Promoting local food

EAGLE GROVE – Food fresh off the farm was featured in a tour of farms growing locally available produce, eggs and meat on Sunday in the area around Eagle Grove.

At Don Garrett’s farm, bison are the main attraction.

“Buffalo tastes like beef wishes it did,” Garrett said. “Once (my customers) start eating it, they don’t go back to beef.”

Garrett keeps about 20 head of bison at his farm. They’re fed corn, though they have plenty of room to graze.

“We don’t feed them antibiotics or anything like that,” he said.

Garrett’s farm was one of three stops on the tour organized by Healthy Harvest of North Iowa. The tour was well attended in spite of the cold, cloudy weather, said Jan Libbey, Healthy Harvest coordinator.

“I’m pleased with the turnout. We were testing the waters to see what the turnout would be,” Libbey said.

The point is to encourage people to learn how much they can get in this area, said Cathy Carlson, of Latimer. She and her husband Dennis are on the Healthy Harvest board.

“Most people have no idea what we have locally,” Dennis Carlson said. “People want to associate a face with their food. So they can say, ‘Oh, you’re the one who does it.'”

The Carlson farm will be on a similar tour to be held Sept. 22. They farm Christmas trees and wheat, and Cathy Carlson sells whole wheat products. Other farmers in their area raise goats for meat, and even ostriches.

Visitors on Sunday also stopped by Cheryl and Carl Johnson’s farm near Eagle Grove, where they could tour the gardens and see a new movable high tunnel. The high tunnel acts like a plastic, portable greenhouse, Libbey said. It can be moved from place to place so that different crops can benefit at different times of the year. By using this, farmers can get vegetables in earlier or later than normal.

Also at the Johnson farm, buffalo meat could be found among the many samples being prepared by Iowa Central Community College culinary students.

Chef Michael Hirst said visitors found they liked the local produce better than processed items they found in the store.

“We fried up some local broccoli,” he said, “and people who have never liked it before in their lives are now saying they like it.”

He said 26 students volunteered to cook Sunday, including about half of the freshman class.

“It’s a good opportunity to expose the students to local food from small farmers, instead of the big corporations,” Hirst said. “This is real produce grown by real people.”

You want the shortest route possible from the farm to the table, he said.

The third stop on the tour was Lewright Meats and Deli, on Broadway St., Eagle Grove, where all the meat is from local producers.

Paul Bubeck, owner of Lewright Meats, said he buys from about 12 to 15 different beef producers in the area and two different pork producers.

“I only buy beef that has not been treated with steroids,” Bubeck said. “It’s getting harder to do, but you can still do it.”

Although you hear more about grazing cattle these days, Bubeck said his customers prefer the taste of corn-fed beef.

Bubeck’s meats are sold in Fort Dodge at Fareway and Hy-Vee, as well as at Mineral City and the Sports Page bar and grill.

“Some people will buy it not only because it’s good, but because it’s local. That really does appeal to people,” he said.

His son will be the fourth generation to own the business.

“We smoke our meat with hickory logs,” Bubeck said. It’s not liquid smoke, or sawdust, it’s the real thing.”