Giving Thanks for the Bounty of Farmer’s Markets

Japanese eggplant and peppers from Toohey & Sons farm Photo © Laurel Kallenbach

As we approach Thanksgiving, I want to express gratitude to the nation’s farmer’s markets for bringing locally-grown, fresh food to town.

Much of the food is produced organically, even if it’s not certified organic. Growing without pesticides  is vital for public health and for the environment.

Now that winter is upon us and the leaves are almost gone, there’s only one more chance to buy direct from the farmer in Boulder, Colorado, my home town. After the third Saturday in November, the Boulder County Farmer’s Market is closed for the season.

But oh, how warmly I remember the bounty of this summer. The heirloom tomatoes, the ears of Peaches-and-Cream sweet corn, the gladiolas and sunflowers, the multi-colored carrots, the cucumbers, the Western Slope peaches that we ate by the bushelful!

I thought I’d share a few photos from September’s colorful harvest at the Boulder Farmer’s Market, held in downtown Boulder (on Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons):

Windsor Dairy makes cheeses in the European tradition from raw, organic milk. Every cheese is a creamy treat! Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

Thank you, farmers, for continuing to supply us with fresh, healthy food against the odds. And for reminding us what a variety of foods can be grown with a short distance of our homes—or even in our back yards. May your family farms prosper.

These scarlet turnips from Toohey & Sons were so pink, I thought they were beets. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

Renewed interest in local foods has coined the word “locavore”: someone who eats locally produced, in-season foods whenever possible. Why go to the extra effort to become a locavore and buy from farmer’s markets and eat local? FoodRoutes.org cites several important reasons.

Zesty jalapeños from Red Wagon Organic Farm   Photo © Laurel Kallenbach

1. Local food tastes better and fresher than food grown for shipping or long shelf life.

2. You support and preserve small family farms.

3. You know the farmers you buy from avoid chemicals, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics or genetically modified seed.

4. You protect the environment. Local food doesn’t travel far, thereby reducing carbon-dioxide emissions and packing materials.

I’m also grateful that farmer’s markets create community. I never go when I don’t bump into a friend—and we compare the goodies we tuck into our shopping bags. The whole market feels a little like a festival—complete with fresh-made local foods from local restaurants.

This Thanksgiving, may we remember where our food comes from, may we support sustainable agriculture, and may we work to end hunger in our own home towns.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

People share food and smiles at the Abbondanza Farm stand at the Boulder Farmer's Market. Photo © Laurel Kallenbach

Eco-Eats Along Colorado’s Fall Color Trail

A waitress serves organic meals at Eco-Goddess restaurant in Carbondale, CO.

After a morning ogling the golden aspen along western Colorado’s West Elk Loop Scenic Byway—going from Crested Butte over Kebler Pass and McClure Pass—Ken and I were ready for refreshment. We stopped in Carbondale, another former mining town that has been transformed into a lovely place to visit.

Among the shops and restaurants on its lively Main Street is Eco-Goddess All-Organic Cuisine, a casual restaurant that serves top-notch, local-ingredient entrees, desserts—and even organic wines, beers and cocktails.

The menu of this airy, colorful eatery is comprised of 95 percent organic ingredients—and a great deal of the food is sourced from local farms. Many recipes are named after deities from ancient religions. The salads alone—the Demeter, the Isis, and the Kwan Yin—display serious goddess power, including the freshest of veggies.

The Paonia Frittata at Eco-Goddess

I ordered the Atira (named for the Pawnee Earth Mother), a wonderful house-made pesto and mozzarella sandwich served on whole-grain focaccia bread. Ken chose a robust vegetable soup with Goddess Cornbread, made with stone-ground corn and mild green chiles for moistness.

While we waited for our meal to come, we read the back of the Eco-Goddess menu, which lists the origins of the ingredients: vegetables from several Carbondale farms, eggs from Paonia and Hotchkiss, goat cheese from Basalt, honey from Parachute.

There’s no meat on the menu—only eco-safe wild salmon from Alaska. Many entrees are vegan or gluten-free, so pretty much everybody’s dietary preferences are represented here. And don’t worry: the desserts may be organic but they’re tasty. Who wouldn’t love an Aphrodite Carrot Cupcake, a Goddess Bomb (cream-cheese frosting sandwiched between two chocolate chip cookies), or a vegan and gluten-free Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffle?

The juice bar serves all-organic specialties such as the Pan, which contains beets, cucumbers, celery, lemon and ginger.

I grooved on the vibe at Eco-Goddess—where the walls are painted with murals of dancing divines. And there’s plenty to love about the restaurant’s commitment to the environment. All food scraps are fed to chickens down the road, to-go containers are compostable, and the restaurant strives for zero-waste.

In short, the food here is, well, heavenly.

Other green places to stay and gnosh along the West Elk Loop include the Fresh & Wyld Farmhouse Inn and a number of local-food and natural restaurants in Crested Butte.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Photos courtesy Eco-Goddess

Mesa Verde: An Archaeological Pilgrimage

Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado (near Four Corners) ranked Number 1 on my destination list after I first visited its intriguing, mysterious cliff dwellings at age five. I credit my fascination with archaeology to this park. A love for all things ancient has become one of my lifelong passions.

My childhood sense of adventure was kindled by climbing log ladders to reach Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings—built by the Anasazi people, as they were called when I was a kid. (Today they’re called Ancestral Pueblo people because they were the forebears of the Pueblo tribes that now live in Arizona and New Mexico.) Hearing stories about Anasazi ceremonial, underground, circular rooms, called kivas, sparked my imagination.

Four decades later, Mesa Verde continues to enchant me. I’ve take archaeological pilgrimages there four times since my parents first brought me. Over the years, I’ve never tired of hiking southwest Colorado’s desert landscape or pondering the archaeological remnants of the Anasazi culture, which thrived in the area’s canyons and high plateaus from about 600 to 1300 A.D.

Today, the park protects over 4,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings—the most notable and best preserved in the United States. Cliff Palace is the most visited, and it’s exciting because you can see it from a distance before you hike down to explore it.

Ranger Interpretation Adds Dimension

Park ranger Tim McNeil describes how life might have been for the cliff-dwelling inhabitants of Balcony House.

Most of Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings are open only when you’re guided by a ranger. You need to buy a $3 reserved ticket in advance at the Far View Visitor Center or Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, but it’s well worth the extra cost. The rangers who led my husband and I through the beautiful dwellings were fountains of knowledge—and they helped bring the ruins to life.

You don’t need to know that little windowed niches tucked under the cliffs were for storing corn and beans to appreciate the sandy geometry of the architecture or the permanence of stone. Still, it’s nice to know the function of towers, “middens” or garbage dumps, or about the spiritual significance of the sipapu, a small hole in the floor of the circular kiva. (The sipapu is the symbol of the Place of Emergence, where humans entered through the earth world from the spirit world.)

Ladders lead up the cliff to Balcony House in Mesa Verde.

Balcony House

To visit the Balcony House, you climb log ladders up a cliff, scramble through Balcony House’s narrow passageway just as the ancients who lived here a millennia ago did. Four decades after I first visited, Balcony House’s tunnel is a tight squeeze for me—yet Mesa Verde continues to charm me. Ranger Tim McNeil described the Ancestral Puebloan diet, which relied heavily on piñon nuts and “The Three Sisters”: corn, beans and squash, which are not only staples, but grow symbiotically.

Looking at thousand-year-old beams and rooms gives me a different perspective—of how short a time we have to live, and how many wonderful antiquities there are to explore.

For details on Mesa Verde, see Visit Mesa Verde.  For information on the region, visit Mesa Verde Country.

—Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer

Have you ever sat quietly in a kiva? What did it feel like? Share your experiences by clicking on Comment below.

A reconstructed ceremonial kiva at Mesa Verde.

Greener Driving

The Green House experience in Boulder brought me two driving firsts: a hybrid car (the Ford Fusion Hybrid) and the prototype of the 2012 Ford Electric Focus.

The prototype of the Ford Focus Electric, due out in spring of 2011

Before I got behind the wheel, however, our group of journalists heard about how Ford is incorporating “biomaterials” into their vehicles, including soybean-oil seat foam (instead of petroleum foam). They’re also adding natural fibers (wheat straw, hemp) into some plastic parts; the fiber fillers make the plastic lighter, reducing the car’s overall weight, which in turn saves on gas.

Next, we prepped for the “Ford Fuel-Efficiency Challenge” by reviewing Ford’s eco-driving tips. (These apply to driving any vehicle, not just hybrids.)

  • Watch your speed and avoid pumping the accelerator.
  • Accelerate and brake smoothly to conserve fuel.
  • No idling. Engines today don’t need a pre-drive warm-up.
  • Keep tires properly inflated for best mileage.
  • Travel light by removing excess weight from the vehicle.
  • Minimize use of heating and air conditioning to reduce the load on the engine.
  • Close windows at high speed.

We then split into two teams of three people, each with a Fusion Hybrid. As my team’s driver, I turned the key in the ignition. And nothing happened. I tried again. Still nothing. Then it dawned on me that the car was actually running—there was just no revving engine sound that we’re used to. An honest mistake, but I still felt pretty silly.

My drive up to the mountain town of Nederland (20 miles away) went more smoothly. The Fusion Hybrid handled nicely and was comfortable to sit in. All the controls were easy  to see, but I left it to my friend in the passenger seat to keep an eye on our fuel-use rating while I watched the road.

And the Winner Is: Planet Earth

After both teams arrived back at the Green House after a mountain picnic, the Ford folks checked our mileage—the car displays this info for every trip—and we were the winners! We clocked in at 46 miles per gallon.

What tipped the balance? I like to think it was my feather-light accelerator foot, but the other team admitted they ran the air conditioner. (They got 41 miles per gallon, I believe.)

Going Electric

The Focus Electric uses no gas and gets 100 miles per charge.

Next, we each got a chance to drive around the neighborhood in the prototype of the Ford all-electric Focus, which had been plugged into the outlet in the garage all morning. (A full recharge is supposed to take 6 to 8 hours with a 240-volt charge station. It can also be recharged in 12+ hours with a 120-volt cord set into conventional outlets. When fully charged, Focus Electric will drive 100 miles before you juice it up with electricity.)

I slid into the jazzy orange car, pressed the “on” button (no key necessary) and away we went. I expected something radically different, but honestly, it drives and feels like any other car. However, the only sound the Focus makes is the whirring of the tires on the road.

The Focus Electric is scheduled to be on the market in 2011.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor