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Know the West

Thanks to the farmers


At our Thanksgiving dinner table, we don’t thank God for the food. We thank the farmers. It started as a statement by my wife, Tara — a not-so-subtle hint to her parents that she puts her faith in a different place than they do theirs. But now it’s an important part of our holiday ritual, and a very sincere one, because we are able to thank many of the farmers by name.

This year, we thanked Karla for the turkey (at 19 pounds, it was four times the bird we needed, but the leftovers kept us fed for two weeks) and Lee for the dried cherries in the stuffing. We thanked the Souceks for the beets and Lance for the carrots — the best carrots on the planet, we’re sure. We thanked the Austin family for the potatoes, and Elsie and Sven out at Purple Haze Garlic Farm for the 30 cloves that were stuffed in the turkey and baked with the side dishes. We thanked Adam and Valerie for the pumpkin in one pie, and Wayne for the apples in the other. And finally, we thanked Ashley and Ted up at Stinky Blooms Flower Farm for the dried bouquet that sat in the middle of the table. It was an amazing feast.

This first-name familiarity is thanks largely to Tara, who has a keen interest (and a master’s degree) in marketing local foods. She works with the local organic growers’ organization, and also masterminds the garden that has swallowed a good chunk of our lawn. We’re both recovering vegetarians, but insist on being acquainted with where our meat comes from. I’ve even taken up elk hunting, a pastime that no doubt horrifies my parents at least as much as Tara’s Thanksgiving grace horrifies hers.

We could no doubt do better with our eating habits, but buying as much local, organic food as possible gives us one tangible way to reduce our ecological footprint. It also helps keep friends and neighbors in business, and our small community alive. Just as satisfying, buying local and organic allows us to opt out of an industrial agriculture system that has done tremendous harm to both the land and rural communities.

And that, in a nutshell, is what this issue of High Country News is all about.

In the cover story, Sam Western writes about the practitioners of "vanguard agriculture" who are helping to drag rural Montana out of the proverbial ditch. In the "Uncommon Westerners" profile on page 7, Kerry Brophy writes about how one Wyomingite is putting her guests in touch with their food. On page 4, Brodie Farquhar writes about what happens when agricultural interests run roughshod over the West’s native wildlife. And Betsy Marston weighs in with her "Heard Around the West" column on the back page, showing us how even your beer can be a political statement.

Take a look at what’s on the end of your fork this holiday season, and ask yourself whether you can live with it. Change starts at home, as they say — and what better place to begin than the dinner table?