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Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

North Idaho woman plants seeds for a food revolution in the region

By Kaye Hult

Teri McKenzie founds Inland Northwest Food Network.

Teri McKenzie has been planting seeds of a food revolution in the Inland Northwest since she moved to North Idaho in 2013.

Spurred on by her love of anything food-related and using her community-building skills, she invited people with a similar passion to gather in February 2014.  About 60 came.

The enthusiasm to create a food system for the area was palpable.  Out of this and subsequent meetings, the Inland Northwest Food Network was born.

By April 2014, she had brought together a board of directors.  The following January, they held their first public event: a presentation by historian Robert Singletary called “Chew on This!  The History of Food and Farming in Kootenai County.”

Their mission is “to connect people, places, food and farms through education and outreach,” she said.  It “envisions a resilient, community food system that celebrates the cultural aspects of our region’s food and promotes health for individuals, the local economy and the environment.”

Teri, who became the network’s paid staff in January 2018, guides those involved to work collaboratively.  She wants to empower people through information, not just through lectures, but also through hands-on experiences.

For example, a once-yearly Farm to Table Dinner allows those who attend to meet the farmer(s), tour the farm and learn that farm’s model of farming. They learn what influences in the soil affect the flavor and nutritional value of the plants and animals.  Right after the tour, they sit down to taste food grown there.  This year’s tour will be July 22 at Ace of Spades Farm in Spokane.

In March, a scion exchange and grafting workshop was held in Spokane Valley.  Scions are young shoots or twigs, especially cut for grafting or rooting.  In this case, the scions came from a variety of apple trees, many of them heirlooms that are native or well-adapted to this area.  Not only could participants purchase the scions, but they could also graft them to root stock.

More than three years into this effort, Teri sees this as a time to reflect on the status of the organization.

“It’s time to look at what has worked well and what needs to be tweaked or let go.  Where do we go from here?” she asked.  “We have nonprofit status, staff and a budget. Foundational programs are in place.”

Teri described the programs:
• At “Chew on This!” seven months a year, guest speakers from the region explore topics related to food and farming.

Because it is important to have people break bread together and celebrate locally grown and/or seasonal food, the program begins with a light supper.

On Tuesday, April 10, author David Montgomery will present a talk entitled, “Growing a Revolution.”  He will discuss how regenerative agriculture holds the promise of restoring depleted soils while helping address climate change and restoring life to the land, Teri said.

• The Food for Thought Book Club meets from 6 to 8 p.m., first Wednesdays at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library to discuss how food and farming impact lives. In January, a second group began meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. fourth Wednesdays at the Washington State University Extension in Spokane.
In April, both groups will discuss David’s book, Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life.

• The Seasonal Kitchen: Cooking with the Bounty of the Region offers monthly hands-on classes.
• Last summer, the network began the free Power of Produce (PoP) Club at the Hayden Farmers Market.  It encouraged children from five to 12 years old to make healthy food choices, teaching them to shop for, grow and prepare fresh fruits and vegetables. It will be offered again this summer at the market.

“Children’s eating habits are formed when they are young, so it is important to offer them nutritious foods at an early age to help instill healthy food choices that will last for their lifetime,” said Teri, who hopes to start more children’s programs, such as partnering with children’s camps and programs in parks.

• The Inland Northwest Food Network’s newest program is One Dinner—“one chef, one night and one ingredient.”  It is a series of multi-course dinners to benefit the organization.  Each chef selects one seasonal ingredient to use in each course.  Regional wines and craft brews are served.  The dinners are being held every two months, using locally sourced, organic ingredients.

The next One Dinner features Chef Laurent Zirotti of Fleur de Sel in Post Falls from 6 to 9 p.m., Monday, April 23, at Fleur de Sel.  His ingredient will be eggs. 

“One Dinner offers a fun way for people to experience a taste of place by showcasing regional foods,” Teri said, asking, “What is the Inland Northwest’s regional food identity?”
She spoke of the Cultivated Chef program that will offer educational and networking opportunities for chefs in the region.

“Chefs help shape public appetite for various foods,” she said. “They can help educate and encourage their guests to eat seasonally by serving foods that are in season and then taking them off the menu during the off season. For example, chefs may say they aren’t serving tomatoes now because they don’t grow here now.” 

Teri’s roots are in New York and Ohio.  At Ohio University, she became passionate about social change. She graduated with a bachelor of political science degree, then spent time in the Peace Corps in Senegal, West Africa.  After that, she attended Antioch University in Seattle, graduating with a master’s degree in whole systems design with a focus on nonprofit leadership.

With experience in the nonprofit sector and in higher education, Teri draws inspiration from teachings of the natural world. 

“Food touches so many aspects of our lives—our health, our planet and our local economy,” she said.  “Despite there being many problems facing our food system, there are also countless ways that each of us can work to counter that. The network emphasizes solutions rather than dwelling on what’s broken,” she added.  “What’s more, food is celebratory, so we all can have fun while working to transform our food system.

“I firmly believe in people’s collective wisdom and creativity to address the problems we currently face,” Teri said. 


For information, call 208-546-9366 or visit inwfoodnetwork.org.



Copyright © April 2018 - The Fig Tree