Fresh from the Farm
Tracing the roots of our food
photography: Glen Allison
(page 2 of 3)
When the Stolzfuses of Buhl decided how to market their tasty milk, they looked back to look forward. They took the nostalgic route of bottling the milk in glass bottles not just for the symbolism of a simpler time, but because it was the best economic and environmental choice.
“Our milk lasts up to four weeks if refrigerated at a stable temperature,” says Butterworth, who is the Stolzfuses’ son-in-law. “The good thing about glass is that it’s a great insulator. Once it’s cold, it’s cold. But you can’t let the milk bottle sit out and get warm. I believe cartons and plastic can possibly leak through and affect the taste. Glass doesn’t. It’s very clean. Nothing can get in there. Nothing leaks. Glass keeps it cooler, fresher, longer, and is environmentally friendly. It saves so much plastic going into the landfill. A big plastic jug a week—that’s a lot for our landfills. Glass bottles that get returned, rewashed at high temperatures, and reused are more environmentally friendly.”
Bill Stolzfus bottles fresh milk at his Cloverleaf Creamery in Buhl.
Dairyman Stolzfus is widely known for his cattle-breeding practices. He finds the healthiest cows and breeds them, then takes good care of them, and they end up living longer, healthier lives and producing healthy milk (with no artificial hormones needed).
Taking good care of cows means giving them a lot of grazing pasture, Stolzfus believes. Here, 120 cows graze on 36 acres of pesticide-free grassland.
“The number of cows we have on the amount of pasture is far below what anyone else would have,” Butterworth declares. “There’s less methane problem, no smell issues. Our concentration of cows is stable for the environment.”
Cloverleaf Dairy is right on Main Street in Buhl so if you want to stop by their store and purchase some milk, homemade pumpkin ice cream, or freshly made rhubarb pies, you are welcome.
A Panoply of Potatoes M&M Heath Farms
A rich display of color is on view in boxes in Mike Heath’s Buhl farmyard. There’s the bright red-orange, teardrop-shaped red kuri squash, the long pale-yellow-and-green-striped delicata, the dark-green, yellow-striped kabocha, along with the yellow-orange butternut and the dark-green acorn. Each squash has a slightly different shape, texture and taste.
Across the yard in a huge storage barn, a panoply of potatoes—16 varieties—are being sorted for size and quality. The classic Idaho russet is the most popular brown, thick-skinned baking potato in the world. But there are also purple potatoes, yellow milvas, red ladies, Yukons, and the ever-popular and expensive fingerlings.
Mike Heath holds a box of potatoes grown at M&M Heath Farms in Buhl
“The russet gives you a nice dry, fluffy, flaky-type potato while these red ladies have more moisture,” says Heath, describing the individuality of each potato. Heath has been an organic farmer since 1982, one of the first in Idaho. “I spent 10 years overseas with the church working with people that couldn’t afford chemicals and they seemed to be doing okay. So I thought maybe I should try it. I felt it was an environmentally more responsible way to farm, plus the market was starting to look like it might be good. It wasn’t very good the first couple of years, but it’s been pretty good to me since.” Heath also sells poultry, eggs, beef, and pork.
Becoming certified is a complicated process, says Heath, pointing out the strict rules. “You have to have three years of no chemicals—no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Then your ground is eligible for certification. Every year we pay our fees and have an inspection by the certifying agency. If you’re buying organic, you know you’re not getting any hormones, pesticides, chemical fertilizers of any sort in your food and no genetically-engineered crops or animals. That’s what organic means.” Heath uses crop rotation to improve the soil and compost and fish fertilizer instead of chemicals.
Heath has been involved with CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture groups), where local produce is delivered once weekly, but there was no choice of what you received. What he likes about Idaho’s Bounty is that “you can actually go online and order exactly what you want.” He also sells his produce in the Wood River farmers’ markets as well as to many local restaurants like CIRO, the Sun Valley Inn, CK’s and Glow.
With 100 to 150 acres of beans, the Heath farm has quite a variety. The black turtles are black beans traditionally used in Latin American cuisine. The small reds are used in chilies and soups, while the small whites are popular for baked beans and soups. The white to pale green flageolet bean is taken very seriously in France and is often used in high-end restaurants. Heath also grows seed beans for green beans in gardens. “Idaho is a huge seed-growing area,” he adds.
Though farming can be tough, farmers work together. As Heath hefts a heavy pallet of potatoes onto his truck, he mentions that he’s also driving in another farmer’s produce with his. Sharing his reasons for being a farmer, “You work really hard in the summer. In winter, it’s not as intense. I enjoy the seasons. You’re your own boss. I enjoy just watching the stuff grow—just being around it.” >>>