Locally sourced in Carson Valley

By: Withanee Andersen Milligan
Carson Valley dining
Photo by Vivian Powers

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I found out that asparagus didn’t always come in a can.

At the time, I was working as a wildland firefighter for the federal government. Every day on lunch break, I would prop my feet up and watch my fellow crewmember like a matinee: she would unpack her lunch bag item by item, never ceasing to stump me with the weird foods she presented.

This particular summer day, I was thumbing through my mental Rolodex trying to put a name to the very long, bright green things she was munching on out of a glass container. What ensued was a lively discussion and a lot of laughter at my expense, but truly, I could not associate what she was eating with the asparagus I grew up on.

Her asparagus were dry — for crying out loud —and a totally different shade of green, not to mention longer because they hadn’t been cut to fit in a 14 oz can. Coming from rural Nevada, I had long lived in a world of Pop-Tarts and preservatives. With no substantial grocery store for 112 miles, the practicality of fresh food just didn’t exist. With a trek like that, stuff had to last.

It took me a long time to prefer the “crunchy kind” of asparagus over the Jolly Green Giant kind, but I got there and now there is no going back.

In recent years, the idea of locally sourced food became trendy — and for good reason. The option to have food cruise straight on over from the farm to our waiting plates is rather delightful, it’s no wonder why everyone loves a good farmers market.

There is also that health aspect — yet another thing I didn’t really care about in my youth. Fruits and vegetables tend to lose their nutrients as they age, so the kale you are forcing yourself to eat may not pack the punch you hope it does.

Carson Valley was locally sourcing long before it was cool. The western and agriculture heritage is the OG farm-to-table concept. The best part? It still is.

The famous JT Basque Restaurant & Pub, owned and operated by the Lekumberry family, serves traditional Basque fare that includes all-natural (antibiotic- and stimulant-free) beef raised on their very own Genoa ranch.

They also feature cuts of meat from neighboring local ranches, Winnemucca potatoes, and onions from the nearby community of Smith Valley. When it comes to JT’s, if you know then you know.

Wear your stretchy pants when eating at JT Basque, the servings are hearty! | Photo by Jeff Dow

Other restaurants in the valley, including the Overland Restaurant and Pub, feature free-range lamb provided by the near-century-old Borda Family Ranch. Ted Borda is the last Basque sheep operator in Carson Valley and his sheep can sometimes be seen grazing in various places across the region. His lamb is known for its high-quality beefy taste, which he attributes to the natural grasses in the Great Basin Range.

Local ranches are getting creative in bringing their farm fresh products straight to our waiting forks. Carson Valley Meats is a food producer that represents five local suppliers who provide a variety of homegrown goodness: pasture-fed meats, jams, fresh eggs, honey, artisan goods, locally roasted coffees and beer brewed from that crisp Lake Tahoe water, to name a few.

If you are wishing you could have all of that boxed up and handed over, well, they do just that with their customizable monthly Ranch Boxes. Their beef can also be enjoyed at the Hungry Hearts NV food truck, often found parked at the Genoa Bar in the warmer months.

Carson Valley Dining
An example of a Ranch Box order. | Photo courtesy of Carson Valley Meats

2A Beef (Anderson Cattle Company) also offers a variety of existing beef boxes with the option of adding in even more savory cuts. They deliver locally on a weekly basis, but customers can also have their boxes shipped directly to them. I recently purchased a smorgasbord of cuts that I can hardly wait to dig into. You can also find 2A Beef being cooked up in a variety of culinary masterpieces at Sierra Chef in Genoa.

If the aforementioned fills your plate with fresh, Bently Heritage Estate Distillery pours you a glass to go with it. To be classified as an estate distillery in Nevada, at least 85 percent of the raw materials distilled must be grown by Bently, and boy, are they. A world-class distillery, two major local components make Bently’s spirits, unlike any other — water and grain.

Bently Heritage sits on what is fondly referred to as “Well One,” the very first well drilled in Carson Valley to provide water to the town of Minden. If you are familiar with the area, you know that Minden sits smack dab in the middle of Carson Valley below the Sierra Nevada Mountain range.

The snowmelt flows down the mountains, gathering minerals all the while. It is quality stuff and Bently uses it to make outstanding spirits. The same snow also feeds the Carson River, which waters their 2,000 acres of grains used in the distillery operation. This is as homegrown as it gets, and the result is a quality that makes you sigh in appreciation after each sip.

From farm to flask | Photo credit Jeff Dow

As it turns out, the concept of locally sourcing is not a trend in Carson Valley. It’s a way of life and one that I have happily settled into. It goes deeper than taste: supporting generations of family tradition, hard work, history, culture.

It is about creating sustainability for our communities, where empty shelves are never a concern. All of this and, of course, downright deliciousness has brought me a long way from not being able to pinpoint a fresh bunch of asparagus.

I do still enjoy the occasional Pop-tart, though.