or four varieties of yellow carrots. The lighter the color, the milder the flavor. The red are good for cooking, orange for juicing. I mix the different colors. There might be six or eight varieties in one pack. Whatever is available.”
When the catalog seeds arrive, tomatoes, peppers, herbs and eggplant are started in their south-facing, sun-filled dining room until it’s time to plant outside when the ground is warmer. Outside, two large greenhouses and a partly-enclosed tunnel help warm the ground for an earlier spring planting. The greenhouses were built with an educational grant. “This has allowed us to grow things that normally would not succeed in the frost belt of Idaho. I can get things started earlier like tomatoes and peppers.”
Then comes the harvesting in summer and fall. Certain root plants like carrots, beets, onions, potatoes, and shallots are stored in their cool dark work room and continue to be sold in winter. Rast has explored a wide variety of beets—the Italian Chioggia beet, white with a bright pink circle inside, is very sweet and can be sliced thin and eaten raw in a salad. The golden beet is popular but difficult to grow. Still, she perservered. “I pushed the envelope and tried new things.” >>>