Cultivation and Connection

By on May 16, 2018

Huidekoper Ranch is sowing deep and delicious relationships with valley chefs

JACKSON HOLE, WY – “I was looking for taste, and I couldn’t find taste until I found the local organic farmers who were growing vegetables for flavor. It’s when I met them and realized that I was dependent on them for the success of the restaurant that I put those things (local, organic, seasonal) together.”

A quintessential pioneer in the American culinary revolution, Alice Waters’ words ring true for any good chef, restaurateur or food-enthusiast.

It is no secret that in farm-rich lands like California, New York, France and Italy, restaurants thrive because their chefs are connected to growers, ranchers. Now, these relationships are slowly being cultivated between organic farmers and chefs in our landlocked town.

One such example is at Huidekoper Ranch. You will recognize this family-owned and operated ranch at the base of Teton Pass from several menus around town.

“We can’t keep up with demand,” said Alex Feher, farming partner to Brent Tyc. “We have to pick and choose who we sell to.”

For a three-year-old operation, this is a good problem to have.  And with just over a quarter of land to farm between two people, there’s plenty of work to be done.

Based on a bio-intensive method of growing, in which they optimize space, soil and a limited growing season, the pair is devoted to cultivating delicious, organic lettuces, roots and micro-greens for their chef-based clients.

Between 30 to 40 days per rotation and two rotations per crop, their rows are packed with various lettuce greens and roots including radish, beets and turnips. Though the earth is worked hard, it is nothing short of pampered.

“The basis of our production is happy, healthy, fertile soil. If you treat it well, it will treat you well,” Feher said.

Soil, he said, can help thwart climate change and any serious climate-based disaster, too. “When things are photosynthesizing, they’re putting carbon back in the soil through the roots. In our climate, perennial grass will sequester more carbon than trees,” he said.

Once carbon is in the soil, it not only fertilizes but also lives within the soil for hundreds of years. It’s a natural bank.

One method they use to keep their soil happy and healthy is being till-free, using a broad fork to aerate the soil, breaking apart the dirt to keep organic activity intact. Covering their rows with white tarp also helps to strengthen biological activity early and late season, allowing for worms, nematodes and other necessary creepy crawlers to continue to work with the earth as nature intended.

Another essential piece to the well-being of their crops comes from their compost. This creates a synergy between growers and chefs, who despise food waste.

Walk into a commercial kitchen, you will find two separate systems for waste management: trash bins and a container at each work station for compost—the natural decomposition of vegetable and fruit scraps that are converted to nutrient-rich soil.

The compost is collected by farmers who transfer the waste to their composting bin where the goods are broken down through natural processes, becoming soil fit to cultivate their crops.

Feher and Tyc now collect compost waste from local restaurants, eliminating an enormous amount of daily garbage from food production, and putting it back to work.

Though the organic farm is in its early stages, it’s not exactly new to the scene. Virginia Huidekoper, grandmother to Nate and Claire Huidekoper who now own and manage the property along with Claire’s husband Brent, started Jackson’s first commercial garden on the same plot of land in the 1970s.

Nate manages the ranch, caring for the needs of a large piece of property. Meanwhile, Brent, along with Feher, care for the plants, the land, their micro-greens and greenhouse while also managing their accounts, and most importantly, delivering goods to their patrons just in time for service.

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