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Know the West

How yuppies killed, and saved, the family farm


When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time on what we called "The Farm," my grandparents' place in the Animas Valley in southwestern Colorado. We ate corn right off the stalk and green peas out of the shell. We gobbled the feral asparagus that sprang up each spring alongside the fences. We slathered everything with big amorphous chunks of butter from my grandparents' cows, and waited eagerly for lamb chops, my favorite dinner.

My grandparents were not "local food" snobs by any means -- Wonder Bread remained a staple, and if we were lucky, we had bright green Jell-O for dessert. They were farmers by trade. They lacked money but had seven kids to help out, so my mom spent much of her childhood picking raspberries and working on the farm. That was enough to forever sour her -- and most of her siblings -- on the idea of farming. Or so she said.

My grandparents sold off most of the farm when I was still young. And as the land became more valuable for housing than harvests, other locals did the same. The fallow fields sprouted sprawl, and rural-burbia replaced the old barns. I blamed yuppies -- i.e., any outsiders who could afford to buy property in my hometown -- for the death of local agriculture.

Recently, however, a batch of fresh aioli changed my thinking. You see, that rich and creamy concoction of egg yolks, garlic and olive oil really isn't aioli if it's not made with right-out-of-the-nest eggs and local garlic. And it's just not as good if it's spread on something other than freshly dug potatoes, or just-harvested summer squash (alongside some local chevre-stuffed and sautéed squash blossoms). Luckily, my family has a place where we can get most of this stuff right off the farm. And oddly enough, we owe it to the yuppies.

The North Fork Valley, where HCN is headquartered, is one of the top organic farming regions in Colorado. Most of the harvest, though, is sold over the mountains, in places like Aspen and Crested Butte. The local market simply isn't big enough or wealthy enough to support all of the small farms. But Aspenites (whose land is too expensive, and too high-altitude, for successful farming) have the cash to spend on fresh, semi-local food. It's a nice symbiosis.

That doesn't mean that these farms don't still struggle financially. But if they can grow the right boutique crops, they scrape by. And wine grapes are one of those crops. Just as a cool, local sauvignon blanc serves as a nice foil for fresh-made aioli, so do local wineries enhance the local food movement. Indeed, Napa and Sonoma were once only famous for their wine; now, they are all-around foodie meccas. Christie Aschwanden explores the phenomenon in this issue's cover story -- a perfect treat for a hot summer afternoon.

I'd recommend reading it while sipping a glass of the local gewurztraminer, and eating some aioli-slathered grilled vegetables from that farm I mentioned. Which, by the way, is now my parents' garlic farm. Decades after leaving the family farm, my mom ended up starting her own.