A visit to Eastern Idaho on our GMO Free Idaho “Locavore Tour” would not be complete without a visit to Driggs and Victor.
The Teton Valley is full of surprises and unless you traveled there you might not believe it. Growing up in Ashton, an agricultural community (just 30 miles from the Teton Valley), compares nothing to the agriculture in the Teton Valley.
I grew up around monoculture fields, GMO farms, and conventional farming methods. This is not to say that the Teton Valley doesn’t contain farms like this, but you will also find several organic farms, certified biodynamic farms, free range ranches, local food restaurants, and much, much more.
The Teton Valley People
The people in the Teton Valley are innovative, compassionate, and ahead of their time. They’ve been providing organic, biodynamic, and non-GMO products to their community for years. And they’ve been taking action to further the growing food movement by creating community events, farmers markets, school programs, and businesses that are increasing the awareness of wholesome, clean, and slow food.
I am pleased to be able to share my interactions with individuals in the Teton Valley and look forward to working together in the future.
This is why you need to meet Sue Muncaster, a mother, food activist, community organizer, and candidate for Teton County Commissioner. Sue is the founder of Slow Food In The Tetons (but is no longer on the board) and is running as Teton County Commissioner in order to use her knowledge and experience to expand the growing sustainable job market for the citizens of Teton County and to further create a sustainable mind set in the Teton Valley.
Sue, Nicole Stoddard (my mother), and I met at a coffee shop in Driggs where we sipped hot tea and discussed Sue’s experience, her goals, and her accomplishments.
Sue Muncaster Interview
GMO Free Idaho: You are running for County Commissioner of Teton County, what is your platform in terms of food and what do you plan to accomplish?
Sue: The economy is very important here, just like it is nationwide. People need jobs. Right now, the best jobs are over in Jackson. The two industries that are strongest in the Teton Valley are recreation/tourism and agriculture. They can both be a lot stronger and in terms of agriculture I am pushing for a robust regional food system and supporting farmers in any way that I can.
Because I come from the “Slow Food” background people equate that with organic, but its not really an organic association. It’s more about sustainable agriculture and the culture of farming, food, and what we are going to do if we give up all of the diversity in our food.
I think there is an amazing opportunity in the local food movement. Because we are close to Jackson, one of the richest counties in the nation, we are seeing a demand for local food.
I want to implement a system of getting local food into Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, as they have expressed interest. Teton County can help with distribution, marketing, and branding in collaboration with other counties and cities.
The consumer preference has changed and people all over the world are calling for clean food. Not just organic food, but clean farming practices. People are not necessarily demanding no pesticides, no fertilizers, but just that farmers take some kind of initiative to balance what they are doing with the best practices for the earth, for the people who grow it, and for the people who eat it.
That’s is what the “Slow Food Movement” is all about.
Keeping genetically modified foods out of our local food system is something that we could really take advantage of economically. Promoting clean food from the Tetons, grown in this unique place, and then export it. We need something that the big farmers can take advantage of too.
GMO Free Idaho: Can you talk about your position in the “Slow Food Movement?” Did you found the organization?
Sue: Yes, I was actually doing research for a book I wanted to write, about 15 years ago, and came across the Slow Food USA website. Everything they preached just spoke to me like the appreciation for cooking and the culture of a place as it relates to food, which is easy to understand when you think of Italy where the Slow Food Movement started. They are against the “McDonaldilzation” of food, where everything becomes the same and everything becomes owned by bigger and bigger corporations.
When I looked into it there was a chapter in Burly so I joined the group but not much was happening. I then contacted Slow Food USA and formed Slow Food in the Tetons. It serves Jackson Hole, Teton County in Idaho and Wyoming and members all over the State of Idaho.
GMO Free Idaho: What types of actions have you taken with Slow Food in the Tetons and what are some of the projects you helped implement?
Sue: We are focused on local food here, although many other chapters in other parts of the country have other focuses. One group might focus on saving apple varieties in Eastern Washington, another group might be trying to save the shrimp culture in Louisiana.
One of the projects that has come out of my leadership with Slow Food in the Tetons is Full Circle Education, a school garden program. There are now school green houses, school gardens, and education programs. We offered sustainable living classes and taught the children how to make cheese, tamales, soap, how to can, grow tomatoes, compost, those kinds of things.
Because Slow Food in the Tetons has a non-profit status from the parent Slow Food organization, we were able to help Full Circle Education and other organizations get their non-profit status.
On the Wyoming side, in Jackson, we were the parent organization for Vertical Harvest. They have been raising money for three years to build a green house next to a parking structure in downtown Jackson. Its a short piece of land in term of width but very long, so they are building an organic multi-layer vertical green house along the parking structure.
They are also working with Community Entry Services, an organization that helps disabled adults. So all the workers who are putting this garden together are disabled adults. This project has gotten national attention.
We also helped start the Jackson Hole People’s Market. There was always the Jackson Hole Farmers Market, which is held on the town-square in Jackson, but the locals didn’t feel like it was serving their needs. We worked with many other groups to get it started and the People’s Market is able to provide services and do things that were not being provided or done at the Jackson Hole Market.
Each April we also do an event called “The Locavore’s Night Out.” It’s one of the biggest events in the valley. About 400 or 500 people come each year and enjoy local food tasting. Local vendors provide samples of food, wine, chocolate, beer, and other goods.
In conjunction with this, a local Chef offers four different meals made with local ingredients. Something like a grass fed burger with local, organic fries or a summer sausage and salad. The timing in April seems to be the perfect kick off to the planting season.
GMO Free Idaho: To think that all of this is going on in the Teton Valley is amazing! You wouldn’t know it unless you came here to experience it!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Sue: I’m just excited. The food movement going on here is expanding.
And I just want to say that the day the conventional farmer sits down with the organic farmers, it’s going to be lucrative for everyone.
Making that happen is part of my goals.
Big thanks to Sue for her time, knowledge, and leadership! It’s inspiring for me to visit with someone like Sue who has positively impacted her community and the environment.
I don’t live in Teton County, but you better believe Sue would get my vote if I did. She has proven herself as a worthy leader and clearly she cares deeply about her community and helping to make it thrive. After all, Sue believes that when you do something it should be good for the earth, good for the provider, and good for the receiver.
Sounds like a great model to follow to me.
Good luck on election day Sue!
And here’s to being GMO free!
- Leslie Stoddard
For more information about Sue and her campaign check out her website www.suemuncaster.com.