Community April 29, 2009

Fresh from the Farm

Tracing the roots of our food

“This is Biggie. She was nominated all-American,” says Eric Butterworth, pointing out a very large cow at the Willonna Holstein Farm in Buhl. Butterworth is manager of the Cloverleaf Dairy, and he proudly knows the names of all the cows.

“This one with a little white on her face is Dinah. She’s my favorite cow. She’s one of the prettiest cows.

“She knows she’s pretty.”

Every cow at the Willonna Holstein Farm has a name and is individually cared for. A happy, healthy cow is the first goal of longtime farmer Bill Stolzfus and his wife Donna, who own both farm and dairy. The cows are a part of the family.

You may have seen their Cloverleaf Milk in local supermarkets in old-fashioned glass bottles with grass green caps, reminders of the days when milk was delivered daily to our doorsteps. To the Stolzfuses, it’s more than a nostalgic memory. When a cow is milked on a Friday, the milk is delivered to Wood River Valley stores on Monday.

That’s about as close to “direct from the cow” as you can get.

The quest for fresh-picked, vine-ripened food is a national passion—so much so that a new word has entered the lexicon. “Locavore,” from the Latin “locus” (meaning place) and “vorare” (to eat or devour), means just that—a person who seeks out and happily devours local fresh foods. Locavorism unites gourmets and environmentalists alike on the benefits of eating fresh and local.

Eating food from within 150 miles of its creation is more than just about freshness, it’s also about the environment, economy and community.

One grassroots group that has risen to take control of the food chain is Idaho’s Bounty. Their goal is to connect the Idaho farmer to local residents. On its website you can order exactly what you want from local farms—greens, squash, potatoes, asparagus, beets, fresh herbs, apples, cheese, eggs, milk, turkey, chicken, elk, beef, pork, and more. The Idaho’s Bounty truck drives from town to town, farm to farm, receiving freshly-picked produce to deliver once weekly direct to the Wood River Valley.

Lending national credence to the overall locavore concept was a recent lecture given here by bestselling author Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) who stated that “local farming rebuilds the local economy while also reducing reliance on fossil fuels.” He pointed out that locavorism improves the health of the community in every sense when locals socialize at outdoor farmers’ markets, at the same time taking back control of their resources.

Here are a few of the farmers that work hard to bring fresh healthy local produce right to your table.

Rainbow Carrots and Golden Beets
Prairie Sun Farm

The Camas Prairie, named after the flower that patterns its meadows vibrantly blue in spring, is rich in farmland and a short drive from the Wood River Valley. Prairie Sun Farm’s owners, Carol and Jeff Rast, are well known for rainbow carrots and multi-colored beets, among many other homegrown vegetables.

It began with a 50-by-70-foot backyard plot in Fairfield where Rast grew vegetables for her family. 

Tona Stilwill harvests organic at her Fair Mountain Farm in Fairfield


“Our neighbors would laugh,” she remembers. “I’d be out planting things. They’d say, you can’t do that. You can’t plant that in April. You can’t do that til the middle of June! I didn’t have a greenhouse but I covered things with wool blankets every night. I’d be harvesting things when the neighbors were just getting started. I pushed the envelope and tried new things. We had bountiful stuff that I was giving away.”

This bounty led the couple to eventually purchase their 10-acre farm—not that it made any money at first. “I sold at the Hailey market, but when I subtracted all my expenses—I made 10 cents an hour!” That challenged them to improve their soil. The more fertile the soil, the more productive it could be.

Rast learned about gardening as a child.

“I grew up a missionary kid in Guadalajara, Mexico. My parents were good Southerners who had to have their lima beans and English peas, so we had a garden in somebody’s vacant lot in the middle of the city.” But, “My parents used poison. Everybody did. Because of that I’d come home from working in the garden with rashes, swollen eyes, a sore throat or a cough.”

That’s why she worked hard to be certified organic for eight years until, like many small farmers, she felt that maintaining certification wasn’t worth the trouble. It required a lot of “expense and endless paperwork” that is geared more for huge farms.

Rast switched to “natural” (basically organic without the certification—pesticide-free using organic compost). The growing process begins in winter, when Rast searches through dozens of catalogs looking for new and interesting seeds.

Carol Rast, who harvests unusual and multi-colored beets and carrots at her Prairie Sun Farm nestled on the Camas Prairie.


That’s how Rast found her famous rainbow carrots––purple, yellow, red and orange. The colorful purple carrots have orange or yellow inside.

“There are three or four varieties of yellow carrots. The lighter the color, the milder the flavor. The red are good for cooking, orange for juicing. I mix the different colors. There might be six or eight varieties in one pack. Whatever is available.”

When the catalog seeds arrive, tomatoes, peppers, herbs and eggplant are started in their south-facing, sun-filled dining room until it’s time to plant outside when the ground is warmer. Outside, two large greenhouses and a partly-enclosed tunnel help warm the ground for an earlier spring planting. The greenhouses were built with an educational grant. “This has allowed us to grow things that normally would not succeed in the frost belt of Idaho. I can get things started earlier like tomatoes and peppers.”

Then comes the harvesting in summer and fall. Certain root plants like carrots, beets, onions, potatoes, and shallots are stored in their cool dark work room and continue to be sold in winter. Rast has explored a wide variety of beets—the Italian Chioggia beet, white with a bright pink circle inside, is very sweet and can be sliced thin and eaten raw in a salad. The golden beet is popular but difficult to grow. Still, she perservered. “I pushed the envelope and tried new things.” >>>


Happy Cows
Cloverleaf Creamery

When the Stolzfuses of Buhl decided how to market their tasty milk, they looked back to look forward. They took the nostalgic route of bottling the milk in glass bottles not just for the symbolism of a simpler time, but because it was the best economic and environmental choice.

“Our milk lasts up to four weeks if refrigerated at a stable temperature,” says Butterworth, who is the Stolzfuses’ son-in-law. “The good thing about glass is that it’s a great insulator. Once it’s cold, it’s cold. But you can’t let the milk bottle sit out and get warm. I believe cartons and plastic can possibly leak through and affect the taste. Glass doesn’t. It’s very clean. Nothing can get in there. Nothing leaks. Glass keeps it cooler, fresher, longer, and is environmentally friendly. It saves so much plastic going into the landfill. A big plastic jug a week—that’s a lot for our landfills. Glass bottles that get returned, rewashed at high temperatures, and reused are more environmentally friendly.”

  Bill Stolzfus bottles fresh milk at his Cloverleaf Creamery in Buhl.


Dairyman Stolzfus is widely known for his cattle-breeding practices. He finds the healthiest cows and breeds them, then takes good care of them, and they end up living longer, healthier lives and producing healthy milk (with no artificial hormones needed).

Taking good care of cows means giving them a lot of grazing pasture, Stolzfus believes. Here, 120 cows graze on 36 acres of pesticide-free grassland.

“The number of cows we have on the amount of pasture is far below what anyone else would have,” Butterworth declares. “There’s less methane problem, no smell issues. Our concentration of cows is stable for the environment.”

Cloverleaf Dairy is right on Main Street in Buhl so if you want to stop by their store and purchase some milk, homemade pumpkin ice cream, or freshly made rhubarb pies, you are welcome.

A Panoply of Potatoes M&M Heath Farms

A rich display of color is on view in boxes in Mike Heath’s Buhl farmyard. There’s the bright red-orange, teardrop-shaped red kuri squash, the long pale-yellow-and-green-striped delicata, the dark-green, yellow-striped kabocha, along with the yellow-orange butternut and the dark-green acorn. Each squash has a slightly different shape, texture and taste.

Across the yard in a huge storage barn, a panoply of potatoes—16 varieties—are being sorted for size and quality. The classic Idaho russet is the most popular brown, thick-skinned baking potato in the world. But there are also purple potatoes, yellow milvas, red ladies, Yukons, and the ever-popular and expensive fingerlings.

Mike Heath holds a box of potatoes grown at M&M Heath Farms in Buhl


“The russet gives you a nice dry, fluffy, flaky-type potato while these red ladies have more moisture,” says Heath, describing the individuality of each potato. Heath has been an organic farmer since 1982, one of the first in Idaho. “I spent 10 years overseas with the church working with people that couldn’t afford chemicals and they seemed to be doing okay. So I thought maybe I should try it. I felt it was an environmentally more responsible way to farm, plus the market was starting to look like it might be good. It wasn’t very good the first couple of years, but it’s been pretty good to me since.” Heath also sells poultry, eggs, beef, and pork.

Becoming certified is a complicated process, says Heath, pointing out the strict rules. “You have to have three years of no chemicals—no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Then your ground is eligible for certification. Every year we pay our fees and have an inspection by the certifying agency. If you’re buying organic, you know you’re not getting any hormones, pesticides, chemical fertilizers of any sort in your food and no genetically-engineered crops or animals. That’s what organic means.” Heath uses crop rotation to improve the soil and compost and fish fertilizer instead of chemicals.

Heath has been involved with CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture groups), where local produce is delivered once weekly, but there was no choice of what you received. What he likes about Idaho’s Bounty is that “you can actually go online and order exactly what you want.” He also sells his produce in the Wood River farmers’ markets as well as to many local restaurants like CIRO, the Sun Valley Inn, CK’s and Glow.

With 100 to 150 acres of beans, the Heath farm has quite a variety. The black turtles are black beans traditionally used in Latin American cuisine. The small reds are used in chilies and soups, while the small whites are popular for baked beans and soups. The white to pale green flageolet bean is taken very seriously in France and is often used in high-end restaurants. Heath also grows seed beans for green beans in gardens. “Idaho is a huge seed-growing area,” he adds.

Though farming can be tough, farmers work together. As Heath hefts a heavy pallet of potatoes onto his truck, he mentions that he’s also driving in another farmer’s produce with his. Sharing his reasons for being a farmer, “You work really hard in the summer. In winter, it’s not as intense. I enjoy the seasons. You’re your own boss. I enjoy just watching the stuff grow—just being around it.” >>>


Elk Unlimited
CA Bull Elk Ranch

Most days, 51-year-old Gail Ansley, co-owner of CA Bull Elk Ranch in Hazelton, Idaho, straps her four-year-old granddaughter Miah sidesaddle onto her tractor, and herds elk. Talk about a woman who does it all.

The first thing that strikes the eye upon arriving at the ranch is a huge herd of majestic elk grazing peacefully right next to Gail and Calvin Ansley’s home. Inside, the theme remains elk—with a rack of antlers framing an elk portrait, an antler lamp, a hide draped over the sofa, and a small hide and antler rocker handmade for little Miah. This is definitely elk territory.

If you’ve never heard of elk farming, you’re not alone, but it’s actually an ancient occupation. Deer have been farmed for thousands of years and, according to Gail, the most recent resurgence was caused “back in the ’30s, when Yellowstone became overpopulated with elk and they gave them to independent citizens to relieve the park of too many elk,” instead of culling them. Gail’s elk are the descendants of those elk.

Gail Ansley of CA Bull Elk Ranch.


Like cows, elk are raised for their meat, which many say is a healthier, leaner alternative to beef and without the hormones. Gail is determined to be sustainable, so she uses every part of the elk—nothing is wasted. “That’s one of the things we like about elk. You’re not just talking about one kind of commodity.” Her husband, Calvin, who travels working construction to support the ranch, is an artist who transforms antlers and hides into chairs, chandeliers, knives, belt buckles, lamps, bolo ties, pens, salt and pepper shakers—you name it. Calvin uses ivory (actual ivory from the bugling teeth) to make jewelry.

The antler, while it is in velvet, can be ground and used as a food supplement—it is said to help build the immune system and strengthen joints. Bull elk can also be sold to hunting preserves as huntable game.

Gail Ansley more or less runs the everyday farm on her own. She boards her tractor each day to do the feeding, watering and fencing. The feed is all natural, including the hay that she bulldozes into the feeders. Just to break even economically, she also raises pheasants, selling the meat and running a pheasant-hunting ranch on the property.

Some elk meat is sold to restaurants, but there’s a problem of remaining sustainable. Restaurants only want the top cuts—then what to do with the rest?

Ansley is working on the problem by making jerky and summer sausage. She also sells elk burger.

“I think the public in general is becoming more and more aware of their food and wanting to know where it comes from. I know because I’m a consumer as well as a producer. When you go to the grocery store, it’s overwhelmingly obvious that we have become an extremely international market. One example is that it’s almost impossible to buy lamb that’s produced in the U.S.

“I think it’s sad that this is our country and you can’t even sell the product you’re growing. That discourages me because we as agriculture have tried our best to become more affordable over the years. People who have never been to a farm or ranch can’t possibly comprehend what it takes to get that piece of meat to the table. Many don’t understand where it comes from, so there’s a big gap between them and us. And it shouldn’t be them and us. It should be all of us understanding what one another does.”

Looking for Local Recipes? click here to read For the Love of Local: Eat Fresh. Who better to showcase their products than the farmers themselves? From their fields to their kitchens to yours.


Crystal Lee Thurston is a local freelance writer who enjoys local fresh foods, especially those hand delivered by her hunter husband, Ted Dale. 

Click here for more pictures of local farmers



This article appears in the Summer 2009 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.