CREATIVE PEAKS: Slow Food at Altitude

By on July 20, 2016

The decade-old organization is working to make local food available year-round.

The LockhART Ranch Party has become an anticipated summer event that celebrates the uniqueness of farm-to-table meals.  (Photo: Slow Food In The Tetons)

The LockhART Ranch Party has become an anticipated summer event that celebrates the uniqueness of farm-to-table meals.  (Photo: Slow Food In The Tetons)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – If you attend a foodie event this summer, keep your eye out for the garden snail.

From the People’s Market to the LockhART Ranch party to the Teton Food Tour, the host of several popular food happenings is Slow Food in the Tetons. Their logo, the gently paced snail, says a lot about the organization’s ethos. Take your time. Grow a garden. Stay close to the earth.

Carlo Petrini founded Slow Food International in 1986 as a reaction to a fast food culture and lifestyle he saw invading his native Italy. Since then, local chapters of the organization have multiplied around the globe, each with the mission to encourage “good, clean, and fair” food.

Here in Jackson, Slow Food in the Tetons operations director Scott Steen has seen an increased interest in the local food economy since he first got involved five years ago.

“Restaurants are paying more attention to sustainable food,” Steen noted. “Visitors are paying more attention. People who live here are becoming more invested in the food they put in their bodies.”

This time of year, Steen is juggling a lot. He is the only full-time employee of the organization, with Chris Hogberg working part-time to run the People’s Market. In addition to the market, Slow Food has two major events coming up as well as two main initiatives.

On August 13, Slow Food helps host the third annual LockhART Ranch Party, where a few hundred people sit down to a farm-to-table meal in the middle of a cow pasture on Lockhart Ranch. The party is more than just a good time. Breaking bread with friends—and strangers—for a meal is a key part of Slow Food’s philosophy.

According to Slow Food in the Tetons founder Sue Muncaster, cooking and enjoying a meal with others is one way of “doing” slow food. Muncaster is now a board member emeritus of Slow Food in the Tetons. She says dinnertime is the most important slow food ritual in her family’s daily life.

“The family table is the idea that you cook and eat a meal with people that you love,” she said. “No cell phones, everyone sits down. It’s the only time of the day we talk all together.”

Muncaster launched Slow Food in the Tetons 10 years ago. She was doing research for a cookbook and stumbled across the Slow Food USA website. The philosophy resonated and she decided to start a chapter here. Since then she has watched slow food projects like Vertical Harvest grow from seedlings into full bloom.

Board member Carter Cox says the People’s Market is one of the organization’s greatest current successes, along with the LockhART Ranch Party, and a bike event, Teton Food Tour, on August 21.

“It connects local producers with consumers, and it supports a culture in our community that cherishes sharing food together,” Cox said.

Cox, whose other hat is development coordinator at the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, says up until now too few people believed that Jackson could have a localized and regionalized food system. That is shifting.

“I think there is great momentum right now which is allowing us to move beyond farmers markets and CSAs,” she said. “We can work towards having more local food in our stores and restaurants, as well as encouraging more people to grow their food when and where they can.”

Barriers to a slow food lifestyle can include cost, and a perceived elitism.

“The foodie thing is kind of a wealthy people thing, and we are trying to change that,” Steen said.

To that end, the People’s Market accepts food stamps and veggie benefit coupons from St. John’s Hospital. Additionally, the organization is working to increase access to local food year-round. Muncaster says you don’t have to be an eco-freak to embrace the local food economy.

“I feel like some people are so militant about what they eat that they aren’t enjoying their meals,” Muncaster said. “I don’t buy all organic. We’re not rich. We just spend time sitting down and slowing down.”

Steen says the organization will focus on two important initiatives starting in the fall. Slow Food’s youth culinary project teaches farm-to-table cooking classes during the school year. In addition, Slow Food is seeing funding for a “Teton Slow Food Guide,” a website featuring local food resources.

Cox, a mother of two, says she would like to see more local food in grocery stores and more children learning how to grow their own food. Although she is a fan of community gardens, Cox says even an indoor food plant at home can teach a child the value of gardening. “A lot is possible here, even though we have a very cold climate,” she said.

Forward thinking residents are helping make what’s possible here a reality. A lot of the positive change in the community is happening in the commercial sector because of the demand from customers, noted Steen, who also runs a consulting business called inSight Sustainability.

“There’s a groundswell of customer interest in Slow Food,” he said. “People support the businesses that are doing the right thing, putting more local food on the menu and doing more to divert food waste.”

According to Steen, consumers are also more aware of the health benefits of eating fresh, locally grown food. He even sees an interest shared among younger people to go back to the land and become farmers. “That’s a trend we hope will continue,” he said.

Meanwhile Steen tends his own garden at home. His favorite vegetables to grow are root vegetables, which he harvests with an eye toward local food in the coldest months. PJH

About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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