by Paul K. Haeder & r & Something about finding your place in the world, and then working there, observing the land through the seasons. Your hard work pays off in a bounty of food. And then there's so much left over that you bring it to market. As Wendell Berry -- noted writer, agriculturalist and defender of small farms -- points out in many of his books, we in this country need to grasp the goodness of home. We come to know our region through where we live, through the land itself. A sense of place is what entitles us to know the land's capacity:
& lt;i & I will wait here in the fields & r & to see how well the rain & r & brings on the grass. & r & In the labor of the fields & r & longer than a man's life & r & I am at home. Don't come with me. & r & You stay home too. & lt;/i &
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is one way to connect to the land -- by sowing, tilling and caring for the fields and then making connections to others working to make food local, and to ensure its freshness.
For two years, Diane Green and Sora Huff have coordinated Sunday brunches in the verdant valley between the Selkirk and Cabinet mountain ranges. The gourmet but wholesome food is mouth-watering, and visits by ladybugs and hummingbirds are part of the ambience.
Diners feast under canopies on a deck within a cherry pit's spit from the organic garden on Green's property (located 12 miles north of Sandpoint, Idaho) where the food originates.
A typical Sunday menu includes stuffed squash, spanikopita, mixed greens, wild potato salad and vegetable trays all infused or complemented with fresh herbs and spices. Add to that garlic buns, coffee cake and marble bars, all choreographed to accompany the lone course not grown on the farm -- grilled wild king salmon with farm-fresh pesto sauce.
A variety of people chance upon the brunches, and Diane and Sora, along with apprentices, host up to 26 people a sitting. The meal and beverages are to die for, as Billy Crystal would say. However, the companionship of both women and their varied insight into the workings of a small acreage farm add more than just charm to the meal.
Diane Green, along with Thom Sadoski, owns and works Greentree Naturals, a small certified organic farm. But they are also generate fidelity in their lives as practitioners of sustainable agriculture by partnering up with a growers' collective, farmers' market, restaurants, and a community food and small farm task force called Rural Roots, which services Idaho, western Montana and Eastern Washington.
Green is Rural Roots' current president, and one thing she emphasizes is educational outreach. She and others hold workshops and teach those who want to become small farmers what it means to use sustainable production practices and how to maintain diversity not only of crop variety but through marketing produce and then establishing strong community food systems.
"We believe that diversity in our farming practices is every bit as important as diversity in our approach to marketing our crops," she says. A tour of the 2.5-acre garden shows the efficiency and diversity of crops CSA's like Greentree can sustain.
Unique and hard-to-get produce and herbs are cultivated in Green and Sadoski's green houses and tilled fields. More than 35 different kinds of salad greens, 60 culinary herbs, 15 varieties of squash, eight kinds of peppers and seven varieties of eggplant are part of the bounty in the garden that has at its center a round core set like a Native American medicine wheel.
Originally from Oklahoma, Green traveled widely, then settled into this part of Idaho in the early 1970s. For her, it's a dream come true, and while the labor and other work keep her busy, she has reached a kind of paradise of her being.
Sora Huff, a trained chef who worked in Aspen, Colo., and who now co-manages the Bonner's Ferry Farmer's Market, has been long established on her plot of land near Bonner's Ferry. "Thirty years ago, we bought the land at $400 an acre," she says. "Just the land is valued now at over $28,000."
Both Huff and Green met more than three decades ago while working for the U.S. Forest Service.
Change in the landscape and in the attitudes of locals, including farmers and ranchers, is dramatically apparent.
Talk of the over-stimulation of development in Sandpoint and Bonner County in general was high at every table. "I want to put a face to the farmer," says Green. "Supporting local farmers benefits them and the consumer." Eating fresh and buying local is the credo with adherents to CSA practices.
But saving family farms is not an easy task in this era of factory farms, globalization and displacement. Green pointed out that just in the past 10 years, Bonner County has lost 35,000 acres of farmland to development.
And while the food was as good as any five-star nouvelle cuisine joint in Seattle or San Francisco, Green, Huff, Sadoski and their apprentices see their greater role as part of the movement bringing this nation back toward sustainable agriculture practices.
At the heart of that principle are small-acreage (less than 150 acres, but mostly much smaller) farms and ranches; meat and poultry raised without chemicals and hormones; no genetically engineered crops; and plenty of heritage crops and livestock.
But as Wendell Berry, himself a small-acreage farmer in Kentucky, has pointed out, we are a country that shies away from work: "The prejudice begins in the idea that work is bad, and that manual work outdoors is the worst work of all. The superstition is that since all work is bad, all 'labor-saving' is good. The insanity is to rationalize the industrial pillage of the natural world and to heap scorn upon the land-using cultures on which human society depends for its life. The industrialization of agriculture has replaced working people with machines and chemicals."
Green, Huff, all those connected to Greentree Naturals, Rural Roots, the many farmers and ranchers in the region, and all the up-and-coming apprentices learning these sustainable farming methods see the possibility in building commercial linkages between the city and its local countryside. Who wouldn't want better, fresher food? And why shouldn't citizens influence production of food?
"You have the possibility that urban consumers, by fulfilling their responsibility to local producers, can make secure their local food supply in the face of various threats," says Berry. "The paramount one, now on everybody's mind, is terrorism, but there are also the threats of epidemic and disease. In other words, the influence of local consumers could work, not only to maintain farming in the local landscape, but also to diversify it. And American agriculture is badly in need of diversity. Another threat to the present food system, of course, is the likelihood that petroleum is not going to get any cheaper."
Greentree Naturals is located at 2003 Rapid Lightning Rd., Sandpoint, Idaho. This season's remaining brunches are on Sunday, Aug. 28, and Sunday, Sept. 11. Cost: $35. Call (208) 263-8957.