Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony VagneurThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

The Food & Wine Classic made its annual touchdown just recently, and we genuflected toward the chefs, new and old, who have been pedestal-parked for reasons that seem deeper than mere curiosity about food preparation. If you talk to an honest winemaker, the essence of wine is basically, well, wine. Whole Foods, a national grocery chain, is about to make its valley debut in August 2012, and its arrival is being hailed by some with an almost religious fervor usually reserved for the second coming of Christ. I’ve been told I will never have to cook again, although I may be poorer for the convenience. There’s a big furor lately about the notion that we can produce our own food locally, which is kind of like trying to put the wheels back on the bus. We were in such a hurry to embrace technology that we forgot our roots (to coin a phrase) and enabled ZZ Top’s top-40 single “TV Dinners.” Historically speaking, there was a time when almost every house in Aspen had a vegetable garden out front or in back, meticulously tended by whoever lived there or by diligent neighbors. As kids we liked to poach, and we had our favorites, sometimes based on garden content but other times based on the amount of ire raised by our plundering ways. With obtuse governmental brilliance, we allowed homes to be built lot line to lot line and corralled worker bees in condominiumized housing, neither of which allows much in the way of gardening. Individual garden plots, located at the Thomas/Marolt Open Space property, have been in waitlisted demand ever since. If you go by the original Vagneur homestead in Woody Creek, there is a still-producing hillside orchard of apple and plum trees, planted there by my great-grandfather Jeremie in the 1880s. This fruit (and the attendant rhubarb), cherished by early Aspenites, was hauled to town in a horse-drawn buckboard and sold with whatever other produce was in season. Adjacent to the orchard, Jennifer Craig has fared well with a longtime successful gardening and herb-growing venture, Ute City Farms. The Roaring Fork Valley is a tremendously advantageous spot to be raising animals and produce. There is a short growing season, granted, but the relatively cold nights and abundant irrigation water make for excellent crops. If the emphasis is to be on “local,” let’s start thinking deeper about the concept.There was a recent article in this paper about a deal Whole Foods made with some local cattle producers to get “locally grown, grass-fed beef” into its grocery store. To that I can only add that almost every pound of beef produced in this valley is grass-fed – humanely at that. That’s what we local ranchers do consistently, without using detrimental growth hormones, antibiotics or corn derivatives. (Grass-fed has become a euphemism for natural-ranging, “additive free” beef, if that helps.) Feedlots are the culprits that screw up our pure beef and human cholesterol levels. But if you’ve eaten much grass-fed meat, you’re aware it has a tendency to taste a bit like cardboard. Adding grain to the feed regimen 30 to 60 days before butchering adds a lot to the flavor and still keeps the “good” fat (monounsaturated) at a majority in the marbling. Woody Creek Distillers reintroduced potato growing into Woody Creek Canyon last year. With about 25 acres under cultivation this summer, it will produce the largest potato crop seen in decades, for use in its cutting-edge Scanlan’s Fat City vodka, whose debut is coming up this fall. Next year it may want some help producing spuds, and further, every good distillery needs a ration of grain. Ah, yes, produce grain for cattle finishing, produce potatoes and grain for the local distillery, and suddenly, we’re very local. Maybe we’re not at the top of our game yet, but we’re definitely at the top of the valley and are on to something. Community gardens to keep people focused on how healthy food is produced and eaten, farmers and ranchers looking to expand local markets through grass-fed beef, grain and potato production, and the emergence of small-truck farms (think Rock Bottom Ranch) to grow crisp, good-tasting produce for the rest of us. It’s all good.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at

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