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July 5, 2012

Caught Up In A Snowdrift

Snowdrift sunrise

So I went west!  I had my list of destinations, a departure and return date set, a convertible loaded up with my stuff  and an incredible feeling of excitement and anticipation at the possibilities of three weeks on the road.  I wanted to have new experiences and see new places.  Bucket list stuff.  Being a food lover and a person getting more interested in farm to table eating I thought it would be a great experience to work on a farm at some point on my trip.  Maybe I could find a place where they would let me stay for a few days and work with them.  You know, because everyone just lets strangers who are interested in what they do come stay with them.  The whole trip came up quickly and I didn’t really know how to go about it so I dropped the idea.

From St. Louis I drove through Kansas City up in to and across Nebraska to eastern Wyoming.  The only time bound destination on the trip was The Taste Of The Tetons in Jackson, Wyoming so I was working my way there.  The event was in the famous Town Square and was a great time.  Jackson is a fun city with great people, lots of shops and plenty of places to eat and drink.  It was easy to get stuck there for a few days as I laid out a plan for camping Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.  One day in Jackson I was grabbing lunch at New York City Sub Shop based on a recommendation from a local.  Always a good strategy when on the road.  They were right.  Not only was it a good sandwich but a very fortuitous stop.  I was going to start camping in the next couple of days and wanted to load up on some fresh produce for some good camp meals.  I noticed a flyer on their bulletin board for The People’s Market promoting building the community through food, art, music and family while celebrating products produced locally.  That sounds great to me.  It was the Slow Food logo that caught my eye.  I had been attending Slow Food St. Louis events so I was familiar with the organization and happy to support the local chapter, Slow Food In The Tetons.  It would be a great place to have a fun night and get supplies.  It was also where I would meet Erika and lead to an experience I’ll never forget. 

The market was great.  There was live music, art and craft booths, local food and beer being served and plenty of produce to purchase from local farms.  You can get a glimpse of what it’s all about in this video I found on YouTube.  That’s Erika with her hula hoop 🙂

 

 

I was immediately drawn to the Snowdrift Farm stand because their stuff was arranged so nicely rather than just laid out flat on a table.  It really pulled you in.  There was plenty available and it was beautiful!

 

 

As I loaded up an assortment of goodies I started talking with Erika the Farm Manager.  She was very friendly and took time to answer any questions I had.  I’m a gabber and when you travel by yourself the alone time can be great but you do crave conversation at times.  We got to talking, I told her I was stocking up for camping and she asked about my trip.  I explained about my recent freedom from employment and that I was on a bucket list adventure.  I also mentioned that I loved food, had a tiny blog with almost no posts and that it was the Slow Food connection that brought me to the market that day.  She wished me well on my quest and that’s when she said it.  “Well if you have time and would like to visit the farm you should come check it out.  You’re camping right?  You could even stay for a few days and help us out.  We could really use the help.”  What?  Did you just say that?  I explained to her how serendipitous the moment was, quickly accepted and worked my arrival the following week after some camping and hiking.

Here’s what I grabbed for a week or so of camping.  No can of beans for this guy!

 

The farm is located in Victor, Idaho in the Teton Valley on about 80 acres.  It is certified organic, contains a few residences consisting of two houses, the original cabin, a yurt and apartment, several farm buildings and is run almost entirely on wind and solar power.   The buildings are also designed to collect the rain water runoff.  They raise an abundance of produce, wild flowers, chickens for eggs and pigs and cows for meat.  Their products are being used by local restaurants and caterers and are available at various weekly summer markets as well as a few brick and mortar grocers.  They also run a CSA program.  You can purchase a weekly share or participate in their work share program.  There is even an intern program with “living quarters, food and a great education included”.  It is truly a wonderful place with amazing people.

 

The main house.

 The original cabin which Erica now lives in.  I wish I had pictures of how neat it is inside.

Shop building with apartment on top on left.  Barn and greenhouse on right.

Harnessing nature’s energy.

What pigs!

You talkin’ to me?

Best chicken coop ever!

Bucket of chicken.

Every farm needs a dog and a cat.

 

I arrived on a Thursday afternoon a few hours before lunch, checked in with Erika and before I knew it I was washing vegetables standing in the sun looking around at the beautiful Teton Valley.  Carrots, beats, turnips and all in multiple colors and just hours out of the ground.  Over the course of the day I would wash many vegetables and pick off any unattractive greens to get them ready for bundling for the various markets and shares.  There was a young lady from their work share program working that day, Colleen. As a work share volunteer you commit to working one day a week.  There is a farm lunch for all the workers to enjoy and the day you work you leave with your share for the week.  She showed me the ropes and we had a nice time chatting about volunteering on the farm and her ironic job.  It turns out she is the Co-Music Director at Jackson’s community radio station 89.1 KHOL so wouldn’t you know we stood there and talked about radio.  (For those that don’t know the job I had for 16 years and recently lost at the time was in radio.)  It was the first time in over a month that I talked that much about radio and it was kind of nice.  I may have been burned but I still love the medium.

 

Erika showing me how to harvest carrots.

White Carrots.

White, red and purple turnips.

The turnips were so nice.  I kept the greens on and sautéed with some olive oil and balsamic then tossed with sunflower seeds.

Fresh out of the ground and ready to wash.

It’s the hose for you!

 Clean and ready for the market.

Leeks.

Beets.

Best garlic I’ve ever had.

Wildflowers.

Tomatoes and pumpkins.

My campsite on the farm.

Morning sun warming me up.

 

This was something I had never done and was an experience of a lifetime.  I had never pulled produce out of the ground much less started my own garden.  When it comes to “farm to table” I’ve only been involved at the table end so it was great to participate for a small moment on the other side.  Upon my return as a result of my stay I took advantage of the new plans for a new community garden in my neighborhood and I’m happy to say I now have a  two foot by twelve foot growing space and things are going well.

More than just starting a garden this part of my trip really affected me.  I have thought a lot about the idea of farm to table recently and the importance of fresh, local, healthy food.  I spend so much time focusing on the food but in those days on the farm I started to focus on something else, a connection to community.  When you farm or get interested in fresh, local food you can’t help but realize the connection of everything in our environment.  The weather, the soil, the air, all affect what is going into our bodies via what we eat or don’t eat.  That part is obvious.  It was the more subtle things I started to take notice of. As a customer I went to them because their stuff looked great.  I met Erika and we talked about what they did on the farm which led me to visit and see first hand how it operated.  Then there I was on the other end washing produce and making it look pretty for other customers.  I met other farm workers and volunteers and talked with Erika and Georgie about their business and the local farming, local food movement.

When you participate in anything local you enrich your life and grow your community by supporting those around you, learning and sharing new things, meeting new people and taking an interest in what goes on around you.   You may even make some new friends or become reacquainted with old ones.

When I left an open invitation for a return visit was extended as that is what new friends will do.   I promised I would return next summer knowing it may be wishful thinking.

I’m happy to say that at the moment of this writing I’m sitting in the lobby of the Days Inn in Casper, Wyoming with plans to arrive with plans to arrive at Snowdrift Farm in four days.

 

 

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