Fresh food from the farm
By CLAYTON RYE
FERTILE – The menu started with an outdoor social hour of hummus and crudites along with wine.
Once inside, the meal began with a salad of mixed local greens, followed by the entree of slow-roasted Mangalitsa pork with Mojo De Ajo and fresh herbs.
The sides were roasted beets with burrata and pistachio-mint pesto, wood-roasted squash with lemon-sage compound butter and hazelnuts, and roasted purple potatoes with horseradish, pickled red onions, dill and parsley.
Dessert was a ginger cookie sundae with toppings featuring local maple syrup and honey.
This may sound like a setting served in a cosmopolitan location, but the meal took place at Cafe Mir in Fertile, located north of Clear Lake, and all the ingredients came from growers in the north Iowa area.
The occasion was the fourth annual Clear Lake Community Farm to Fork Dinner held Sunday afternoon, Oct. 15.
“The purpose of this event is to celebrate the successes of 2017 and highlight the new farm to table businesses and activities that are taking place in the Clear Lake area,” Andrea Evelsizer with Healthy Harvest of North Iowa wrote in a press release.
The price was lowered from $60 for previous meals to $40 to attract new people to locally grown food. The meal was sold out, filling Cafe Mir to capacity with 70 people.
Evelsizer, a native of Winnipeg, Canada, works with Healthy Harvest of North Iowa as program director and North Iowa Fresh. She has a degree in environmental science.
Her interest in local food began simply.
“It started with a tomato,” Evelsizer said.
She was shopping at local grocery store and saw tomatoes that were grown organically nearby in Lake Mills. She wondered how anything could be grown organically in northern Iowa.
She visited the grower, Perfect Circle Tomatoes of Lake Mills, and offered to volunteer to work there. After two days, she received a job offer to market their tomatoes.
She has worked with promoting local food since then to where she is employed today.
“It’s market development,” said Evelsizer. “We help producers find markets.”
North Iowa Fresh has a food hub where locally grown food is brought in to One Vision at Clear Lake. The food is distributed to restaurants and grocery stores in an area bounded by Forest City to the west and Charles City to the east.
The food hub simplifies billing, selling wholesale and providing one bill for the purchaser instead of having to pay individuals.
The food hub wants to expand, providing fresh, locally grown food to schools and hospitals. Clear Lake School has agreed to work with the food hub for 2018.
“They need a specific thing in a specific way,” said Evelsizer. “We have to learn what they want.”
The food hub works to educate producers, buyers and communities for the promotion of locally-grown food and a multi-farm community supported agriculture (CSA) is being planned for next year.
Two local restaurants have become partners in giving locally grown food a priority in their menus. They are the Fieldhouse in Clear Lake and Cafe Mir.
The Cafe Mir opened last August, according to Nathaniel Federick, who owns the business with his cousin Josh Frederick who is also the chef.
Nathaniel Frederick grew up in Mason City and his cousin was raised in Forest City. They both took circuitous routes to arrive back in north Iowa before opening Cafe Mir. Mir is Czechoslovakian for peace.
Nathaniel Frederick went to college in Colorado where he studied literature and horticulture, then to Prague in the Czech Republic for literature studies, followed by Sicily where he worked in olive orchards and vineyards. In Paris, he helped operate an art museum, and in Serbia he taught English to Romanis. In New York City he worked at coffee shops and in Los Angeles he studied Chinese medicine.
Josh Frederick studied wine in Los Angeles, working for one of the best restaurants in the city as a wine person according to Nathaniel Frederick.
“He is passionate and knowledgeable about wine,” Nathaniel Frederick said.
Why did they decide to open a restaurant in a small northern Iowa town?
“My main passion in opening this restaurant is sticking it in the face of chain restaurants and corporate farming to give small farms and small towns a fighting chance,” said Nathaniel Frederick.
Cafe Mir utilizes as many local growers of meat and produce as possible said Frederick. Iowa and the surrounding states are given preference.
“The closer, the better,” he said.
Cafe Mir bakes their own bread and pizza dough using organic flour from Great River Milling in Wisconsin.
“We are not solely organic but want to support the organic movement,” he said.
He can always use more varieties of everything.
“We can be more creative,” said Frederick.
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