Food is about more than eating. It's about what you put on the table and how it gets there. By the same token, good food is about more than good flavor; it's also about good ingredients.
On Friday, Feb. 6 and Saturday, Feb. 7, the Colorado Branch for Holistic Management hosted "Colorado's Cornucopia" at the Le Baron Hotel. Billed as a "celebration of local food growers and their customers," the event featured information sessions and workshops dedicated to making food good, from the ground up.
For two days, Colorado ranchers and farmers shared their experiences and expertise in the practice of Holistic Management. Founded by Allan Savory more than two decades ago, Holistic Management teaches people to set goals, establish priorities and implement practices that will enhance sustainable production, their quality of life, and the quality of their environment. Board member Chris Frazier says the Colorado Branch shares these strategies with local people and connects food producers to consumers. While most members raise crops and stock, the basic principles can be implemented in any walk of life. In fact, one-third of their members engage in other enterprises.
Regardless of what they do, everyone who employs Holistic Management will tell you that it is first and foremost a decision-making process. The key to this process is determining a holistic goal, which serves as the axis around which decisions revolve. For Byron Shelton, a certified Holistic Management educator, this means taking land, people, communities and animals into account every step of the way.
Byron and his wife Shelly own Landmark Diversified, a three-pronged venture that specializes in holistic land-management, education, and the raising of grass-fed beef. Stressing the breadth of holistic principles, Byron explained that, "grass-fed beef is not the goal." Instead, "it's one product" of their commitment to raise cattle in a way that: sustains and enriches the environment; allows the herd to live a natural life; produces a quality product; and generates a revenue stream for their family.
In a sense, choosing to eat holistically raised foods is itself a decision about your relationship to the food you put in your body, the people who produce it, and how they get it to your table. And the banquet clearly demonstrated that choosing good food is also choosing food that tastes great.
Chef Chris Adrian, formerly of La Petite Maison and 32 Bleu, proved this could be as simple as bread and butter. Her beautiful sourdough rounds, made with organic flour from Rocky Mountain Milling, had delightfully crispy crusts. Inside, the dense bread had just enough air in it to make room for the Tres Rios Cooperative's butter as it melted in.
Highlighting holistic management's cooperative spirit, all of the chefs worked together on the salad. You won't often find head chefs tearing up greens in their own kitchens -- that is usually somebody else's job. Not so here. Adrian, James Africano (Warehouse), Brent Beavers (Sencha), Chip Johnson (Briarhurst), Pete Moreno (La Petite Maison), and the Le Baron's own John Davila huddled jovially around the same table and prepared more than 100 salad plates.
They might also have proved that six heads are not necessarily better than one. The salads were supposed to include Haystack Mountain goat cheese, made in Longmont, but it was forgotten. The remedy: an impromptu cheese course following the salads. What a happy accident. Each pyramidal cheese is aged in its own, surface-ripened rind that protects the creamy interior. Eaten straight from the knife (or spread over the last few slices of Chef Adrian's bread), the cheese balances sweet, tangy and pungent elements, delivering happiness all over the palate.
Sencha's Beavers spiced things up with a lively soup featuring chipotle peppers and buffalo tongue. The meat came from Buffalo Groves in Kiowa Colo., operated by David and Marlene Groves. Marlene, who also presides over the American Grassfed Association, says her family practices holistic management "because we live where we work." Buffalo Groves will bring their work to where you live, delivering grass-fed bison steaks to your door, but I doubt Chef Beavers will come over to help cook it.
Johnson from the Briarhurst created a masterpiece with pastured turkey from the Destination Ranch in Mesa, Colo. Words cannot justly describe the smoky aroma and earthy flavor that poured out of each juicy bite of apricot-stuffed boneless breast. Owners Fred Boyle and Megan Phillips raise their poultry without growth hormones or other additives in spacious, open pens that daily move down the pasture. The birds eat a complete diet of grain, kelp, dried yogurt, and protein-rich bugs and grubs that live in the grass, and you really can taste the difference.
The Warehouse's Africano brought out the best in Lasater Grasslands Beef, making rouladen from top round and stuffing them with mushrooms from Denver's Rocky Mountain Shiitake and Specialty Foods. Gilding the lily, Africano roasted purple Peruvian potatoes from Mosca's White Mountain Farms with Tres Rios's bacon, making one of the best side dishes imaginable.
Grass-fed beef was more than the main course; it was also the focus of best-selling author Jo Robinson's keynote address. An expert in the field, Robinson explained the interconnected ways that meat, milk and cheese from pastured animals promote healthy bodies and a healthy environment. While this may sound like so much "natural food" idealism, Robinson has done her homework. She cited numerous recent clinical studies supporting older, simpler strategies of stock raising and farming.
Free of added hormones and lower in fat, grass-fed cattle also contain higher concentrations of beneficial elements, including Omega-3 fatty acids and Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), which has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer. At the same time, pastured animals are never exposed to commercial feed products that carry mad cow and other diseases. Finally, the practice of migratory grazing reduces soil erosion, increases soil fertility and promotes a healthy watershed.
Can you really improve your health and the health of your environment simply by what you choose to eat? According to almost everyone in attendance (and a growing crowd of scientists), yes you can. If you decide that eating holistically raised foods will help you to achieve your overall goals, here's how to get your hands on some:
Rocky Mountain Milling (Platteville), Doug Lockwood: 970/785-2794 or 888/785-7636; www.rockymountainmilling.com
Haystack Mountain Goat Cheese (Niwot), Jim Schott: 303/581-9948; www.haystackgoatcheese.com
Buffalo Groves (Kiowa), Marlene Groves: 303/ 621-1111 or 877/468-2833; www.buffalogroves.com
Destination Ranch (Mesa), Fred Boyle and Megan Phillips: 970/487-3515
Lasater Grasslands Beef (Matheson), Dale Lasater or Duke Phillips: 719/541-2855; www.lasatergrasslandsbeef.com
Landmark Enterprises (Buena Vista), Byron and Shelly Shelton: 719/395-8157
To find out how to join Tres Rios Agricultural Cooperative, visit www.tresrioscoop.com
For more information on the health benefits of pastured poultry, pork and beef, visit Jo Robinson's Web site at www.eatwild.com. You can also find links to numerous Colorado food producers there.
To learn more about holistic management, visit www.coloradoholistic management.org or