Farm-to-Fork

What, where and how

By Jim Duncan

There is nothing new about farm-to-fork. My grandfather (who liked to say “20th century hell, I could pick a better
one out of a hat blindfolded”) was proud to have raised four girls through the Great Depression on his farm in
Sanborn. He had orchards, a vineyard, fruit gardens, vegetable gardens, hogs, cattle, horses, fresh water and cash crops like corn and hay. That kind of diversification was typical of Iowa farms before World War II. Many historians believe rural states like Iowa survived the depressions of the 1890s and 1930s better than urban states because they were more self-sufficient food wise.

After WWII industrialized agriculture triumphed, Grandpa’s orchards and vineyard were cut down, and his gardens and grazing fields were plowed over to plant just two crops — corn and beans. Iowans developed a taste for foods trucked in from Florida, California and all points between and beyond. The farm-to-fork revival, which seeks to reverse the industrial era trends, came too late to assuage Grandpa’s grief over what happened to his farm. But it’s allowed Iowans to realize again the bounty of diversity that the state’s rich black soil can yield.

No restaurant in Des Moines is more committed to the farm-to-fork movement than Suman Hoque’s HoQ. “That’s why 90 percent of our ingredients come from local farms,” he says. HoQ features grass-fed beef and lamb and
pasture-raised chicken and duck. All are raised without hormones, antibiotics, steroids or cages. Dairy is sourced
from grass fed animals, too. Produce is organic and chemical free. Seafood is sourced from sustainable fishing
communities.

Like every dish at Wallace House, everything on this chicken plate is raised by the farm or sourced from other Iowa farmers.

His spring/summer menu includes products from 26 Iowa farms and greenhouses — Hickory Hills of Moulton,
Table Top of Nevada, Cory of Elkhart, Sheeder Cloverleaf of Guthrie Center, Tweed Croft of Martensdale, Krieger
of Jefferson, Berkwood Farm of Des Moines, Flint Ridge Organic Greens of Kalona, Grade A Gardens of Johnston,
Early Morning Harvest of Panora, Anna’s of Grimes, Paul’s Grains of Laurel, Mary’s Farm of Grand Junction, Leonard Farms of Waukee, Lee’s Gardens of Nevada,  Black Cat Acre of Nevada, Dalla Terra Ranch of West Des Moines, Sunstead Farm of Waukee, Maharishi Farms of Fairfield, Grinnell Heritage Farm of Grinnell and Coyote Run of Lacona. Some of those farms don’t even sell at the Downtown Farmers’ Market anymore. They source cheese
from Cheese Shoppe of Des Moines, coffee from Corazon Roasters of West Des Moines, wine and spirits from Cedar
Ridge of Swisher and Covered Bridge of Winterset, beer from Madhouse of Newton-Des Moines and Peace Tree of
Knoxville, charcuterie from La Quercia of Norwalk, and spices from Allspice of East Village.

Nothing compares to fresh greens like these pen tendrils at a farmers market.

The only other place that compares to that is Wallace House, which raises most of its food on its own historic farm near Orient and sources the rest from Iowa farmers, manufacturers and bakeries. Its Thursday night dinners in Des Moines include educational talks about sustainable food and are BYO events with no corkage fees. Chef Katie Porter is involved personally with every step of the farm-to-fork process.

Cyd Koehn of Catering by Cyd farms two gardens of her own and sources food from many of the same farms that HoQ uses and from legendary farmer Larry Cleverley, who, more than anyone else, ignited the farm-to-fork
movement in central Iowa. “I love it when a client wants to do an all-local menu,” Koehn says. Taste! To Go and
Tangerine are also caterers adept at providing local foods.

Among the chefs and restaurateurs I have frequently spotted at farmers markets in Des Moines are George Formaro (Centro, Malo, Zombie Burger, South Union Bread Café, Gateway Market and Café), Sean Wilson (Proof), Dom Iannarelli (Splash and Jethro’s), Don Cotran (515), Tony Lemmo (Aposto), Joe Tripp (Harbinger), Zach Gutweiler (Reed’s Hollow), Jason Simon (Alba and Eatery A), Lynn Pritchard (Table 128), and Lisa and Mike LaValle (Trellis).

Harbinger does an amazing job of presenting harbingers of each season — the first ramps, morels, garlic scapes, etc. Table 128 offers special dinners that employ seasonal ingredients. So do Baru 66, Centro, Proof and Le Jardin.

The bottom line is a happy one. A couple decades ago, the only way to dine farm-to-fork was to do it all yourself.
Those days are gone with the cyclical winds of changing tastes. ♦

 

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