It’s late January. The dead of winter. Here at Swift HQ in Seattle things are grey, cold & wet. Gardens have mostly been reduced to slick mud and we’re months out from the return of most of our farmer’s markets. Wherever you’re tuning in from it’s likely a similar story. So we asked our friend Hailey Moore to tell us about the Farm Rides series she led in late summer and early fall of last year. Here is her reflection on engaging with the local community through bikes, food & farms. Something we can all aspire to for 2024.

 

Home Grown: Connecting Food to Place by Bike

Hailey Moore

I first learned that CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture while living in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 2015-2016. I had completed my undergraduate degree in 2014 and then spent six months the following winter and spring traveling to climbing areas across the U.S. with the person I was dating at the time. By the time we landed in Chattanooga (also drawn there for the climbing), we were incredibly broke. Like, beans-and-rice-for-dinner every damn night kind of broke. Perhaps to offset our meager pantry, I cultivated a sourdough starter and began baking bread at home on a weekly basis. Good bread is a small luxury—that you really just pay for in time and effort—and I’d become hooked on naturally leavened, long-fermented sourdough while working customer service at my college town’s enterprising local bread shop. This was probably just slightly before peak Tartine, the legendary San Francisco café that’s largely credited for bringing Old World Sourdough back to the mainstream U.S. and now boasts more than a dozen locations on two sides of the Pacific. The original Tartine Bread book had been released in 2010, and—five years later—a sourdough culture that required daily feeding was still a relatively niche pet of choice. Although we couldn’t go out to the best restaurants in town, having delicious bread felt like a modest way to bring the richness of good food to us.

After many homely, flat, and dense attempts, the bread started to improve. Regardless of how the loaves looked, I was amazed at the level of flavor you could achieve with just three ingredients—water, flour, and salt—as compared to the paragraph-long lists that adorn the packages of commercially produced breads (even the supposed healthy ones). Simultaneously, I was also working as a pastry baker by day (if you can count 3:30 a.m. shift starts as “by day”). The owner prioritized sourcing our produce locally and seasonally, and she clued me into the CSA concept—buying a farm “subscription” at the beginning of the growing season and picking up a pre-packed box each week throughout the summer. My bread experiments, along with reading a few Michael Pollan books around this time, had me thinking more about the impact that food has on our health, and how our food decisions impact the health of the broader world. I started researching CSA options.

The pick-up situation was a random dirt lot on the edge of town and most folks would walk up, exchange their name for a waxed cardboard box then carry the box back to the car, presumably to be opened at home. I could never wait until I got home though and, to the weary amusement of the CSA coordinator, I was the person unpacking my box at the pick-up table with a big Christmas grin on my face, as if I’d never seen a beet before. As someone who’d almost exclusively purchased food from the sterile aisles of a temperature-controlled, fluorescently lit grocery store, I was starting to become enchanted by the equal-parts science and intuition that is growing food.

Fast forward to summer 2020 in Boulder: I had left another bakery job that March and was working at the farm where I’d been getting my CSA since moving to Colorado, while trying to get my bearings amidst the pandemic’s uncertainty. During that time, I became more inspired to eat with the seasons and learned to look forward to the arrival of favorites that rotated with the calendar months: early radishes, spring snap peas, summer shishitos, fall carrots, winter squash. It was some of the most rewarding work I’ve done and I loved riding home with what would become dinner stuffed in my bike bags. Riding the seven miles to-and-from the farm—from June to early December—only heightened my awareness of the way the days stretched, then shrank, as summer’s swelter gave way to the crisp air of autumn. Plus, I was reminded of a small revelation I’d had during my first CSA experience: seasonal food just tastes better. On the hottest days, I hydrated almost exclusively with the sweetest watermelon I’ve ever had, and grew to crave the truly peppery depth of fresh-from-the-field arugula. Anything from the store now seemed as flavorful as a cardboard box. I was reading a lot of Ruth Reichl and, probably like millions, felt a small-kitchen kinship with Deb Perleman in my postage-stamp studio as I tried to extend the season’s fruits by processing pounds and pounds of tomatoes for sauce and to freeze.

I don’t work at a farm anymore (though I would if I could pay my rent in summer squash) and I miss those days spent outside, watching the weather shift over the mountains, smelling drying garlic, playing with farm cats, and making lunch from the overflow of cucumbers and peaches. I still try to get out there, and to other local growers, on my bike whenever I can.

Boulder is uniquely positioned on the Front Range, with relief in the form of our skyline peaks immediately to the west, but pedal just a few miles east, and you might as well already be in Kansas. There’s an urban/rural contrast that also adheres to this geographic one and, as a result, we’re somewhat spoiled in the number of small, organic farms in close proximity. So to raise awareness about the rich scene of local growers, and to celebrate the act of eating locally, I decided to lead a few more organized farm-to-table rides this past fall.

Each ride started from a cycling co-op in town then linked together a couple farm stores and/or bakeries before concluding back in Boulder at the Saturday Farmers’ Market for a chance to fill any remaining space in folks’ bike bags! There were oyster mushrooms, earthy beets, and early delicata squash; fresh-made pupusas and apple-cider donuts and sweet turnips. Hot coffee and cold-weather greens; t-shirt days and sweater weather. I hoarded the last of the green-house tomatoes while looking forward to pumpkins for Thanksgiving pies. Across the three rides, I met new faces, while catching up with old friends, and the bikes that we rode were as varied as the days in the year. Eating good food feels good, but what feels even better is witnessing firsthand the way that good food brings people together; this year I learned that you can do that on the bike, as well as at the table.