Kaz Thea

Hailey City Council

Since arriving in the Wood River Valley in 1998, Kaz Thea has been a passionate and outspoken champion of local food. As manager of Wood River Farmers’ Markets for 12 years, Kaz worked tirelessly to connect consumers with small local and regional farmers. In 2009, together with a group of committed locavores, Kaz helped found Idaho’s Bounty to create a year-round market for sustainably produced local food – with first deliveries coming from Kaz’s garage and a Volkswagen van belonging to Onsen Farm’s James Reed. A professional wildlife biologist, Kaz wears many hats in our community – including bike-ped coordinator for Mountain Rides – and is a vocal advocate for fresh nutritious food and physical activity for kids. In her current role on Hailey City Council, she hopes to XXX. In her free time, she can be found hiking the trails or tending her veggie garden at the Hailey home that she shares with husband Kurt Nelson, a forest service district ranger, and their son Kai.

Here’s what Kaz said when asked about her personal relationship to food:

How did you become interested in food? 
In high school, I became a vegetarian. I wanted to try my hand at growing a small garden, so I removed a portion of my parent’s lawn in the New York suburbs and grew vegetables. I went on to take classes at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and worked on nearby farms during the summer. I brought produce to the local farmers’ market in Olympia, and thus my passion for local food solidified.

What’s your definition of “good food”? 
Good food is grown without the use of pesticides and commercial fertilizers and GMO-free. Good food is grown to maturity on the vine to gain numerous micro-nutrients from soil, sun, water and the plant itself. Good food is grown sustainably with an effort to protect soils and water using crop rotation and water conservation methods. If animals are raised, they should be treated humanely, pastured and fed the correct food to digest without heavy amounts of antibiotics. Good food is not transported thousands of miles and pumped with chemicals to preserve it. Good food is flavorful, colorful, and fresh, it is grown from heirloom seed free of GMO. It is food that works with the climate in which it is grown and made available to the local and regional community.

Who is your food hero? 
Alice WatersMichael Pollan and Joel Salatin – all three of whom have worked very hard to bring the local food movement into the lives of everyday people. Alice Waters was the first to understand the importance of local food and bring it to the classroom and communities. Michael Pollan has written several great books on the subject and Joel Salatin is an activist and walking the talk and building a movement no doubt. He is also creating his own rules and not following the industrial-scale food model.

What’s your favorite food to cook or produce? 
I am a salad lover and I like to grow and eat greens of all varieties. Fresh food is always best, although I also like to cook good simple food, letting the delicious taste of whatever it is you eat speak for itself.

How do you feel about organic? 
I buy organic food almost exclusively because it’s healthier for our bodies and the environment. Unfortunately, the meaning of the word “organic” and the standards around organic certification have been abused by large corporations. Organic certification is a very involved and costly proposition for farmers. Often times federal rules and regulations bark up the wrong tree and target small organic growers instead of Big Ag. I hope someday organic food isn’t more expensive than industrial-scale commercially raised food. I do think that purchasing local can be more important than the organic label, especially if you know how the food was produced.

Are you concerned about GMOs? If so, why? 
Yes! GMO is not fully tested on the markets. Messing with genes never produces confidence. The genes of heirloom varieties have been around for a very long time and have lasted through disease to strengthen varieties in a natural way fighting natural conditions. We should stick with these varieties and not create “Franken” varieties. GMOs are also incredibly bad for the environment. To add certain pesticides into the genes of plants to “fight” insects and pests is just wrong. It causes us to rely heavily on chemicals, which ultimately has shown plants become resistant and more and more chemicals are needed to fight the insects. Furthermore, GMO seed is killing insects nationwide and we are losing our pollinators to chemicals. I believe building immunity naturally is always the way to go for humans and plants. I don’t want us to rely on plants created to fight the onslaught of chemicals and trucking, and storage we subject our food with before it reaches our kitchens and plates. Creating square fruit to fit better in shipping containers makes no sense. And finally GMO gives more and more control to the large industrial scale chemical companies such as Monsanto that now own seed and control what can be planted and have patented seeds is just wrong, so many farmers who purchase GMO seed can’t even plant their own varieties. Spraying food with chemicals is also destroying neighboring farms where farmers want to plant their own non GMO seed without the use of chemicals and these crops are vulnerable to GMO crops because of seed transport, spray from fields dependent on pesticides and fertilizers and it is becoming a serious problem.

What’s your end goal or what impact do you hope to have in terms of food? 
I want local, healthy, non-GMO and, preferably, organic food to be available and accessible to all without being exceedingly higher in cost than commercial industrial scale food. Until more sustainably produced local and regional food is available in the markets, we will continue to pay a much higher price, and this food mostly will be purchased by folks with higher incomes. I want to work on policy and education to grow the demand for healthy local food choices. Until demand increases, its availability won’t increase. Nothing is more important than the food we choose to eat for our health, the environment, and the vitality of our communities. Supporting local food touches all issues I am concerned about for our health and the health of our planet. Local food supports healthy families and communities, local food production and consumption promote sustainability, stimulates local economies, preserve rural livelihoods and farmland and increases access to fresh, nutritious food.

What is your biggest wish for food system change? 
That we switch our desire for locally produced food and return back to small-scale farms and locally raised food using methods that respect and honor our earth, treat our animals humanly, and produce clean, healthy delicious food for people. Food policy must change, we must incentivize and encourage new farmers to consider growing food, we must treat farm workers better, and revamp our entire food system to diverse small scale and regional operations. With that also comes food processing at a local level such as smaller scale or mobile slaughter houses, and farmland that contains more diversity. Right now there are five big industrial scale companies, including Monsanto, Con Agra, and others, that own or influence farms and agricultural practices on a large scale. This includes not only corporate ownership of farms and selling of agricultural products but also the roles of these companies in influencing agricultural education, research, and public policy through funding initiatives and lobbying efforts. One of the biggest issues with today’s food system is that we don’t understand the real cost of food. Commercially grown food is often federally subsidized, so many consumers view sustainably produced local and regional food as too expensive. But there are hidden health and environmental costs of commercial industrial-scale food that aren’t passed on to consumers.

What change would you like to see in the Wood River Valley area and/or Idaho in terms of food? 
More demand for locally raised and regional raised food so that the food system can respond by making local food more available to us. We live in an agricultural state and want to see Idaho’s grown food stay in Idaho. With that I would hope would come more young people interested in getting into farming and processing locally grown food. I want to see our farmers’ markets, especially in Hailey, increase their local customer base so they can be viable for the long-term. I want to see people prioritize purchasing healthy local and regional food and not settle for commercially produced food that has been  shipped thousands of miles. I also want to see local food being purchased for some of our institutions like our school district and hospitals. I want to see our school distrcit invest in garden education and teach nutrition as part of its curriculum. I want to see our local community demand more from our local farmers to produce more food for our local area. If we can change the buying habitats of more people, farmers will respond and plant more to meet that demand. Supporting local food also makes communities more resilient in the face of mono-crop industrial scale agriculture that is more susceptible to the spread of disease. We need to get involved in seed saving, it is the basis of our food supply and currently Monsanto is working hard to also control seed production. The farms that grow GMO crops have no control over their own seeds; Monsanto controls every aspect of food production for crops they produce. This is a serious risk to our entire food system.

What is local and regional food sourcing important to you? 
Local and regional food sourcing is one of the most important decisions we face today. Sourcing local and regional food supports local economies, supports our farmers and preserves rural livelihoods and farmland, is good for the environment by reducing our carbon footprint, local food supports healthy families and communities, promotes sustainability, and increases access to fresh, more nutritious food that tastes better. Supporting local and regional food systems touches all of the important elements of a healthy environment that we should all care about for the betterment of our future.

What steps would you take as Blaine County Commissioner to support more local and regional food sourcing, edible education, and farm-to-institution food services? 
I plan to work with constituents to write initiatives that support more local and regional food sourcing to increase availability. The greater the demand for local and regional food, the more the farmers will grow, and the more grocery stores will make it accessible in our community. As County Commissioner, I would like to collaborate with the school district and support policies that direct the school district to incorporate farm-to-school food services. This is a complicated task due to current policy but it needs to change and I would work to champion policies as many other communities across the nation have begun to do. Feeding children healthy food is beneficial to their performance. As a college student at Evergreen State College, I developed a garden education curriculum and taught a gardening program at an elementary school that was very well received. I know the benefits of hands-on education.

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