Friday, August 23, 2019
Becoming Resilient with the Food We Eat and More
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Jeri Howland tells Anne Kalik and others what’s at stake with Blaine County’s food.
 
Thursday, March 21, 2019
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Jeri Howland helped create the first certified farmers’ market in San Francisco upon her emergence from   UC Berkeley where she earned a Master’s in Public Health Nutrition. It was a win-win, as she paired farmers with high-end consumers, such as restaurateur Alice Waters, who bought the farmers’ produce for her Chez Panisse.

Now Howland, who has competed in 19 Ironman distance triathlons, is on another long-distance race. This one involves building a thriving local food system in the Sun Valley area that encourages farmers to employ new and better ways to grow more local food and offer middlemen more ways to turn what’s grown here into affordable food for Wood River Valley residents.

“Back then, we realized that if we didn’t have reliable markets, we couldn’t keep our farmers,” Howland said. “That’s part of what we’re facing here, as well.”

 
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Ali Long said one of the big hindrances to implementing good ideas in the past is the lack of a fulltime paid coordinator.
 

Howland, senior advisor for the Sun Valley Institute, spent a day presiding over a group brainstorming ways the county can be more resilient when it comes to food at the second annual Blaine County Resilience workshop held this past week at the community Campus.

The workshop, which attracted a hundred government officials, agency and business representatives and volunteer citizens, was the second. The first, held in December, identified threats to the area’s resilience in the face of changing climate. This workshop was designed to brainstorm actions that can be taken.

“Most people in the world don’t grasp how precious our earth is,” said former Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen as he addressed participants at the workshop organized by Blaine County and hosted by the Sun Valley Institute and Boise-based Warm Springs Consulting. “It is a finite globe.”

Aimee Christensen, of the Sun Valley Institute, acknowledged that a catastrophe could threaten the very quality of living that valley residents have come to love. Santa Rosa, Calif., she pointed out, was second on a list of Best Places for Business and Careers early this century. But it dropped to 185 out of 200 in 2007 as affordable housing became out of reach.

 
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Thai Red Coconut Curry Soup and Grass-Finished Beef Chili with Silver Spring Ranch Beef from the Wooden Spoon Soup Club augmented a locally sourced lunch that included a Hearty Winter Caesar Salad and poblano-apricot hummus.
 

In the case of food resiliency, it’s not just a matter of buying local. It’s not just a matter of eating healthier, fresher food. And it’s not just about making food more affordable in a county that’s one of the most expensive counties in the country to purchase food. It’s also about making sure that there is food available locally in the event of drastic weather or other catastrophes that might block access in and out of the valley.

“We’ve had presidential advisors who have come to the valley and told us about scenarios where the electric grid could go out,” said Anne Kalik, a member of Howland’s committee. “If we’re going to be a resilient community, how can we use geothermal or solar resources to keep refrigeration and other things going? I know some farms are being powered by methane from cows.”

Ali Long, who co-founded the Local Food Alliance, said that area farmers need places they can sort, clean and store food. They need to be able to preserve and can what they grow in summer for storage and sales in winter.

In short, noted Forest Service biologist Bobbi Filbert, “We need a collaborative food hub.”

 
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Aimee Christensen said extreme weather and other natural catastrophes make up the top three risks, according to the Global Risk Outlook for 2019.
 

There is a food hub of sorts being planned in conjunction with the proposed Quigley Farm development east of Hailey.

Harry Weekes, head of Sage School, said $2.5 million is needed to build infrastructure for a food production/education center there that would include hydroponic gardening and a food processing kitchen. The center could also be a good educational hub, given that 39,000 people walked out Quigley Canyon last year.

More greenhouses couple up the food growing, Kalik said. Those heated by solar or geothermal means—and not propane—are sustainable.

Howland said that are plenty of ways to educate locals about what’s available. Among the tactics she envisions is a mountain bike tour led by someone like Rebecca Rusch along gravel roads to farms in the south valley.

She pointed to the workshop lunch featuring local foods, including soup provided by Chef Lindsey Czech, who delivers soup to homes via her Wooden Spoon Soup Club

“It truly reflected the focus and goal to prioritize local food,” she said. “If there’s going to be resilience, we need a unified, resilient, community food system ensuring all community members have access to whole, nutrient-dense food grown on local regenerative farms.”

At the end of the day, committee members settled on the need to spearhead a food hub that will provide space for cold storage, processing facilities for producer, retail opportunities, educational classrooms and more.

Perhaps more recommendations will come from studies conducted in fall 2018 by national food expert  Ken Meter.

“It’s time we act,” said Long. “We’ve been educating valley residents through the Local Food Alliance, Sage School and the Hunger Coalition for years.”

Other groups looked at ways to incentivize and implement green building codes and practices, build a community solar project and construct a batter storage-based microgrid at St. Luke’s Wood River in case the main electrical grid were to fail

Schoen led a group pushing for regional collaboration among government agencies and business leaders so that climate change issues can be tackled more broadly.

Ann Christensen said she was excited by suggestions to build support for affordable housing, including identifying community leaders who can tell their neighbors and co-workers why it’s important.

“I didn’t realize just how much we needed it until I went to get some work done and was told I would have to wait because there aren’t enough workers living here to get all the work done,” she said.

Aimee Christensen said those behind the community workshop made a commitment to the county that at least one program would come out of this.

“I hope there will be 10,” she said. “And the more we can collaborate, the more effective we will be.”

 

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