From the Mountains to the Rivers

It has been a heck of a month for travel.

Going from being tied down to the farm for several years from March through the end of October (and not going much of anyplace during the winter season, either) to a job that has put a few thousand miles on me within the first month and a half has been a big change.

I started October on the Western Slope of the Rockies in Montrose, Colorado for Western Colorado Congress’ annual meeting.

This was an event I’d committed to earlier in the summer, when I was working on local food and small farm issues in South Dakota with Dakota Rural Action.

But my new job as a local foods organizer just over the border in Minnesota dovetailed nicely with that meeting, and the panel discussion on local foods legislation.  Since the initial “pickle law” we presented to the SD Health Dept was Minnesota’s version, I had knowledge about both state’s versions to draw on in helping Colorado folks with their pickle bill push.

Before the panel, I was able to get to the far side of Montrose to visit their market and talk to a few of the producers and the market manager about existing rules on home-processed foods there (which are the same as SD’s were–nothing is legal).

I also picked up a bottle of wine and a ten-pound bag of the season’s first dried pinto beans–grown by local producers and packaged by a cooperative in Olathe, Colorado.

Those purchases entailed my checking my suitcase at the airport–both for liquid and weight concerns–and in the end I was very happy I’d done so–my trip back took twenty hours.

The next weekend was at home–both H and M were there to visit, and we spent a lot of our time processing local apples into sauce, visiting the farmers market in Ortonville, and generally walking around enjoying the fantastic weather.

After that, a week of meetings and work before I headed out again to the Community Food Security Conference in New Orleans.

Because I was flying out of Minneapolis, the airport drive was an adventure in itself–three and a half hours just to get there–and during the height of harvest season, so there were a lot of big trucks and farm machinery on the roads.

I stayed with a woman who works for Edible Schoolyard NOLA, which was much better than any hotel–I got the personal tour and met some of the folks who are involved in the gardens, curriculum, and cooking of all that great food.

She also brought me to a couple of landmarks–Hanson’s Snow-Bliz for one–where we indulged in the fluffiest snow-cones I’ve ever eaten–drizzled with homemade syrup. I tried satsuma–a popular local variety of citrus fruit.

Walking by an unassuming-looking warehouse along the way–we peeked through a hole in the wall to discover it is a storage facility for one of the Carnival Krewe’s floats and Mardi Gras paraphenelia.

I also got to catch up with my friend from Dakota Rural Action, who was the lone South Dakotan at the conference, so far as the state-by-state listing of attendees noted.  And, of course, we both met people from all over the rest of the country as well.

Michelle Obama was invited to give the closing remarks, but she couldn’t make it.  So Will Allen from Growing Power in Milwaukee did the honors, which to my mind was even better (nothing against Michelle’s good food efforts, but she’s not a farmer).

The students at ESY NOLA take table manners cues from their president!

The food throughout the trip was fan-freaking-tastic–everything from the red beans and rice to the crawfish bisque, grits, boiled crabs, and po’ boy sandwiches.

I had never yet been to an American city where the food culture is so entrenched–where there was no real discussion about what to eat–everything is good and you can’t help but know exactly where you are in the world when you walk down the street and smell all the good food cooking.

Scents and sounds are a trademark of New Orleans–it was weird to return to my quiet and relatively fragrance-free abode after staying for days in a place where the air is as saturated with jazz as it is with the odors of seafood and sausage, the peachy perfume of sweet olive in bloom, and some not-so-nice scents that perhaps we’ll leave out of this discussion.

I was back from New Orleans less than twenty-four hours when I left again to pick up M from school and head down to Vermillion for another pre-frost harvest and CSA delivery of Purple Peruvian fingerling potatoes, ancho and jalapeno peppers, Tuscan kale, and Italian flatleaf parsley.

Added to that, the farmers market was having its annual potluck harvest dinner, and I was able to make a dish of those potatoes roasted with anchos and a little clump of garlic I overlooked while digging this summer’s crop.

H and M and I all piled into the car and headed into town to see our old friends and eat fantastic local food before tumbling back home in a blinding, lightning-stabbed downpour.

The dog has been down in Vermillion with H for the last couple of weeks, so she has been in heaven with the whole family around her, but I was trying to figure out how I was going to get her back up north, what with M riding in the small cab of the pickup.

As much as I like the look of a perfectly neat and tidy farmscape, there’s something to be said about the kinds of farms and farmers that tend to collect things–and in this case a “collected” pickup topper sittting in the mud for several years turned out to be the perfect remedy for the doggy situation.

H and I took about an hour with buckets of soapy water and brooms to get the thing cleaned up before pulling it up onto the back of the truck and seeing that it fit (we measured first, of course, but you never know).

With some clamping down, Vega will have a nice, safe nest that keeps her more-or-less dry (there’s some windows that need plexi) and out of the brunt of the wind.  And the farm has one less piece of “junk.”

Back in Minnesota now for the foreseeable future (though there’ll be plenty of travel in county and in state–and maybe a few forays just over the border into SD), I’m looking forward to cooking in my own kitchen–and maybe trying to re-create a little New Orleans red beans and rice!

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One response

  1. N’awlins is one of my favorite cities! So true about the food. I’ve been a few times, and always stuff myself silly, because it’s just so amazing to me that nothing is bad… although I’m sure the locals would have a few things to say about that. Mothers restaurant was one of the best places Mark and I visited on a recent trip.
    And the have some of the coolest bookstores, too!

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