Years back when we told our family and friends in Miami and in Colombia that we were moving to Bozeman, Montana, the first thing coming out of their mouths was, “What are you going to eat? There are no plátanos, yuca or papayas in the Rockies?” It was my best friend’s mother, Juanita, who figured it out, “Worst comes to worst, you can live off beans and rice! Everyone eats beans and rice. “Of course Juanita was right and I managed to make it through a few months before I started missing the “sofrito”, or seasoning used in preparing Latin American and Caribbean dishes. Luckily, I found my supply of cumin, oregano, cilantro, garlic, limes and chilies in the local markets, and soon I was creating and selling my own line of rubs and dressings. Then, the only thing I was missing was the connection with the local farmers of the area, like I had back home. Before I knew it, I found myself, not only meeting local growers, ranchers and producers in Bozeman, but also becoming one of them! It was on a frigid Saturday morning in February at the Bozeman Winter Farmers’ Market, that I met Tracey Zignego. Sales were slow and I was walking around visiting other vendors when the aroma of basil and oregano drew me to Tracey’s booth. The smells took me back to my mother-in-law’s kitchen in South Beach and reminded me of when Nonie would prepare chunky marinara sauce for her homemade tagliatelle. Then Tracey opened a jar of dried tarragon and that is when I realized I had met and found my local source Tracey invited me to her home and farm, Mountain Vista Farm, located just a few miles from downtown Bozeman, where she, her husband Bruce, and their horses, chickens, and goats live.
Tracey and Bruce are SPIN- farmers. SPIN stands for Small Plot Intensive farming. The SPIN farming objective is to take a smaller space, like a backyard or front lawn, to new levels of productivity that goes far beyond a traditional home garden. Learn more about SPIN-farming here. Tracy and Bruce maintain hugelkultur beds (hill garden beds with wood, manure and compost) throughout the property. There are compost bins, fruit orchard bins, berry patches, free range chickens, goats and a spiral herb garden that allows for three different type of herbs growing patterns. Their situation, though not necessarily true for all SPIN-farmers, allows them to sell their products to other business, like Red Tractor Pizza and Heeb’s Market, where they sell their micro greens, or to artisan producers like me. Mountain Vista Farm also sells seeds, kits, potting mixes and fertilizers at farmers’ markets and garden centers like Dr. Green Thumbs, Cashman’s, Grow Green and Kenyon Noble. Tracy is a certified Master Gardener and offers permaculture courses through Broken Ground. Permaculture is a holistic approach to landscape design that develops ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.
Recently, Tracey and I co-hosted a workshop on how to grow, harvest and dry herbs. We took our choice of dry herbs and combined them with various spices like cinnamon, cumin, curry, smoked paprika and many other options. The attendees toured the farm, learned about herbs, pairing them with spices and vegetables, and prepared signature dishes using their own signature spice and herb blend.
During the class we used rubs to dust eggplant chips, made mixes to create flavorful and unique salad dressings, learned how to make spicy, sweet and tart pineapple chutney, as well as, aromatic roasted fall vegetables, and tangy pork tenderloin medallions. Everyone left encouraged and empowered to start his or her own garden to grow, harvest and dry their homegrown herbs, and spice things up with world flavors.