Sustainable Table promotes Wyoming's natural foods
By Dennis E. Curran
September 1, 2007 --
YODER -- A New York City group promoting natural and sustainably produced foods made a whirlwind visit through Wyoming in August and liked what it saw.
From a farmers' market in Jackson to an experimental student farm in Laramie and a natural grass-fed beef operation in Yoder, Sustainable Table found plenty to rave about in their journey across the Cowboy State.
"Some people said, 'Why Wyoming?' but after spending a day here, there is a growing and exciting sustainable-food lifestyle beginning here," said Diane Hatz, founder and director of Sustainable Table and leader of this summer’s “Eat Well Guided Tour of America.
"We’ve been very overwhelmed by the response from consumers around the country about local food, about sustainable agriculture, and there’s been this real movement that’s been building," she said. "What we’re finding is that communities all around the country are coming together to help each other build local networks."
Sustainable Table is a nonprofit program dedicated to helping consumers learn more about the food choices they are making and educating them to support the natural- and sustainable-food movement spreading across the country.
Her group decided to launch the national tour to see for themselves what was happening in America’s fields and farms and promote it back in the cities.
The Eat Well Guided Tour of America started in Hollywood, Calif., on Aug. 2 and is scheduled to end up at this year’s Farm Aid concert in New York on Sept. 9.
Its first stop in Wyoming was at the Jackson Hole Farmers Market on Aug. 18 and then at UW Acres on Aug. 20 before a lunch with agriculture leaders in Cheyenne and an afternoon touring Meadow Maid Foods and the Ridenour Farm and Ranch west of Yoder and a community dinner at the Yoder Community Center. On Aug. 21, it was off to Nebraska.
The high points of the tour so far, said Hatz, "are the people we’ve met."
"I didn’t realize how much community there is out there and how much of a longing there is to rebuild communities and how people are using local, sustainable foods to reconnect with each other and rebuild sustainable communities," she said.
Sustainable methods, no chemicals
At UW Acres, the group toured a small garden managed by University of Wyoming students using sustainable farming methods and no chemicals.
UW Assistant Agriculture Professor and Agroecologist Rik Smith said the garden is actually about a half acre, but it already is producing products and is helping students discover how natural agriculture is practiced.
"Once they had a piece of land, there was no stopping them," Smith said. "They don’t take no for an answer. They’ve learned an awful lot, and it’s been fun to watch them."
At Meadow Maid Foods, Mike and Cindy Ridenour raise Angus and Hereford beef cattle on native grasslands without chemicals or feedlots. The Ridenours also raise natural vegetables on their sustainable ranch and farm in Goshen County.
All of their cattle spend all of their time grazing on pastureland at the ranch, the Ridenours said, and live their lives free of pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers or growth hormone supplements.
"A lot of people out there are really interested in sustainable agriculture. It’s starting to move in that direction," Cindy Ridenour said. "We’re starting to see a lot of interest in grass-fed beef, whereas when we started, we had to educate people what it was and what we were doing, but now people are starting to look for beef that they know where it comes from."
At the time of the tour, the Ridenours had received less than five inches of rain for the year, but they have a creek running through the ranch, so that helps. “It saves our bacon,” Mike Ridenour said.
The community dinner attracted a number of natural beef ranchers from eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska to dine on grass-raised beef and sample wines from Table Mountain Vineyards down the road in neighboring Huntley.
"It’s wonderful to see such a nice group of people get together and celebrate some of the best food America has to offer, right here in Wyoming," Mike Ridenour said.
Wyoming Business Report Executive Editor Dennis E. Curran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Cheyenne office, 307-638-3200.