Meet the Founder of the Farm to Boat Cooler Movement
Former river guide Keegan Athey is Idaho’s newest farmer
It was evening at O.A.R.S.’ Idaho headquarters when I stumbled across an unfamiliar sight: three boatmen with handfuls of raw, undressed arugula.
“This. Is. DELICIOUS!” one normally carnivorous boatman exclaimed, putting a handful of the plain leafy green in his mouth.
“Is there bacon hidden in there?” I asked.
Nope, no bacon, just the tender growing care of river guide turned farmer Keegan Athey, who recently graduated with a degree in Soil and Crop Science and Organic Agriculture from Colorado State University. In partnership with O.A.R.S. Idaho manager Curt Chang, Keegan has used her farming expertise to kickstart River City Farm, a small-scale operation based on sustainable farming principles.
Keegan grows a wide variety of produce, from lettuce and carrots to rutabagas and bok choy. This summer, she is sourcing delicious, nutritious and local-as-it-gets produce to O.A.R.S. Idaho’s boat coolers. Guests can look out for garden salads made with her fresh spring greens mix, her favorite crunchy snap peas served with lemon-garlic humus and a variety of other options as the seasons (and crops) change.
I caught up with Keegan on her one-acre farm on the outskirts of Lewiston. It was easy to see why her arugula and other produce tastes so good – there’s a whole lot of love and hard work in each plant.
O.A.R.S. meals have always featured an abundance of fruits and vegetables – how does local produce enhance that?
If produce has been shipped to Idaho from California it was harvested the week prior, whereas I harvest for trips the night before. Freshly harvested produce makes a big difference in taste and quality. I also think as a tourist-oriented business it’s important to support the communities and environment we operate in. Healthy communities, people and ecosystems are essential for the long-term sustainability of the outdoor industry.
You were a river guide for six years. Do you find any similarities between running a river trip and running a farm?
Yeah, the long days, manual labor and getting up early! [Laughs]. It helps that I’m already into that. I also have an understanding of this climate and environment from working as a guide here. Being a guide also helped me realize that I enjoy an active, meaningful outside job.
Why is growing sustainable and local food important to you?
Farming brings resilience to our community, both socially and environmentally. I think from a carbon footprint standpoint it makes a lot of sense – if we grow it in region, we don’t have to drive it here. I’m learning the ins and outs of what our community needs, what they want to buy and what we can grow in Lewiston. And it’s more fun! Lots of people don’t know what farms are like anymore. We are so far removed from the production of what we consume, but an experience on a local farm can help that.
What’s your favorite vegetable that you grow?
I’m pretty excited about the snap peas right now. They are the first sweet and crunchy produce at the beginning of the season and they make great appetizers and salad.
Photos: River City Farm