In the heart of ski country, spring replaces late winter slowly–so slowly that when most gardeners around the country are celebrating the season with the first shoots of asparagus or tender salad turnips or sweet peas, we’re still struggling under several feet of hard-pack, glacial mounds of snow. It is a barren and desolate landscape–lonely and cold.
Yet just over the mountains to Crested Butte’s west, there’s a vibrant organic farming community that, thanks in part to an elevation lower than our own coupled with warm summers, produces beautiful crops nearly year-round. It’s easy to forget that eating locally grown foods throughout the year is indeed possible even when your homebound due to a heavy, snowy Rocky Mountain winter.
To celebrate our local foodshed and raise funds for our farmers market, we hosted a dinner of local, seasonal foods at one of Crested Butte’s top restaurants: Timberline which some of you may recognize from MTV’s series the Hills.
Many farmers markets are run by local towns and cities or even chambers of commerce; however, several small markets are self-run not-for-profit entities. Like all not-for-profit groups, their continued existence depends on support from local residents, businesses and volunteers. Benefits, like this harvest supper, support their continued growth and are critical to expanding direct marketing efforts for small farmers.
This harvest supper benefited the Crested Butte Farmers Market – a small market with a big focus on sustainable agriculture and farm-to-consumer education. The evening’s festivities celebrated the late winter and early spring harvest of eleven local farms and ranches–most within a 50 mile radius of Crested Butte.
Local food activists, chefs, families and visitors to the community celebrated local foods and sustainable agriculture in a vibrant atmosphere seasoned with the sounds of the Two Tone String Band and peppered with children’s excited laughter. There was a single mandate for the night: enjoy.
The meal began with seasoned meatballs using grass-finished meat from just 40 miles down the road and a warmed spinach salad using the earliest greens available from a greenhouse just across the mountain pass. A smooth, vibrantly orange butternut squash soup arrived next using winter squash harvested in the late autumn and traditionally stored over winter. Indeed, it’s April and I still have a few squash from this farm resting in an unused fireplace.
After the soup and salad, we were served a choice of braised lamb with creamed sunchokes, roast chicken with blue potatoes or an assortment of vegetables including beets, greens and parsnips. All grown from biodynamic farms just across the mountain pass that rises from the town’s west end. Apple strudel served with apricot sauce–preserved from the summer’s harvest finished the meal.
Following a heady meal of so many delicious, local foods we sauntered out of the restaurant and once again into that dark, bitter cold night. The towering banks of snow glistened under the streetlights of historic Crested Butte with all its mining-era charm. In these snowy ski town evenings, it’s easy to forget that a vibrant foodshed thrives even in the bleakest, coldest mountains of winter and early spring.
There’s a lot to be said for seasonal foods. What joy is there in a mealy January tomato when you can celebrate winter with parsnips, beets and the sweet orange flesh of a winter squash? Why bother with flavorless strawberries in October when you can bite into the yielding, sweet flesh of a pear?
The meal went well. The farmers did well. The musicians did well. The chef did well. Most importantly, the market did well–earning enough funds to ensure a lively and expanded market for the summer of 2009.