Here in Yellowstone Country, Monday is the best day of the week to shop. That’s when the Big Horn Basin Farmer’s Market is open, and those of us who like our food as fresh as the smell of a crisp autumn Wyoming day can find everything we need to prepare a week of healthy meals.
The market is located in Powell, a small town that is big on charm and rich in agricultural heritage. Powell has become a hub of agricultural tourism in the Yellowstone Country region because it has some of the most fertile ground for farming in the U.S. Named for John Wesley Powell, a well-known explorer and a proponent of Western land reclamation, the town’s agricultural success is due to the foresight of the U.S. Senate and the support of conservationists in the late 1800s. The area was authorized to be part of the Buffalo Bill Dam reclamation project, with irrigation waters transforming what was mostly sagebrush flats into rich irrigated farmland that soon became famous for the production of malting barley, beans, alfalfa, sunflowers and sugar beets. And it was also rich pasture land, allowing for a thriving cattle industry.
Powell remains an agricultural mecca today, and the farmers and ranchers of the region are generous with their time and knowledge by sharing their stories with visitors taking Powell Valley Agricultural Tours. These one- and two-day tours are easily arranged through the Powell Chamber of Commerce. The Homesteader Museum in Powell supplements this hands-on experience with exhibits that show how early homesteaders of the region claimed the land and turned it into rich, productive farmland.
Last week, a college friend who we used to call “Crunchy” was visiting. Crunchy was before her time when it came to pursuing a sustainable lifestyle. When the rest of us were treating ourselves to two all-beef patties with special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame seed bun, Crunchy was throwing chopped carrots, celery and onions into a slow-cooker with pinto beans, vegetable stock and herbs. And when the rest of us were still fighting the freshman 15 as seniors, Crunchy was slim, healthy and energetic. And she also had quite a few guys hanging around her back in the day. Go figure.
Not surprisingly, Crunchy knows a bit about what a great farmer’s market should look like, and she was skeptical that we could pull it off here in Wyoming’s Yellowstone Country.
She changed her tune pretty quickly, and the two of us had an absolute ball exploring the market stalls and buying enough eggs, beans, steaks and leafy vegetables to make several meals worthy of a king. A very healthy king.
As much as she loved the farmer’s market, Crunchy told me that her biggest surprise was the charm of the town and pervasive friendliness of its residents. Powell was named an All- America City 21 years ago. This is a National Civic League designation that is only given to 10 cities a year, and it recognizes communities that demonstrate innovation, inclusiveness, civic engagement and cross-sector collaboration.
That spirit is alive and well in Powell, Wyoming, and it is one of the many reasons I continue to make it a point to frequently drive the 23 miles from my home in Cody to visit, shop, stop at its museums and just say hello to its many friendly residents.
Until next time, I’m lovin’ and livin’ the local life here in Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country.