The Verde Valley’s roots as an agricultural region run deep, continuing to adapt and thrive under ever-evolving challenges. Verde Canyon Railroad is proud to partner with two small growers supplying vitamin-rich produce and greens to the train and its Copper Spike Cafe.
These farm-to-table flavors further enhance the railroad’s first-class appetizers onboard the train, as well as add extra value to the Café’s delicious lunch menu at the depot in Clarkdale. Kitchen manager Briana (Bri) Lawton, born and raised in Cottonwood, has wisely used her background in Arizona’s wine industry, her 16-year experience in food service and her connections with these local growers, to truly elevate the train’s menu options.
The Blazin’ M Ranch, its chuckwagon dinner and stage show temporarily dormant, has been a long-time friend and ally of the railroad. In lieu of “flying biscuits” and the “Ghost Rider,” this riparian Cottonwood property is now a source of high-quality veggies and fruits. Luke Hammond’s “Liquid Life Farms” is leasing fields at the ranch to grow tomatoes, watermelon, squash, herbs, corn, spring mix, and other seasonal crops in high demand. “Luke worked here at the Blazin’ M as a teen,” said ranch owner Lori Mabery. “He approached us about this idea, and we were intrigued. Patriarch and founder, Chuck Mabery used to do organic farming here 25 years ago, so it’s really come full circle. It all came about at the perfect time. We’re thrilled to have him here.”
“Hammond, his wife and three young children do it all,” explained Mabery, “This is their second full year. Wednesday morning when their farm stand opens, he has clientele show up and buy everything!” Luckily for Verde Canyon Railroad, Luke does allow early access for local chef partners, and Bri Lawton is able to select Liquid Life Farm melon, tomatoes and cucumbers for the train’s first-class appetizers, and basil for the popular “Verde Margarita” mix.
“I hear your train whistle on the farm,” said Hammond. “It’s really kind of a cool deal. We’re along the same riverbed, one that’s been farmed for centuries. All of society used to be agrarian and I want to encourage people to garden and grow their own food. I don’t think we should ship in so much of our food when we can grow it right here.” Luke, a self-described “soil consultant with a bad farming addiction,” was searching for potential leased land with a goal to farm an area with high exposure that would encourage participation from others. The Blazin’ M was ideal. “It’s really grown into a homestead environment that’s beneficial for us both … a community-centric, neat symbiotic relationship.” Per Hammond, “Farming is challenging. Anyone who is producing food at any level, organic or not, that’s a noble thing. We need to be rallying around farmers at all stages.”
Sweet Greens Arizona, operated by Eric Kostecki, began producing “micro-greens” eight years ago in response to conversations with area chefs. Micro-greens are sprouted seedlings and Kostecki now offers 50 different kinds. “As things progressed, research kept coming out about the nutritional density of micro-greens,” explained Kostecki, “Not only are they beautiful baby vegetables and herbs to top your plates but they are unbelievably healthy. They are full of vitamins C, E & K, phytonutrients, living enzymes, antioxidants, amino acids and protein, more so then their full-grown counterparts. Micro-greens will boost nutrition and flavor to any meal.”
In addition to becoming ingredients aboard Verde Canyon Railroad, these locally grown veggies and greens also are available locally to the public. Sweet Greens Arizona can be found weekly at the Sedona Community farmers market and at some of the finest restaurants from Scottsdale to Flagstaff. Liquid Life Farms produce market at the Blazin’ M Ranch is open Wednesday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m..
“I’m a strong believer in farm-to-table and fresh food,” said Lawton, “Just because we’re a quick pace café doesn’t mean that our food can’t be bursting with flavor, beautiful to look at and healthy. I’ve worked with many amazing chefs and have learned a lot. That extra step in picking and planning goes a long way and people can tell the difference between food that’s made with love and thought, versus food that’s just simply ‘assembled.’”
Verde Canyon Railroad’s Copper Spike Café is open when the train runs from 10:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.. Trains run year-round on a varied schedule depending on the season. Traveling on tracks carved through a dramatically rugged landscape in 1912, Verde Canyon Railroad is now celebrating its 30th year as an award-winning scenic wilderness train. Known worldwide as “Arizona’s Longest-Running Nature Show” since 1990, Verde Canyon Railroad promises rail passengers exceptional service aboard every journey. Visit the Verde Canyon Railroad website at www.verdecanyonrr.com to make your reservations or call 800-293-7245 for more information.
Get Ready for A Tasty Journey aboard Verde Canyon Railroad