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Evangelists for local food

Even in winter on their Montana ranch, the Sabos eat local, and they encourage others to do the same

By Corinne GarciaContributor / January 5, 2009

Will work for food: Jenny Sabo hauls hay to a pasture for the cattle on the family's 500-acre Montana farm.

Doug Loneman/Special to The Christian Science Monitor


Bozeman, Mont.

Bozeman, Mont.

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Driving onto the Sabo ranch, I go back and forth between marveling at the backdrop of white-capped mountains and veering to miss the wandering chickens and the dog that’s trailing my car. When I pull up, Mark Sabo is standing in the driveway chatting with a moose hunter. I find Jenny Sabo in the kitchen, cooking up breakfast.

As soon as I sit at the kitchen table, food is presented: pork sausage from one of their pigs, flavored with locally grown organic herbs, a thick slice of rich local bread, and a variety of homemade spreads to slather over homemade butter. I wash it all down with a glass of creamy milk fresh from one of their cows.

“We have gourmet flavors every time we sit down for a meal,” Mrs. Sabo says, digging into her French toast.
The Sabos – Jenny and Mark and their two boys, Riley, 8, and Kiril, 5 – are extreme locavores. Almost all of their food is produced locally; they purchase only 5 percent commercially at grocery stores. On their 500-acre ranch, 50 miles west of Bozeman, Mont., the Sabos grow many of their own vegetables. They raise free-range chickens for meat and eggs, grass-fed pigs and cows for meat, and other cows for dairy. Mark, an avid hunter, fills their freezer with wild game. What they don’t produce themselves, they trade or buy from area farmers.
The Sabos follow other sustainable practices as well. With solar panels on their roof, small windmills, and a wood stove for heat, they’re living “off the grid,” with no electric bill.

They’ve set up their self-proclaimed “ministry” here in Montana, where they preach about the benefits of local eating from a pulpit surrounded by mountains and hayfields. Although they stay busy working their land and home-schooling the two boys, a good portion of Jenny’s time is spent teaching others how to eat locally to promote healthy bodies and a healthy community by supporting local farmers. And they practice what they preach.

“It means consciously paying attention to the season, and then purchasing or raising [the food we eat] ,” Jenny says. “It’s a lifestyle shift, saying ‘I’m going to embrace the plenitude of the season and enjoy the activity that comes with preserving it.’ ”

The effort that goes into each meal has become part of their daily routine. Jenny wakes each morning before dawn to feed the animals, water the garden, and milk the cows. Mark handles the kids in the morning and oversees the cattle operation. Jenny spends an average of two hours a day preparing or harvesting food, either for storage or for their daily meals.

“It’s all about setting aside the time,” Jenny says. “Most people won’t make this lifestyle happen; it’s purely a matter of choice. People choose to sit in front of the TV or shop on eBay. That’s where their life energy goes.”
The Sabos keep up their locavore lifestyle throughout the long Montana winters.

“December through February is not a green time of year,” Jenny explains. “But how did we survive through centuries with no Visqueen greenhouses and before canning? We had crocks of sauerkraut and pickled vegetables.”

The family’s winter diet includes cabbage-based foods that store easily, along with a root cellar full of turnips, carrots, beets, leeks, onions, potatoes, and other root vegetables.

“Our diet is really seasonal,” Mark adds. “We definitely don’t have as much fresh vegetables in the winter, but we have a lot stockpiled in the freezer down at the barn.