Locavorean Idaho

I recently spent a week with family in Boise, Idaho, and let me tell you: It’s hard to be a locavore in Idaho. You can manage to eat organically with a little effort, but locally grown foods are just beginning to appear in Boise’s most extensive source of organic groceries, the Boise Consumer Co-Op. We surveyed the restaurant scene and found old favorites, includingBoise Co-Op Basque chorizo that is unmatched by any other chorizo I have had. The chorizo is made locally and has a juiciness and distinctive spicy flavor not found in chorizos in other parts of the country. We were disappointed but not surprised by the lack of a restaurant serving local, organic food. Most of our meals were eaten at my aunt’s house, where we enjoyed her hospitality.

Boise is the kind of place where “local” means home-cooked and “organic” means that it came from the place where “those yuppies shop” (this, from my aunt). That moniker would surprise my mother, the Mom of La Muncha, who began shopping for organic foods in Boise at a time when she was not young, upwardly mobile, or a professional.

Buying Organic and Local foods in Boise

To prepare for a day trip out of Boise, Mom of La Muncha and I visited the Boise Co-Op, a 33-year old institution that seems as out of place in “red state” Idaho as it did when we discovered it during the early Reagan era. The Co-op carries organic and conventional foods and has one of the best wine selections in Boise.

While my mother selected organic fruit and water, I cruised the store for local products in an overly suspicious manner and made notes on my hand. “What are you doing,” Mom asked. I felt embarrassed to tell her that I was taking note of what products were grown in Idaho, so I gave her a cryptic answer. “I’ll tell you in the car.”

The grocery business is competitive to the point that some stores (including Idaho-based Albertson’s) display signs informing customers of their ban on photography and video-taping inside the stores. I felt my paranoia confirmed when I heard the store’s General Manager, who had been my boss 20 years ago, paged to come to the floor. (It turned out that he was called to the floor for another reason, and when I stopped by to say hello he did not recognize me. I hid my ink-stained left hand just the same.)

In total, the Co-op’s produce section had three items that were local: potatoes from Buhl, arugula, and tomatoes. This was in May, still early in the growing season, and I hope that they have a better selection through the summer. The rest of the department had organic and conventional fruits and vegetables from California and distant places.

The meat section had a better offering, including sustainably farmed pork, Alderspring Ranch grass fed and organic beef, and American Kobe beef. The American Kobe beef comes from feedlots operated by a subsidiary of Agri Beef Co., which maintains feedlots in three states.

The Alderspring beef later intrigues me because their website mentions that their beef is hand-carved at a small family owned facility. If we didn’t already have tasty beef close at hand, I would consider ordering some of their beef.

I asked after local cheeses at the cheese counter and got good news and bad news. The good news was that Rollingstone Cheese in Parma, Idaho makes an extensive array of goat cheeses in southwestern Idaho. The bad news was that the Co-op didn’t have any of their cheese at the moment, making the second time I had missed Rollingstone. (The first time I missed them was at the Seattle Cheese Festival, making me wonder if the goats are in cahoots with the Skagit River chickens to deprive me of tasty things.) Rollingstone is notable not just for being the first goat cheese producer in Idaho, but also because they are founders of the Snake River chapter of Slow Food USA.

The Co-op also had organic breads from two places, Zeppole Baking in Boise and Bigwood Bread in Sun Valley.

One might visit the Boise Co-op and negatively compare it to Whole Foods, but the Co-op has deep roots in Boise and furthers the idea of organic, local and sustainable foods in a state that is best known for monoculture potatoes. I for one hope Whole Foods stays the hell away from Idaho.

What is Healthy?

Overall, the Co-op’s selection of local foods is not sufficient to provide a locavore with a very interesting diet. The fact that they have locally grown foods from the Great Basin Desert, stretching north from Salt Lake City, is impressive. One also must understand that the health fad has not quite taken hold in Idaho. While listening to the local public radio affiliate, I was amused to hear the friendly advice that frozen bananas make great smoothies, and that one could add a candy bar as part of this healthy snack. In my youth, we never confused eating candy with healthy eating.

Community Supported Agriculture in Boise?

You might imagine my surprise when I found that a CSA, Noble Farm Foods, has sprung up in Boise not 3 miles from where we once lived. The CSA is one of the organic farms that make up less than 1% of Idaho’s farms. That number may increase as farms disappear–farm land quickly is turned into housing in the area surrounding Boise.

The Noble Farm Foods program delivers a good selection of vegetables over 24 weeks for a slightly higher cost than the CSA we use in Seattle.

Your share will include 6-10 of the following items weekly: Noble salad mix, peas, spinach, radishes, turnips, arugula, carrots, beets, lettuce, chard, kale, collards, beans, broccoli, strawberries, herbs, tomatoes, eggplant, rutabagas, squash, melons, garlic, onions, pumpkins, cabbage, and more.

Jan Book, the proprietress of the farm, includes an impressive selection of recipes on her website for those of us who stare in confusion at Chard, Kale and Kohlrabi. Now if only I can convince my aunt, perhaps through my uncle, to return to her farm roots and join the CSA.

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