Worms and Potatoes 

Restaurateur Dave Krick puts the able in sustainable

It would be easy for a business owner to swap out a few light bulbs and feel good about doing something beneficial for the environment. But Boise restaurateur Dave Krick has radically different ideas about doing what's right for the planet.

For starters, the owner of Bittercreek Ale House and Red Feather Lounge composts the vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells and outdated menus generated by his two restaurants in a worm farm located in Red Feather's basement.

And this ain't no fourth-grade shoebox project we're talking about. Krick's red worms feed on 100 pounds of fresh, organic waste daily. The result is about 20 pounds of nutrient-rich worm castings every day, which Krick uses to fertilize his home garden.

"Onsite composting is the most sustainable thing we can do," he says.

Then there are the serious environmental reasons behind Krick's use of local and regional produce. We'll use the humble potato as an example. Krick gets his from M&M Heath Farms in Buhl, where owner Mike Heath raises what Krick calls "a phenomenal organic potato."

On the nearly 500 acres that he farms, Heath grows a variety of vegetables, dry beans and grains. He also raises chickens, pigs and cows in what is known as a polyculture, or the raising of more than one species of plant or animal in the same place. One of the benefits of polyculture farming is that Heath's animals are fed organic garden vegetables and, in turn, the animal's composted manure is used to nourish the plants.

Compare this old-fashioned method of food production to the modern methods used to produce potatoes, in which industrial farmers use a monoculture model—growing just one type of crop on a large piece of land. According to Krick, as the monoculture potatoes grow, they are sprayed with chemical fertilizers and pesticides before being harvested and allowed to "off-gas" or release some of the chemicals they absorbed while still in the ground. The tubers are then trucked to a factory, mechanically cleaned, cut and blanched--all of which requires huge amounts of energy. After being sprayed with preservatives and deep frozen the processed spuds guzzle more energy as they are shipped in freezer trucks to faraway warehouses and stored in a frozen state. When it's time, they are again shipped across the country to countless restaurant freezers before being deep-fried and served on a customer's plate.

It is obvious to Krick that industrial food production methods are outdated and can no longer be sustained. The interstate trucking, mechanized processing, deep-freezing and deep-frying processes of countless acres of potatoes alone leave a Godzilla-size carbon footprint behind, whereas those organic whole potatoes that travel 120 miles from Buhl that are simply stored at room temperature before being sliced, blanched and deep-fried by a Red Feather employee only leave a toddler-size carbon tippy-toe in comparison.

Instead of seeking to grow his business by expanding horizontally and opening more eateries, Krick has opted to grow vertically by reducing the cumulative carbon footprint of his two existing restaurants. The worm castings he spreads on his home garden nourish vegetables that, in turn, are used in his kitchens. "I'm in the restaurant business," he says. "Our job should be making food."

Not only is Krick deeply committed to using locally sourced ingredients in his restaurant—he has relationships with 50 to 60 local and regional producers—but his menus at Bittercreek and Red Feather list the number of miles a bottle of wine or beer travels to reach his restaurants in downtown Boise.

"Making sustainable, local choices is challenging, but it's the right thing to do," he says.

Two regional producers located about 130 miles from Boise have nothing but praise for Krick. Ballard Family Dairy in Gooding supplies handmade cheeses to Krick's restaurants while Cloverleaf Creamery in Buhl provides farm-fresh milk, cream and butter. Both purveyors are openly appreciative.

"Dave Krick is the poster child for the locavore movement in Idaho," says Donna Stoltzfus of Cloverleaf Creamery. Stacie Ballard of Ballard Family Dairy agrees: "He walks the walk."

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