BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON – In what is becoming a tradition of sorts in North Lee County, about 70 diners experienced what is really meant by Farm to Table on Saturday night at Harvestville Farms.
The farming operation located just east of Donnellson has been putting on the dinners throughout the summer months showcasing a myriad of fresh produce and locally produced foods for their dinners.
However, Saturday’s event was supposed to be more of a block party than a barn dinner. A 50% chance of rain and thunderstorms for the area Saturday morning prompted owners Adam and Julie Hohl, and Kathy Hohl to hold the event once again at their farm.
The event was originally scheduled as a dinner on 7th Street between the Harvestville Mercantile Store in the Hesse Building and Simple Table, owned by Jimmy Wendorf and Hitomi Moritani Wendorf. Moritani Wendorf was the selected chef for the meal Saturday night.
“We had talked with Jimmy and Hitomi even before we had the store downtown and we thought, ‘Oh my gosh we need to do one in the street in Fort Madison’,” Julie Hohl said. “We had attended one in Iowa City and one in Quincy and we just loved them.”
Hohl said with the opening of the Mercantile downtown two years ago there was just too much going on in transition to try and do the street dinner.
“It was just too much too quick, so we decided to do it this year. But then, unfortunately, with the threat of rain we brought it back out here. So next year…but it was a hard decision. But what another unique opportunity for people that they may never have had.”
“We wanted a memorable experience, but a pop up shower in the middle of dinner is not what we wanted to make it memorable,” Adam said with a chuckle.
Nestled among a cornucopia of farm fresh produce and foliage, was a table filled with silent auctions items. Julie said all the proceeds from the silent auction would go to the Fort Madison Food Pantry as well as a portion of the proceeds from the $65/person ticket sales.
Moritani Wendorf fares included a fresh tomato gazpacho soup with cocktail shrimp as well as locally produced lamb, vegetables for a ratatouille, and new potatoes. Locally produced bread and a locally made dessert was also on hand as part of the five-course meal.
Moritani said all the vegetables were grown at the Harvestville Farms and she made the breads. The lamb was obtained from a producer in Kalona and the desserts were prepared locally.
The Hohls have been putting on the shows since 2012 and were selling out in less than five days so they added events to help with a more steady pace.
“Adam and I are really big foodies,” Julie said. “I’m originally from St. Louis and I was blessed with my parents being foodies, too, and I learned from them. We heard of this farm-to-table concept becoming big around the nation. We have a business here on the farm and we thought it could work so we took a big leap of faith.”
The first farm-to-table was done as a fundraiser for the Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaign and Julie said it was a big success.
“It was our first go at it and we had about 50 people come out to that one,” she said. “Even at that early stage we knew we wanted a local chef and we wanted everything possible to come from the farm and, if it didn’t come from the farm, it had to be locally produced. It went over really well.”
She said the event creates an authentic and unique dining experience that many people in the area haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy.
The events were smash hits and sold out quickly through 2012 and 2013. Adam said the cooking was being done in the farm kitchen, but with the popularity and number of people eating at the event, the farm had to incorporate a commercial kitchen and so they had to take a break from the events while the commercial kitchen was constructed.
“We really had to work at it at first, but now since we’ve been doing it for so many years, it’s getting easier to attract chefs to come to southeast Iowa. We’ve met some wonderful, talented chefs who put out some really neat food,” Julie said.
“Every meal is five-course meal. It’s making a connection with your food, and the people at your table, and just having a nice slow-paced evening.”
This year featured 10 of the events with nine being sell outs. Chefs from as far away as Columbia, Mo., make the trek to prepare the offerings. Chefs have included Shawn Foehring, a Burlington private chef, Martha Wolf of Ivy Bake Shoppe fame, Kumar Wickramasingha of Elliott Test Kitchen, Chris Grebner of Iowa City’s Provender, and several others.
The last event of the year is August 11th with Wickramasingha as the chef. That event… sold out.