Heard around the West


Where's Humpty Dumpty when we need him? The egg on the other side of the looking-glass told Alice that "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less." The word in question these days is "organic," whose definition counts a lot in the booming billion-dollar market for organic foods. And the food in question is wild salmon in Alaska, which might just be too ornery to make the organic cut. Yet Alaskan salmon are born in clean streams and after a stint at sea must encounter those same unpolluted home waters to spawn; shouldn't that make them the very essence of "organic"?

Well, no, says an advisory group to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Voting 14-0, the National Organic Standards Board said salmon can't be organic because no one knows precisely where the fish have been spending their time. "They swim about freely, meaning their diet and possible exposure to contaminants can't be controlled," reports the Anchorage Daily News. The same board did not rule out an organic label for some factory-farmed salmon, though fish grown in hatcheries would come from anywhere but Alaska since the state banned fish farming. Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski said he found the board's conclusions inconceivable and noted that chicken and beef are already eligible for the organic label. He's pressing the Agriculture Department to toss out the recommendations. Whatever it decides, the Agriculture Department faces this dilemma: "'The question,' said Alice, 'is whether you can make words mean so many different things.' "

It is a safe bet in the gambling town of Central City, Colo., that when town manager Ivan Widom decides he's had enough of public service, he won't be given a gold watch. Widom's flaw, if you could call it that, was summed up in the Weekly Register-Call front-page headline on Oct. 12: "Whoops, city accidentally hires honest city manager."

Widom has proposed a budget that seeks higher taxes on gambling casinos along with raises for town employees. Even more radically, he'd like the mayor and council to include him in meetings about town business. "The honesty and concern for the welfare of the residents reflected in the 2002 budget brought outrage from several casino personalities," reports editor Debra Krause. The town manager expressed some outrage of his own. He criticized "Alderman Skagerberg" for "threatening him, harassing him, yelling at him, cussing at him and trying to intimidate him, all in the view of the public," the paper reported. Widom also told the council that "Skagerberg had caused the city to lose important incoming faxes when he entered city hall after hours and removed a fax tape from a fax machine because he was out of ink at his home."

No one chastised the alderman, though Mayor Don Mattivi had some criticism for the city manager. The mayor said Widom had failed to contact him after every staff meeting, and this was crucial because the mayor worked in Virginia. Back and forth the verbal jabs flew, though manager Widom made it clear he wasn't deterred. "Let's stop playing games," he told the council. The paper notes: "It was decided by Widom and the mayor that communication would improve between the two and that their problems, at least, could be worked out." Stay tuned.

Growing pumpkins, which can bulk up by as much as 25 pounds a day, requires constant attention, says champion grower Kirk Mombert of Harrisburg, Ore. With a 1,064-pounder he calls Maytag, reports Capital Press, Mombert set a world record at Hoffman's Dairy Garden, which awarded $10,000 in prizes. Mombert actually grew a squash, defined as a pumpkin that's at least 25 percent green on the outside. Like the word organic, squash is a controversial definition. At times, Mombert admitted, he spent up to six hours a day caring for his gigantic whatever-you-call-it. "Attention to detail is important," he said. "You get to know every one of them. It becomes an obsession almost."

There's some great news for drinkers on a budget. Wal-Mart, the world's largest retail chain, is teaming up with the E&J Gallo Winery of Modesto, Calif., to produce a cheap wine. The price: $6-$8. But Associated Press says a wine expert cautions that "the right name is an important factor." Suggestions abound and, forwarded to us by writer Ted Williams, here are 15 possible names he's collected for Wal-Mart wine:

      15. Box O'Grapes
      14. Chateau Traileur Doublewide
      13. White Trashfindel
      12. Big Red Gulp
      11. Grape Expectations
      10. Domaine Wal-Mart "Merde du Pays"
      9. NASCARbernet
      8. Chef Boyardeaux
      7. Peanut Noir
      6. Blue Light Special Nun
      5. Chateau des Moines
      4. Martha Stewart's Sour Grapes
      3. I Can't Believe it's Not Vinegar!
      2. World Championship Wriesling
    And the number one suggestion for the discount brand:
      1. Nasti Spumante

Thanks to an anonymous donor, five lighted-up interlocking Olympic rings will shine each night from the foothills above Salt Lake City, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Not everyone finds the rings, which will suck up 400,000 watts from 6 p.m. to midnight, Feb. 6-24, a brilliant notion. Councilwoman Nancy Saxton said, "Some of us actually believe we have icons already - and they're natural. We don't have to dig them, build them and light them." A slim majority approved the beacon.

Heard around the West invites readers to get involved in the column. Send any tidbits that merit sharing - small-town newspaper clips, personal anecdotes, relevant bumper sticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or [email protected]

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