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Savoring northwest Iowa

By Staff | Sep 17, 2014

LINDA MADDEN, foreground, of Sioux City; Ivan Groothuis of Sioux Center; and Susan Wiertzema, in background, of Little Rock, were part of the Northwest Iowa “Farm to Fork” tour, sponsored by Iowa State University Extension. They stopped at a Sheldon chicken and turkey farm, an Inwood winery and this stop at Solsma Punkin Patch near Sanborn, to see the unusual crops grown there, along with tasting and learning about foods prepared by Heirloom Acres, Granville.

SANBORN – The final “Farm to Fork” culinary tour of this growing season took place earlier this month, with stops at Cottonwood Farms near Sheldon, Solsma’s Punkin Patch near Sanborn and Calico Skies Vineyard and Winery near Inwood.

Around 20 people took part in the tour, which was hosted by Iowa State University Extension’s Flavors of Northwest Iowa.

Margaret Murphy, an ISU Extension regional foods and master gardener coordinator, said the tour gives participants a chance to see what growers do to produce the foods consumers eat every day.

“Research shows people want to know where their food is grown,” she said. “Many search for locally grown food, and we offer several opportunities to connect the people of Iowa to locally grown food.

“It gets people out to meet the farmers.”

AMY SOLSMA, right, tells Linda Madden, of Sioux City about the Indian corn grown at Solsma’s Punkin Patch near Sanborn.

Though consumers often hear about factory farms, this tour gives them a look at how food is grown closer to home, on the smaller-scale farm.

“The local producers tend to be more diversified,” Murphy said. “They have to do various things in order to make it work. They might grow pigs along with poultry, crops, vegetables, orchards and things like that.”

Solsma’s Punkin Patch on U.S. Highway 18 near Sanborn, included the food and works of Heirloom Acres of Granville, growing heirloom vegetable varieties.

Participants toured the farm and learned about growing pumpkins, popcorn, squash, gourds and Hereford cattle, and tasted homemade salsa and homemade sourdough bread.

Co-owner Amy Solsma told visitors they grow hundreds of pumpkins, gourds and squash each year of all sizes, including spaghetti squash, which is good for low-carb diets.

JAY AND AMY SOLSMA said they always have some pumpkins, squash and gourds on display at Clay County Fair time, since they have so much traffic past their farm-based business on U.S. Highway 18 near Sanborn. Amy Solsma said that not all growers have pumpkins ready so early, but they plant early enough to have ripened pumpkins for viewing by fair-going traffic. It has proved to be a successful move on their part, she said.

“You still feel like you’re eating spaghetti,” Solsma said.

Solsma said she plants her crops by hand early in May so the pumpkins and gourds can be ready in time for Clay County Fair traffic.

She uses an instrument that she can walk behind, which makes a furrow, while she drops seeds into the ground.

“Most people don’t plant that early, but we feel like we have to in order for everything to be ready in time for the fair traffic,” she said. “There are thousands of cars that go by that week.”

Solsma said the crops are labor-intensive, requiring many man hours pulling weeds and and scouting crops.

She said they have sold their products online in 26 states.

Part of their produce are various kinds of popcorn. They have grown 12 varieties of Indian corn over the years and are always looking for other varieties to grow.

This year tried ruby red popcorn and blue popcorn, which both pop white. She said they combine the popcorn to harvest it.

They also have a corn maze, which is a popular attraction on their farm each fall, and have a herd of 18 Hereford cows.

Solsma told visitors they chose Hereford cows because of their friendly disposition while being handled by their children growing up in 4-H.

Roger Wiertzema, of Little Rock, came with his wife to spend the afternoon and to remember what it was like on the farm when he was growing up.

“When I got out of school I worked for a farmer who had 200 cows,” he said. “I drive by here a lot on my way to the Spencer fair.

“It’s a pretty interesting place. We used to stop here when our kids were little to get pumpkins.”

JoAnn Den Beste, from Sheldon, said she wanted to get ideas from growers about things she could do at home.

“I learned about heritage chickens, geese and pigs when we stopped at Sheldon, and here I’ve learned about a new kind of tomato I’m going to try planting next year,” she said, following her visit with Lavonne Blok from Heirloom Acres.

The Sheldon stop – Cottonwood Farms – is a three-generation family farm raising heritage breeds of chickens and turkeys, both for meat and eggs.

Visitors learned about how Cottonwood Farms makes herbal lotions and oil blends from plants on the farm.

The final destination was Calico Skies Vineyard and Winery near Inwood. Visitors participated in a wine tasting and evening meal before returning home.

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