Are you ready to get your hands sticky?"
Ryan Morris takes his butcher knife and hacks open a Moon and Stars watermelon -- a heritage melon that hails from his part of southern Colorado, the St. Charles Mesa just east of Pueblo, in the fertile Arkansas River Valley. The forest-green rind is speckled with gold spots and the inner flesh is more orange than pink, flecked with large black seeds. The flavor is indescribably rich for a watermelon.
Morris, his family and friends have gathered this Sunday evening in early September to celebrate the 2002 harvest at Country Roots Farm, certified organic by the State of Colorado and still churning out produce in spite of the harsh summer drought.
"There was a time a few weeks back when we thought we might get our water cut off," says Morris, "but neighbors, customers and friends really came forward to support us. Someone even offered to bring out a big water tank to water the fields. Luckily, we didn't need it."
This kind of camaraderie and neighborliness mark the harvest potluck at Country Roots Farm. A bluegrass band entertains from beneath one of the packing sheds while folks nibble at bean salad, marinated vegetables and a delicious lamb stew. The bratwurst was made by a neighboring farmer who raises his pigs naturally. The banjo picker looks just like Billy Bob Thornton.
"I was sanding my truck today and took off my fingertips," he jokes. "The truck's now an official Pueblo color -- primer gray."
Some of the guests are members of Morris' Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program where shareholders pay a fee for a summer's worth of fresh, organic vegetables, delivered weekly throughout the summer. Others are co-members of the Tres Rios Cooperative, a group of growers stretching from Pueblo through the San Luis Valley, dedicated to providing healthy, locally grown, chemical-free food to as many people as possible, including restaurateurs who have embraced the "Colorado-grown" credo.
Pueblo's Steel City Diner, for example, serves meat from Tres Rios organizer Doug Wiley's Larga Vista Ranch west of Pueblo -- grass-fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free steaks, burgers and pork.
"Why not support local farmers instead of bringing in who knows what from who knows where, sprayed with insecticides and who knows what else?" says Steel City chef Richard Warner. His wife Mary Oreskovich, the dessert chef, makes ice cream and pastries using organic eggs purchased from Country Roots Farm.
On Saturday, Sept. 14, the recently formed Slow Food group from Colorado Springs will take a field trip to Country Roots Farm with lunch at Steel City afterward. The group is an outgrowth of the international Slow Food movement and Slow Food U.S.A., dedicated to "stewardship of the land and ecologically sound food production" and "the proliferation of regional culinary traditions."
Warner's menu will be mostly vegetarian and will feature all Colorado-grown products. He'll serve a roasted beet salad with walnut vinaigrette and blue cheese, using baby chioggia beets from Country Roots Farm; a heirloom tomato salad with lemon-basil dressing and fresh mozzarella; and a Colorado quinoa salad with haricot verts, bell peppers, baby carrots and peach-habanero vinaigrette dressing. Mary will bake Kalamata oliverosemary bread using a soft Colorado wheat flour sold through the Tres Rios co-op. (For dessert, the group will move up the road to Penrose and the family-owned Happy Apple Farm where they'll have blackberry cobbler after picking apples, pears and berries on the farm.)
Also enthusiastically on the Colorado-grown bandwagon is Springs restaurateur and executive chef of Sencha, Brent Beavers. Beavers also uses Wiley's beef exclusively, and says he buys "almost nothing from the big purveyors" like Sysco during the summer months. When winter comes, he uses Colorado greenhouse tomatoes and potatoes from the San Luis Valley in soups and stews, as well as flour and grains provided by the Tres Rios coop.
"I think it's most important to buy locally first, organically next," says Beavers.
On Monday, Sept. 16, Beavers will prepare a five-course "Meet the Farmers Dinner," and half the proceeds will be donated to Tres Rios. The wines will be from Canyon Wind Wine Cellars of Palisade, winner of medals at the Los Angeles County Fair with their first batches of 1996 Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
On the menu are: a first-course stuffed tomato filled with smoked tea vegetable salad beans and peppers, steamed and marinated in smoked tea vinaigrette; a root vegetable gratin with wilted arugula salad; old-fashioned chicken and dumplings made with free-range hens and Colorado flour; honey-smoked beef brisket over eggplant roasted mashed potatoes with sweet gypsy peppers; and, for dessert, a blackberry and peach crostata with saboyan cream.
Beavers is excited that local rancher Jay Frost has just built a greenhouse that, hopefully, will produce greens and spinach during winter for Sencha.
"It's about protecting a way of life," he says, "a lifestyle that built America and that is largely forgotten."
For information about Slow Food U.S.A., call 212/988-5146 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on Colorado Springs Slow Food events or to register for this weekend's field trip, call Jan Webster at 684-9207
For more about Country Roots Farm's produce and their Community Supported Agriculture program, write: Country Roots Farm, c/o Ryan Morris, 29342 Everett Rd., Pueblo, CO 81006; visit their Web site at www.rokket.com/CRF/programprices.htm or e-mail: email@example.com.
Sencha's Meet the Farmers Dinner will be held at 331 S. Nevada Ave. on Monday, Sept. 16, 7 p.m. $55 for 5-course all-Colorado-grown dinner, includes wine; half of proceeds go to Tres Rios Agricultural Cooperative. Call 632-8287
Steel City Diner, at 121 W. B Street, Pueblo, serves dinner Wednesday through Saturday, featuring Colorado grown meats and produce. Call 719/295-1100 for reservations