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My CSA is in Wyoming

Chris Edwards and BJ Bender ride the range
Photo courtesy of Taste of the Wind
Chris Edwards and BJ Bender ride the range

Santa brought me some nice gifts this year. Hey, thanks for asking! They included a metal detector to scour our property for buried treasure, a handsome sweater and a couple of Teflon raclette trays that go directly onto a grill or into the fireplace. Raclette’s the melted Swiss cheese dish that, combined with boiled potatoes, pickled onions and cornichons hits the spot on frigid winter nights.

But one of my most lavish, welcome and unexpected gifts came not from the jolly old elf but from my brother and sister-in-law who live in Wyoming. They bought me a CSA share in a neighbor’s farm. It’s challenging enough for even the most mundane, non-perishable package to find its way to our driveway but shortly before Christmas a box arrived with a frozen cornucopia of meat in well-insulated bags. A side of bacon, pork chops, packages of breakfast sausage and ground beef and a whole ham.

My relationship with my basement freezer has grown ever more affectionate as the pandemic has progressed and nothing better contributes to its happiness and self-esteem than to be restocked with lots of free range, grass-fed, ethically produced meat. I know, we’re not supposed to be eating meat anymore, or at least a lot less of it. That’s what my children tell me and I’m trying to wean myself of the habit, but slowly. It’s not the politically correct thing to say but I contend that science has yet to come up with a suitable alternative to a cheeseburger, fries and a Coke when your body feels rundown and begging you for an emergency infusion of protein.

Speaking of ethics, there’s also the question of the ethics involved in having breakfast sausage shipped from 1,864 miles away when the Hudson Valley is one of the nation’s premiere bread baskets and a hot spot for sustainable agriculture. Kinderhook Farm, our local purveyor of humanely raised beef, pork, lamb, chicken and eggs is literally a bike ride away. Why tax the transportation system and burn fossil fuels when not absolutely necessary?

One of the reasons is to help support family farms and young farmers since the average age of American farmers is 57.5 years and somebody needs to replace them when they retire. The farm in this case is called Taste of the Wind and it’s run by two 27-years-olds, the wife and husband team of BJ Bender and Chris Edwards. It’s on 150 leased acres in the southeast corner of Wyoming near Laramie. That’s where the couple met when they attended the University of Wyoming.

I’ve yet to sample the ham or beef but the breakfast sausage and bacon is some of the tastiest I’ve ever had. BJ claims it’s not my imagination. She attributes the intense flavor to the wide variety of grasses the animals graze on during Wyoming’s brief but concentrated growing season. “Our pastures are nutrient dense,” BJ told me over the phone this week.

Another reason to support Taste of the Wind is that neighbors are few and far between in Wyoming, the nation’s least populous state. As BJ pointed out when I noted the precedent of shipping high-end beef by long-time purveyors such as Omaha Steaks, the good citizens of Nebraska can’t consume all the filet mignon they produce. “There’s only so many people in Omaha,” BJ observed. “Eventually we have to branch out.”

I have no idea what BJ and her husband’s politics are and it’s none of my business. But perhaps one way to bridge the growing blue state/red state divide is by blue states proudly buying red state products and vice versa. There’s nothing that breeds comity like mutual self-interest.

Finally, I enjoy the sheer romance of the American West. If you visit Tasteofthewind.com, all one word, and feel like placing an order you can also spot the handsome BJ and Chris raising their animals and riding the range against vast open spaces and distant purple mountains. I asked about that, too. BJ explained that their beef comes from neighborhood ranches where they contribute their labor – the couple raises their own chicken, lambs and hogs – but that cattle drives are much different than they appear in westerns.

“It is not the way people think it is,” BJ said. “We have to explain slow is good.” Fast and loud, raising clouds of dust, may be more cinematic, but it’s not especially productive. “We like to do it slow and quiet,” BJ explained. “It’s better for the animals.”

They still ride horses and wear cowboy hats. But they also herd long horns using four-wheelers; and they employ border collies, of which the couple owns two. I can’t recall any border collies in John Ford or Clint Eastwood movies. BJ and Chris also use three guard dogs to protect their livestock against a range of predators that include mountain lions and golden eagles. “Some people are starting to see wolves,” BJ said. “We’ve got quite the variety.”

My next shipment arrives later this month. I can’t wait to see what’s in the box.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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