Over the course of eight weeks, Ben Towill, the co-owner of the Fat Radish, and the photographer Patrick Dougherty are biking 4,500 miles across the U.S. to talk to strangers about food. Each week, they'll file a dispatch for T about their discoveries.
As I reach the final 400 miles of this incredible adventure, following the Snake River west to Portland and then to our last farm in Salem, Ore., I have begun thinking about the experiences that will stick with me the most from this ride. This past week, we rode through the Tetons and into Yellowstone National Park, past wading fly fishermen in Montana and onto Idaho's Lewis and Clark trail (Highway 12) along the Lochsa River. Absolutely breathtaking.
A Ride Across America
Read more of Ben Towill's weekly dispatches about food and how we eat it, filed as he bikes across the country. More…
But it's the people we've met who will stay with me and give context to the landscape. Camping on the shores of Montana's Bitterroot River would not be nearly as memorable had we not met John Faust, a retired fishing guide and local legend. Upon hearing that we had not tasted any of the river's trout, he jumped in his car and returned 20 minutes later with his wife Elna, a plate of smoked trout, some local knowledge of a secluded hot spring (which we promised not to share with anyone) and a story about his personal claim to fame: building a mechanical fish for "A River Runs Though It."
This week, we descended out of the mountains into Lewiston, Idaho, and found ourselves at River City Farm with Keegan Athey, 25, and her sister Dory, 23. The daughter of river guides from Colorado, Keegan worked as a guide herself after turning 18, until her interest in food pushed her to Colorado State to study soil and crop science and organic agriculture. In the spring she kicked off her first full farming season and is quickly becoming a leading champion of local food in the town of Lewiston. She is inexperienced and open about her mistakes (like the time she left the lettuce in too long and 50 days of growing turned into chicken feed and compost). But her attitude is infectious and she brushes off setbacks easily, viewing everything as a learning experience. She gave us a tour of her little "truck farm" (small-scale farm devoted to growing vegetables for the local community) and spoke optimistically about her CSA members and the improvements she hoped to make. As a storm blew in, we helped her herd her chickens back into their coop. Not easy work, this urban farming business.
Dory, who is about to begin a Master's in publishing at the University of Oregon, has spent the summer helping out on the farm. She stays out back in "the pool house," which is actually a tent next to a baby pool for the dog. She prepared a beautiful lunch of broccoli leaf wraps filled with miso carrots, homemade pita bread and a tomato, cucumber and pepper salad grown fresh on the farm. We finished with an apricot and blackberry crisp that was placed simply in the center of the table for everyone to dig into (see the chef's recipe below).
As the conversation turned to the future, the girls talked about their "pipe dream": combining their passions and skills to publish a magazine or even open a restaurant. For now, it is all about getting through the first year and connecting as much as possible with the community of Lewiston. But considering their enthusiasm, intelligence and ability to inspire, the pipe dream could become a reality.
Apricot Blackberry Crisp
1 pound fruit, washed and roughly chopped if necessary (*Chef's note: we used roughly chopped apricots and whole blackberries, but you could use anything that strikes your fancy)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 wheat flour
1/3 cup almonds, toasted and chopped
1/3 cup butter, melted
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Lay the fruit in the bottom of a pie dish. We started with a layer of apricots and then sprinkled the berries over the top to fill in the nooks and crannies.
3. Sprinkle the ginger, cinnamon, sugar and salt over the top. Shake the pie dish to mix it up a little.
4. Mix the ingredients for the topping together with your hands until it resembles breadcrumbs, and then crumble it on top of the fruit.
5. Stick it in the oven for 20 or 30 minutes. We like ours pretty crispy on top, maybe even a little black on the very top. Serve whenever, hot or cold, with a handful of spoons. No plates allowed.