Idaho, Part 1

Due to the extended length of our stay in Jackson, we decided to set out into Idaho and shorten our trip by driving west instead of due north into Montana as we had originally planned. It was Monday morning when we got up and broke fast with Andy. We needed to reach Sequim, in northwestern Washington, by the end of the week. It was time to hit the road.

After a short drive through the pass into Idaho we reached the town of Victor, home to Cosmic Apple Gardens, an organic and biodynamic family farm. We had met the owners, Jed and Dale, at the Jackson Farmer’s Market the week before and they had kindly invited us to check out the farm if we were in the area. Never ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, we turned off the main road and soon found our way to the Cosmic Apple.

It was a beautiful day, warm and clear, and the farm seemed to glow in the nutritious light of the sun. Dale greeted us from the door of the farm’s kitchen, where she was preparing a harvest lunch for her work-sharers and volunteers. Her boys played barefoot nearby, completing the picture of a wholesome family farm. We walked around the small property, getting a feel for their biodynamic set up which included several cows and three large hoop houses in addition to their tidy fields. We were quick to agree that this was one of the most vibrant of the farms we have visited on our journey. Inside the hoop houses, the heartiest of heirloom tomatoes and basil seemed to smile back, and all of Jed’s neatly planted herbs and starters looked vital. Breaking from his work, Jed joined us to chat and we soon got to talking about farming bureaucracy.

Though a common theme throughout the country, Cosmic Apple is dealing with a particularly difficult set of legal red tape, unfortunately of the national ilk. Due to the fact that they choose to sell their produce in the nearby city of Jackson, WY, they are faced with the challenge of crossing a state line as part of their business process. Jed is required to possess the legal documents necessary to drive an industry weight truck across state borders, despite the fact that Jackson is closer to his farm than any major city in Idaho. These types of stipulations, in addition to issues associated with trying to be independent farmers amongst the big potato growers of Idaho (just one example), keep them dealing with paperwork and inspector visits on a regular basis. Of course, that is before you even account for the (paper) work involved with being certified organic and biodynamic. Jed and Dale also go through organic butchering processes and regularly deal with those related rules and regulations, of which there are many. It is amazing that they ever find time to get outside and work. Jed mentioned that help from a lawyer friend had been instrumental and that without her insight they easily could have folded in the face of aggressive farming policy.

Despite these challenges, and the general hard work of farming, Dale and Jed struck me as remarkably peaceful people and we left Cosmic Apple feeling inspired by their farm as well as by their demeanor and attitude. We were also frustrated, however, by the seemingly unnecessary obstacles that they, and many other small farmers, are constantly up against. As we drove, we mused over how these legal conditions –which sadly work in conjunction with other factors, such as competition from industrial farming, to discourage family farming– can be improved by members of our generation. Obvious options are to support family farmers by buying their products at the market, working and volunteering on their farms, or joining a local CSA. Beyond this, we can all participate in the sharing of information and stories, especially when it comes to raising awareness about good and bad farming practice. When we arrive in Oakland, we hope to use this blog as a place to share ideas about food and farming policy, practice, and procedure. For now, I am going to concentrate on the story of our trip, but promise to write more soon with regards to the bureaucracy (I bet you all can’t wait!!).

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From Cosmic Apple, we drove west, watching Idaho roll out in all her glory around us. With The Great Basin Desert to our south and towering mountains behind and above us (The Rocky and the Sawtooth ranges amongst others), an array of scenery was at our viewing pleasure’s disposal. We were headed for Craters of the Moon National Park. Heeding a warning that the heat there would be unbearable, we planned to visit only briefly. It wasn’t long before the eerie sight of a post-volcanic wasteland greeted us.

The park, aptly named, is the site of a not-so-ancient volcanic eruption that left the region flooded in molten lava. The lava, which spewed far and wide during the eruption, hardened into craters and rocks whose blackness is only partly obscured today by the brave flora that has chosen to start a new life there.

Feeling guilty, we followed a loop road through the park in our Subaru, eying the hazy buttes to our east. As we saw in Tennessee, vehicle emissions have left a cloud over this region. Ironically, the park still encourages visitors to take a driving tour instead of exploring the park on foot. Alas, we too allowed this convenience to override our concern for the area air quality. I am not sure why I am actually owning up to this!

Anyway, from Craters of the Moon we drove west and then turned north towards the Sawtooth Mountains. We made it to Ketchum, located centrally in Idaho’s Sun Valley where we visited a farm stand and then followed the directions we received in a fly fishing shop to a nearby hot spring and free camping area.

After a lengthy and very social hot spring soak (it was busier than a downtown pub!), we found a campsite and pitched our tent, marveling at the coldness. After over a month of warm weather, the mountain temperatures, which fell to half of the their daily high by the wee hours, felt remarkably freezing. In the morning, we rose early and rushed through our packing, hitting the road (and briefly hitting the seat warmers) in the record time.

After a coffee in town, we started the beautiful drive into the Sawtooth Mountains. A few hours late we reached Redfish Lake where we paused for lunch and some recreation time. Recalling now the funny moments from that afternoon, I think I will stop here and dedicate a whole blog to experience. Stay Tuned.

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