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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

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And I can’t help wondering if they ever cheat, if their kids ever beg for McDonald’s.

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The kids say that fast food makes them feel sick, Jenny explains. They sometimes stray, Mark says, but always feel better when they return home to their local food diet.

• • •

Although Jenny has the classic characteristics of a lifelong rancher – a tanned, freckled face; a strong, athletic build from years of hard labor; a warm, hearty smile; and dry, weathered hands with a touch of dirt under the nails – her life before the farm was quite the contrary.

Raised in suburban Ohio, Jenny is the daughter of an English professor father and a homemaker mother. She is a Harvard graduate with a degree in English literature. After a divorcing her first husband 11 years ago, Jenny took a class on permanent sustainable agriculture (permaculture) in California.

“I came back from that course and set a goal for myself: Five years from now I’m going to raise as much food as I can,” Jenny says. “I had never raised a carrot or planted a vegetable in my entire life.” Using an inheritance that still helps support the family, she bought 500 acres in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.

Soon after, Jenny met Mark, a carpenter working on her house, and they married a year later. Mark laughs about how Jenny was on a “candy and pasta diet” back then. He went along with Jenny’s vision and helped build much of the farm’s infrastructure.

“Over the next five years, each decision had to pass through the screen of, ‘Does this move us closer to eating more locally?’” Jenny says. “Now we’re at the end of 11 years, and we’re backing off on what we actually raise, because we recognize that we can support agriculture in a different way: through my efforts to coordinate with other producers and interested families to create venues for obtaining local foods.”

They are continuously educating themselves about sustainable agriculture and regularly share their knowledge. “At least once a week we have a two- to four-hour visit from somebody,” Jenny said. “If we don’t take time to mentor each other, where would we be?”

Their lifestyle is an anomaly in today’s fast-paced, fast-food culture, but Jenny believes anyone can embrace the locavore lifestyle. “We all have the ability to grow stuff if we want to. We can also make a commitment to support the farmers who live around us.”

• • •

“I’ve got some organs,” Jenny said to an approaching couple. “The liver, tongue, and tail.”

“Do you have any heart,” the woman asked.

“Not today,” she said, handing over the wrapped beef parts.

I met Jenny at a private local food club gathering near downtown Bozeman on a cold November day. It felt like a black market for local food, and Jenny was the ringleader. Buyers join by paying a $1 membership fee.

“How are the chickens?” another customer asked while buying eggs.

“The birds are doing great,” Jenny said. “They’re out roaming free and eating what green grass is left.”

I checked out the root vegetables, homemade breads, eggs, quiche, goat cheese, and Montana-raised organic lamb. The farmers are bundled up as the sun sets behind the mountains.

“Any time you can shake a farmer’s hand, you’re supporting a healthy community,” Jenny explained. “I know the people who are eating my food; they have become my friends. I make sure they’re getting the cleanest, best-tasting food, and that just doesn’t happen on large commercial farms.”

As I walked off into the dark evening after paying my dollar, I felt good knowing where I’ll be buying much of my food well into the spring.