When my family and I decided to move back to Durango a little more than four years ago, I didn’t quite know what to expect.
My most recent background was in commercial vegetable production (imagine sweet corn or beans as far as one can see, harvested by huge machines or small armies of migrant farmers) in South Florida.
I knew working in the area of mass-producing vegetables wasn’t for me. I could never grasp that neither the farmers nor the consumers knew how far their food traveled. In a striking case of irony, tomatoes that were harvested in Boynton Beach were packaged, placed on a truck and sent north – sometimes as far as Atlanta – to a distribution warehouse where they were stored until they were put on another truck. That same truck drove back south to a supermarket in Boynton Beach, three miles from where the tomatoes were harvested.
And they still tasted like, well, nothing.
So when I moved back here, I wasn’t expecting to see thousands, or even hundreds, of acres in vegetable production. I didn’t realize a groundswell of interest in local food production existed here. Farmers and consumers not only cared how far their food traveled, but also how it was grown, who grew it and how their farmers took care of the land on which it was produced.
School districts wanted to serve local food in the cafeterias; a meat-processing plant committed to a high-level of animal health standards; schools, from elementary to junior high, converted pavement or grass into gardens.
There was a farmers market that never seemed to slow down, even when it was 35 degrees in May and all you could buy was spinach and Swiss chard.
And then there were restaurant owners who saw value in using locally produced goods. Maybe it was the flavor, the commitment to supporting local agriculture or the marketing potential. Regardless, they realized the culture of food was changing.
Of course, I realized that all of this would also benefit the Colorado State University Extension. To create a fun and educational event, our office, in conjunction with Healthy Lifestyle La Plata, developed the Iron Horse Chef Competition.
The fourth annual competition, to be held Saturday at the Durango Farmers Market, has a relatively simple premise: two chefs (Charles Childers from Nature’s Oasis and Dennis Morrisroe, a self-proclaimed renegade chef) receive a locally produced protein and $75 to shop for 30 minutes at the market. Then they take to their outdoor “kitchen” at the Farmers Market to cook as many dishes as they want in one hour. They use products they bought at the market. A panel of foodies, farmers and local celebrities will determine the winner, who will face defending champion Vera Hansen from Cyprus Café in the grand finale on Aug. 20.
I promise you’ll love the event. Grab some lemonade, a carrot and a chair and watch some impressive chefs cook impressive dishes with impressive food.
[email protected] or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.