Notes from the Glebe

A Perennial Crop of Small Producers and the 4th Annual Farm Crawl

Oct 14, 10:27 PM

by Ashley Flattery

The wedding of farms and bar crawls seems, at first, a disharmonious union; as it turns out, a “farm crawl” provides a veritable smorgasbord (-orgasbord, -orgasbord) of local fare: creamed honey and creamy goat cheese; Golden Delicious apples and delicious apple pie; Simply Red wine and red bell peppers, hidden a hoop house. As Templeton in Charlotte’s Web devoured the ripe carnival refuse, so I satiated my craving for all things small-scale and savory.

Seven south-central Iowan farms and numerous vendors hosted over 1,300 people on October 3. “What’s the point of a farm crawl?” you ask? Among the most important goals is to make people aware that there are nutritious, affordable foods available in the Knoxville area, products wherein the value derives from the ability to shake the hand that feeds. Because time did not permit, my cousin and I did not make it to all seven farms, but we did, however, explore thoroughly (Thoreau-ly?) three: Reichert’s Dairy Air, Blue Gate Farm, and Schneider Orchard.

Shortly after eleven o’clock, my cousin Jenn and I were bouncing down a gravel road to Reichert’s Dairy Air. Lois Reichert, a prize-winning cheesemaker, raises her goats at the end of a winding, barely one-laned drive south of Knoxville, Iowa, my hometown. Much to my delight, there not only was cheese (oh, was there cheese), but also a local vintner, Grape Escape Winery, offered samples of their drinkables, raised from vine to wine in Marion County, Iowa. Had I not been in the presence of kids, human and goat, I might have stayed there all afternoon, indulging in Bacchic revelry. A helping hand at the Grape Escape table proffered a list of wines with descriptions for even the most uncultured patrons, such as myself. After some faux scrutiny and a pause during which I read the menu twice and narrowed the options by words I recognized, namely “Riesling,” I chose a semi-sweet white wine and Jenn chose a blush; at the very least, the two we tried were pleasing to our palates and our pockets. Grape Escape Winery was a complementary and welcome guest at Reichert’s Dairy Air.

Behind the Grape Escape table stood Lois’ immaculate barn, opened wide so the visitors could get to know her lovely ladies, both veteran milk producers and youths marked for their first milking season. Children squealed and giggled in the pen as they came face to face with the kids, their quadruped counterparts. Outside, Lois and friends sampled and sold a variety of cheeses from Cranberry Pecan Chevre, a creamy spread, to Robiola di Mia Nonna, a firmer breakfast cheese which Lois learned how to make in Italy. Lois’ cheeses sorely tempted even us, indebted up to our eyeballs or more; as we left, I clutching two of the basil-bearing varieties, Pesto and Sun-dried Tomato Basil Chevre, and Jenn the Cracked Black Pepper Chevre, I felt that those might have been the easiest ten dollars this frugal college student had ever parted with.

Saving Dan-D Farms and Pierce’s Pumpkin Patch, which are both regularly open to the public, for a later date, Jenn and I wound our way down a dusty country road toward Blue Gate Farm. Blue Gate provides certified naturally grown produce, pastured eggs, honey, and preserves to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members in the Knoxville area and to the Des Moines farmer’s market. CSA members pledge their support to a farm by fronting the money for a season’s fill of produce given to them weekly (For more information on CSAs, look at Blue Gate’s webpage). During the Farm Crawl, the folks at Blue Gate were kind enough to let everyone crawl all over their farm; Jenn and I took full advantage, sneaking peeks into the hoop house and closely inspecting the salad greens.

Blue Gate Farm had invited Megan McKay Ziller, co-owner of Peace Tree Brewing Company, a year-old micro-brewery for which I worked over the summer, to sample and to share their root beer and three of their brews. I had to go behind the table to see Megan; such was the throng waiting for a taste. We managed to swipe a couple of root beer cups before embarking for our final stop: Schneider Orchard.

Jenn and I plunged farther into rural Iowa with every bump in the road. Each car took its turn on the one lane bridges, drivers thanking each other with a customary Iowa wave. Along the way I mused, passing perennials bursting with purple and gold flowers: perhaps I could deal with the inconveniences of living down a gravel road. A Schneider representative had claimed to us that they’d had a rough year, so our hopes weren’t really hopes at all. After finding a parking spot beside those fall flowers lining the road, trees laden with apples greeted us, and we smiled. The Schneider family appealed to the adults with gift baskets and kelly-green tees, and to the rest of us with face painting and apple pie a la mode. We sat on the grass overlooking the orchard, basking like reptiles in the sun, enjoying the pie and dried apples, watching children take wagon rides between the trees.

Brimming with pride that only comes from a place, not any place, we returned to our residences—houses in the distant Quad Cities—but not our homes.

Feel free to peruse the webpages of these hard-working, home-loving Iowans. Perhaps find them, pick their brains, even “friend” them, on Facebook, if it seems appropriate.

Links for curious folks:
http://farmcrawl.com/
http://www.reichertsdairyair.com
http://www.bluegatefarmfresh.com
http://www.peacetreebrewing.com
http://www.schneiderorchard.com/

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