2011: The Year of Idaho Food

December 6, 2010

In Partnership with Boise State Public Radio & the Boise Weekly: A look at a new statewide, grassroots food project

Tyler Korn enjoying a garden school carrot at Northside Elementary School in Sandpoint, Idaho. Photo by Michele Murphree

Food brings people together.  That’s especially true during the holidays.  But some people want to take that further.  They’re working on an upcoming, grassroots project called “2011: The Year of Idaho Food.”   Kicking off in January, “The Year of Idaho Food” plans to collect food and farm stories from individuals and organizations all over the state, then share them online.

And you can join in.  In this episode of Edible Idaho, correspondent Guy Hand will tell you how.

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Hutchinson: We’d love to hear from hunters, from anglers, from vegans.

Hand: That’s Amy Hutchinson, one of the founders of the Year of Idaho Food.

Hutchinson: We’d love to hear from the native population and talking about native foods and the importance to their culture and their health.

Amy Hutchinson, Year of Idaho Food organizer Photo by Guy Hand

Hand: Hutchinson says “2011: The Year of Idaho Food” is a collaboration of volunteers.  It’s meant to collect and catalogue stories, recipes, photographs and videos from any Idahoan willing to share.  And the project is eager to hear from food producers as well as eaters, from small farmers to large commodity growers.

Hutchinson: I would love for the Barley Commission, the Potato Commission, growers around the state to join in the conversation.  I think that, well, you can’t have an authentic conversation about Idaho food unless everyone who grows or produces food in Idaho is again at that table.

Hand: This broad-ranging conversation will initially be held online, on a companion website.

Hutchinson: That is sort of our virtual table.  It’s an opportunity for us to talk about our recipes and share our potlucks and share the ideas that have brought community members together and then bring the communities in Idaho together around that website table.

Hand: Hutchinson says that website table will be a place for people to gather inspiration from food-related stories all over the state, stories they might otherwise not hear.  For instance . . .

Hutchinson: I was just talking with a woman up in Sandpoint who was very excited about a grant that they received in order to convert one of their classrooms into a culinary classroom.  And they would be using the garden produce from the school to teach young people how to grow and cook.

Kids at one of Sandpoint's new school gardens at Kootenai Elementary School Photo by Michele Murphree

Hand: Michele Murphree (Mur-free) helped organize that project at a Sandpoint elementary school where kids from kindergarten to 6th grade all pitched in.

Murphree: They did everything, they moved all the dirt, they planted all the seeds, they made the decisions about what they were going to plant and I’ve never seen a group of more enthusiastic, energetic kids in my life.  It was a huge success this year.

Hand: And teachers soon discovered that the garden was also a natural place to explore other subjects.  They used seeds to teach math and bugs to teach biology.  The school kitchen even served the garden’s bounty for lunch.

Murphree: So there’s so many different positive things that came out of this.  I’m just really astounded of how much this has really given back to the communities and the schools.

Hand: Along with sharing existing food-related projects like Murphree’s, the Year of Idaho Food is also becoming a catalyst for new projects.  Including photography.  Idaho Photographic Workshop member David Day:

Idaho Photographic Workshop member David Day Photo by Guy Hand

Day: The Idaho Photographic Workshop is a group of semi-pro and pro photographers and we decided to get involved because it would be wonderful if we can illustrate through photographer the diversity and wonderful nature of Idaho’s food.  So we’re talking about from the field to the production to the plate.  Hand: Do you have any sense of what the final product will be or how those photographs will be used?  Day: Well, I know they’ve talked about a display at the statehouse, which would be really nice.  And there is some talk initially of maybe getting a grant and putting together an actual book that you could sell in the tourist spots and that sort of thing and that would be really wonderful if you could do that.

Hand: Diane Norton of the Idaho Division of Tourism loves that idea too.  She says the Year of Idaho Food will help jump start her own project: promoting culinary tourism in Idaho.

Norton: People when they go out, I mean what’s the first thing you think of besides your lodging, you’re thinking about food, where are you going to have the best local dinner, where are you going to have the most incredible wine.

Hand: Norton has been working for a while on a culinary tourism program for the state called” Harvest Idaho — One Bite at a Time.”  In 2011, she plans to put the program’s wheels in motion.

Diane Norton of the Idaho Division of Tourism Photo by Guy Hand

Norton: The Year of Idaho Food is going to kind of set the groundwork and so as a tourism product we can layer on top of that, which will add another element.

Hand: Over at the College of Idaho, professor Rochelle Johnson — who the Carnegie Foundation recently named The 2010 Idaho Professor of the Year — is also looking forward to joining in.

Johnson: Well, when I heard about the Year of Idaho Food, I was so excited that there was an opportunity to make known what the College of Idaho was already doing with regard to food issues.

Hand: Johnson says the college serves up locally grown and organic fare on campus.  But food is also appearing on the curriculum.

Rochelle Johnson, College of Idaho professor Photo by Guy Hand

Johnson: And we’ll have on campus here a series of speakers who address the topic of local food and Idaho food in particular.  We’re also going to have some of our courses focusing specifically on food.  All of the readings, writing assignments and discussions center on food issues.  What we eat is very much connected with who we are as a people, with what we believe and how we live our lives.  The way that our landscape looks reflects our relationship to food and these aren’t ideas that we’re always used to thinking about in our culture.  So those are some of the ideas that we’ll explore in this class.  And that’s part of why we’re so excited to participate in this 2011 celebration.

Year of Idaho Food is made possible in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, the state-based affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Hand: Year of Idaho Food organizer Amy Hutchinson sees food as not only the subject of the upcoming, year-long project, but hopes food will fuel greater statewide communication and cooperation.

Hutchinson: I mean food’s convivial.  It brings people together.  It provides an opportunity that’s non-threatening.  The hope is that communities around Idaho will see Idaho food as a way to work together and I think that sharing is really ultimately where this project is hoping to go.

Hand: A few of the other organizations sharing in 2011: The Year of Idaho Food are the University of Idaho, Idaho Preferred, Slow Foods Teton and the Treasure Valley Food Coalition.  If you or your organization want to share stories or get involved, there’s more information at Northwest Food News dot com.  Northwest Food News is the host website for the Year of Idaho Food.

Hand: For Edible Idaho and Boise State Public Radio, I’m Guy Hand.

About Guy Hand:
Guy Hand is a writer, public radio producer and photographer specializing in food and agriculture.
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