Eating Local column: Progress toward the 100-mile diet
In a globalized, petroleum-soaked world where your average entree or side dish travels 1,500 miles to reach your plate, the 100-mile diet is the gold standard for eating locally.
Situated as we are in the high and dry Rocky Mountain interior, I stretch the 100-mile limit to the boundaries of my state.
A book called “Plenty” chronicles a couple’s trials and triumphs as they spent a year eating only food they could source within a defined geographical boundary close to their home in western Canada.
When they first debated the idea of eating locally, she asked him, belligerently, where he thought they would get sugar. He remembered the suffering he’d seen in the Dominican Republic where impoverished Haitians are indentured into the cane fields and sugar mills. He answered, “We’ll eat honey.”
In Colorado, sugar beets once grew by the ton near Trinidad with water from the Arkansas River. Sugar mills were common on the Front Range. No more; cane sugar has replaced sugar beets, grown in hot southern climates and island nations for meager wages.
Ed keeps bees, so we always have honey on hand. But many everyday staples can be hard to find close to home.
For the authors of “Plenty,” flour was elusive. They grew increasingly desperate for a biscuit or a pancake. Eventually they came across a farmer who told them he had a quantity of wheat stored in a barn which they could have. They were ecstatic, even though the conundrum of how to grind it into usable flour remained. At least they thought that was their biggest problem. Once they got it home, they realized the precious grain was infested with bugs.
In Colorado we are lucky. Blue Bird Flour, packed in nostalgic cloth sacks imprinted with an eye-catching bluebird insignia, is made in Cortez. The brand dates back to the 1930s and is popular in Navajo country for making Indian fry bread. The Cortez Milling Co. makes the flour from red winter wheat grown by local dryland farmers using 19th-century machinery. Five- and 10-pound bags of the flour appeared only about seven years ago, but sales took off. City Market sells it here.
Each day, the Cortez Milling Co. grinds some 60,000 pounds of wheat into Blue Bird flour. The flour sacks enjoy a secondary market as aprons, dish towels and even T-shirts.
If Cortez Milling makes anything besides white flour, I haven’t seen it.
To top off any salad, two of my favorite local products have no rivals but each other. For a little while, Alpine Avocado Vinaigrette and Aspen Cornucopia Basil Vinaigrette shared a facility in Carbondale.
I first tried Alpine Avocado dressing at Vitamin Cottage one day when a gregarious Josh Tukman thrust into my hands a little salad of dark leafy greens and dried cranberries topped with his dressing. The combination set off fireworks in my mouth. He told me it was his mother’s recipe, made with just a few natural ingredients including real avocados. You can find Alpine Avocado at Vitamin Cottage, a Colorado-based business. These days Josh makes the dressing at his own facility in Westminster.
Aspen Cornucopia also relocated to Denver, although Paula Troobnick still lives in Rifle. She sold the first bottles of her incredibly flavorful dressing and marinade — originally made with basil from Osage Garden and canned in mason jars in her home kitchen — nine years ago at the summer market in New Castle.
Today, 300 Kroger and 32 Whole Foods stores carry Aspen Cornucopia. She typically makes 200 gallons each month, but that can jump to 800 gallons.
Both dressings come bottled in glass, not plastic, so they’re better for you and the environment.
Sourcing the ingredients for local products is another matter. Paula says, “My company that started out so local, and proud of it, is going global.”
Currently her basil arrives by airplane from Hawaii. It may come from Colombia, Mexico, wherever, depending on weather and the luck of farmers. She looks for U.S.-based suppliers, but she tells me the food business is complicated. For instance, a scheme to use sunflower oil grown and pressed in Colorado fell apart partly for lack of a $200,000 expeller press that’s beyond the means of the farmer.
This is the world we live in. Still, handing your money to Coloradoans making healthy food products strengthens the economy at home, even if the ingredients don’t grow here.
Soda pop is my weakness. Zuberfizz, made in Durango, and Boulder Birch Beer from the Rocky Mountain Soda Co. are top-notch.
California produces olives and olive oil, which I use in everything. It’s way more than 100 miles, but a much shorter trip than the voyage from Greece or Spain.
I aim for progress, not perfection. If we demand local products, the market, disguised as your enterprising neighbor, will create the supply.
Marilyn Gleason tries to eat food from within 100 miles of her Peach Valley farm. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at email@example.com.
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The family of Rosie Ferrin has worked to clean up and make safe again the old schoolhouse in downtown New Castle. Ferrin died this summer and had owned the building that included classrooms turned into apartments for years.