Iowa River Valley

Celebrating the Abundance of Local Foods, Season by Season Summer 2008 Number 8

edible

Member of Edible Communities
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Special Flood Issue
Iowa Farmers Markets come Back •CSAs Face Big Recovery Voices from the field

Contents
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Grist for the Mill Notable Edibles Edible Imbibables Apples and the Art of Sutliff Cider by Kurt Michael Friese Are you going to San Francisco? The First Continental Culinary Congress wants you—by Brian Halweil MarketWatch: Farmers Markets Salvage a wet season by Eugenia E. Gratto Voices from the Field The View from the West—by Denise O’Brien Voices From the Field Grinnell Heritage Farm—by Andrew Dunham Voices From the Field Columbus Junction—by Mallory Smith Iowa s Small Farmers Resilient to the End—by Brian Morelli Enduring Edibles: The Gerst Family Holds Its Own by Criss Roberts A Not So Rainy Day for One Step at a Time Gardens by Dave Murphy Edible Endeavors CSAs Show Stamina—by Michael Knock Advertiser Directory on the cover Flooded Farm by Kurt Michael Friese
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Looking for Corn Photo by Criss Roberts

iowa river valley
PUBLISHER

edible

Wendy Wasserman
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

grist for the mill
Dear Eater, Our last issue greeted you with all the fond, hopeful expectations of spring following a harrowing winter. Little did we know that Iowa’s biggest weather challenges still lay ahead as weeks of drenching rains would soak nearly every corner of the state. Our intent for the summer was to bring you an issue dedicated to the wonderful foods along the route of the 36th annual RAGBRAI (for the uninitiated, that’s the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa), and to bring it to you in mid July. As all of us in Iowa have learned though, Mother Nature had other plans, and her plans take precedence. So in this edition of Edible, we take an in-depth look at the flooding and its long-term effects. “Voices from the Field” is a special section featuring three compelling narratives about this year’s severe weather. You’ll hear from farmers Andrew Dunham and Denise O’Brien, as well as Iowa “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” program coordinator Mallory Smith. Regular contributors Brian Morelli, Michael Knock, Criss Roberts and Dave Murphy also have flood tales for us, and you’ll learn ways you can help get Iowa’s local, sustainable food system back on its feet. In happier news, guest contributor Brian Halweil will invite you to “the first Continental Culinary Congress,” when Slow Food Nation convenes in San Francisco in late August. You’ll also meet Sutliff Cider’s Scott Ervin, whose cider will be highlighted at this impressive gathering. The ripple effects of the flooding will be felt throughout all our lives for months and years to come. Here at Edible, some 80 percent of our advertisers were affected either directly or indirectly, especially places like Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City and Blend and Zins in Cedar Rapids, who as of when we went to press, were still awaiting word of when, or even if, they would be reopening. Our thoughts are with them all, as well as our heartfelt gratitude to them for their continued patronage. That gratitude extends to our readership as well, for the warm welcome you gave us when we launched Edible eight issues ago, and for your continued support not only of us, but of our advertisers. We should all be justifiably proud of the way our community has taken care of its own during these troubled times. Thank you, Iowa. With Relish, Kurt & Wendy

Kurt Michael Friese
CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

Criss Roberts
CONTRIBUTORS Andrew Dunham Eugenia E. Gratto Brian Halweil Michael Knock Brian Morelli Dave Murphy Denise O’Brien Melissa Petersen Mallory Smith PHOTOGRAPHERS Joy Anderson Andrew Dunham Carole Topalian CONTACT US

Edible Iowa River Valley 22 Riverview Drive NE Iowa City, Iowa 52240-7973 Telephone: 319.400.2526 www.EdibleIowa.com info@EdibleIowa.com
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Edible Iowa River Valley is published quarterly by River Valley Press, LLC. All rights reserved. Subscription rate is $32 annually. Call 319.400.2526 to inquire about advertising rates and deadlines or email wendy@EdibleIowa.com. No part of this publication may be used without written permission by the publisher. ©2008. Every effort is made to avoid errors, misspellings, and omissions. If, however, an error comes to your attention, please accept our sincere apologies and notify us. Thank you.

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Photo by Joy Anderson

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notable

edibles
Six Farms, Six Miles, Six Hours
On Sunday, October 5, pack sturdy shoes, a water bottle, and a lot of stamina for the Second Annual Farm Crawl. On that day, from 11 am to 5 pm, six family farms in Marion and Lucas counties are hosting coordinated open house events along a six-mile route about an hour south of Des Moines. Temptations along the Farm Crawl trail include goat cheese tasting at Reichart’s Dairy Air, apple picking at Schneider Orchards, pig racing at Dan D Farm and pumpkin picking at Pierce’s Pumpkin Patch. You can also meet the folks at Blue Gate Farm, or learn more about sustainable land reclamation methods at Coyote Run Farm. All in all, a great day in the country, even if you end up crawling home to the city. FarmCrawl.com or 641.203.0758

Field to Family Celebrates Seven Years in Iowa City
This year marks the seventh annual Field to Family festival in Iowa City. For nearly two weeks in September, the Johnson County Local Food Alliance will offer a series of tours, demonstrations, lectures and other special events in celebration of local foods. Field to Family opens on Thursday, September 4, with the Field to Family Benefit Culinary Walk, a tasty way to stroll through some of Iowa City’s best restaurants. The festival ends on Saturday, September 20, with a full day of workshops sessions about how to culture, jam, can, and dehydrate as well as other ways to preserve some of Iowa’s best summer flavors for the long winter. For a complete schedule of events for the two week span, go to www.JCLFA.org

Photo by Carole Topalian

Wear Your Locally Grown Heart on Your Chest Fairfield Art Walk is All Things Local in September
The 1st Fridays Art Walk is a monthly celebration of Fairfield’s artistic and entrepreneurial spirit and has been dubbed the Iowa Tourism Event of the Year. On September 5, 1st Fridays takes on the all things local theme with a focus on local food, sustainable agriculture, and environmental awareness. The evening will include tastings of local produce, pies, breads and other treats. Kids can go to a petting zoo, paint a pumpkin or catch a pony ride or hay ride. There will be music, raffles, prizes, local vendors, and demonstrations galore—all local all night. FairfieldArtWalk.com or 641.472.6177 Locally Grown Clothing, a popular item at the Des Moines Farmers Market, is the brainchild of Des Moines entrepreneur Fred Scott. The line of tshirts and other wearables feature a variety of prominent landmarks, recognizable symbols, and state outlines, each with the trademarked logo and phrase “locally grown.” Kids get their own look with Locally Grown Kids Gear—designs especially suited for the next generation of farmers market shoppers and local food lovers. Locally Grown Clothing is Iowan through and through— designed and printed at SMASH in Des Moines. LocallyGrownClothing.com

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Edible Imbibables:

Apples and the Art of Sutliff Cider
Story and Photos by Kurt Michael Friese

When floodwaters raged through the Cedar River Valley this season, they did not reach the Sutliff Cider Mill directly. They did, however, leave a scar. The area’s historic claim to fame—the scenic Sutliff Bridge—was washed out, leaving behind a lonely half span reaching out from the west bank of the Cedar River. Undeterred, Sutliff Cider owner Scott Ervin continued to follow his passion: artisan-crafted ciders whose ingredient list on the label is a thing of beauty. It reads, simply, “Apples.” Hard Cider is an ancient drink, produced for centuries as a way to preserve the annual apple harvest. Historically, it was also thought of as a safe alternative to drinking water—which was often full of pathogens that caused illness. In 18th and 19th century America, it was the beverage of choice. In fact, John Chapman, long the stuff of grade school legend as Johnny Appleseed—the simple country boy spreading joy by spreading apples—was in truth a land speculator and master cider maker taking advantage of laws that gave him claim to lands where he had planted an orchard. Today cider does not enjoy the popularity it once had, but those who do enjoy it are passionate. Ervin is chief among them. He crafts his ciders from 100 percent fresh-pressed juice, never from concentrate, and uses primarily Jonathan, Gala, Macintosh and Cortland apples. Currently he buys most of his apples from nearby Iowan orchards, but some come from as far as Wisconsin. Ervin also has his own small orchard, which is just coming into production. His old style “rack and cloth” press helps the flavors stay true to their origin. In this method, several layers of milled apple pulp are built up in cloths separated by wooden racks to aid juice flow. To taste the ciders straight from the barrel, before carbonation, is to wonder whether these are ciders or wine. The golden color strikes the eye immediately as Ervin pulls his pipette from the top of the barrel. The nose has the character of a fine Alsatian Riesling: tart apple of course, but also mineral and herb. On the palate, a depth of character not found in lesser, more commercial versions of hard cider. Ervin has been hard at work this summer renovating his 19th century barn into a top-flight tasting room. He hopes it will be in full operation this fall. In July however, it got a test run, as Sutliff Cider played host to the 15,000 bicycle riders that flowed right past it on their way from North 8 Summer 2008 EDIBLEiowa.COM

Scott Ervin continued to follow his passion: artisan-crafted ciders whose ingredient list on the label is a thing of beauty. It reads, simply, “Apples.”

Liberty to Tipton during the sixth leg of this year’s RAGBRAI. There was plenty of eager sampling by riders who had already worked up quite a thirst in the short first section of the day’s ride. This fall is sure to be a breakout year for Sutliff Cider since not only will the tasting room be in operation, but his ciders will play a starring role alongside Norwalk’s own La Quercia Prosciutto at a taste workshop entitled “The Apple in the Pig’s Mouth” during Slow Food Nation in San Francisco over Labor Day Weekend. Participants will taste the prosciutto alongside Ervin’s and other ciders from around the country and discuss them with a panel of experts at this high-profile food event. Ervin believes cider’s popularity is on the upswing, and as his sales continue to increase and more and as more Iowa restaurants continue to carry his product, it appears he is correct.

Visit Sutliff Cider
Enjoy a tour and barrel tasting by appointment. Or visit during the Iowa Wine Trail’s annual trail-wide event, November 1st and 2nd. More information at www.IowaWineTrail.com Sutliff Cider Company 382 Sutliff Road, Lisbon 319. 455.4093 www.SutliffCider.com

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Are you going to San Francisco?
The First Continental Culinary Congress wants you
By Brian Halweil
When the motley horde of salmon smokers, cheese mavens, boutique winemakers, chutney canners, counterculture chefs, guerrilla gardeners, food gurus and plain old citizens interested in the cosmic change happening to America’s diet, descends on San Francisco this Labor Day for Slow Food Nation, it will be a watershed moment in our nation’s history. Group it with the march on Washington, Woodstock, the Seattle WTO protest and other comings together that formed inflection points in the nation’s collective consciousness. Because in the age of food activism, what we put in our mouths doesn’t just sate and please. It’s our thrice-daily chance to affect the world around us. “It’s the first continental culinary congress,” says Gary Nabhan, the Arizona anthropologist who’s been talking about the pleasures of eating local since before most locavores were even born. When he stopped by the Slow Food Nation office recently, he flashed back nearly four decades to the atmosphere of the first Earth Day headquarters, complete with boundless interns, tireless brainstorming and sincere faith that “we can change the world.” There’s no doubt it will be a good party. The city’s Civic Center will be stocked with aisles of cheeses, olives, wines, breads and honeys—mostly little known and beautifully made, but all crafted in the USA. From Buffalo’s Flying Bison Brewery beers to Colorado bison jerky, from Mississippi salami to Texas mozzarella, from Carolina pumpkin chip preserves to Royal Hawaiian honey, this land was made for you and me. The legendary Ferry Plaza farmers market will offer an even more exhaustive selection of California foods than usual, from dried Blenheim apricots to salumi to nut butters of every persuasion. Restaurants from the Mission to the Haight will feature menus that resonate with the event. Slow on the Go will sample the city’s ethnic eats, from Vietnamese bahn mi sandwiches to tacos with free-range pork. A banquet for 500 diners will celebrate the solidarity between rural and urban, farmer and eater. But it will not just be about the food. On the eco-gastronome spectrum— to borrow a term from Slow Food godfather Carlo Petrini—the American brand of Slow Food has always been more eco than gastronome. Perhaps it’s because our food traditions, while they do exist, aren’t quite as deeply rooted as in the Old Country. Perhaps it’s also because we seek redemption for our dysfunctional eating habits. Like the sinner who gets saved, the United States—dysfunctional eating habits and all—has in short order assumed a leadership role in the international movement founded as a counter-offensive to the first McDonald’s opening in Rome. America’s 15,000 intrepid members and 150 chapters nationwide represent the largest contingent outside of Italy. (The map of these chapters overlaps closely with a certain

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growing network of local food magazines.) The New York City Slow Food chapter’s membership is second only to Rome’s. Buoyed by a quickening appetite for good food, this country’s pantry of farmstead cheeses, craft beers, single batch spirits, heirloom veggies, and heritage meats rivals and dazzles its counterparts from Europe. American chapters have organized some of the movement’s most innovative programs, often intervening in cases where the U.S. government has faltered. The Edible Schoolyard project spurred a national debate about what we feed our kids, while inspiring a parallel effort back in Italy. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Slow Food USA created the Terra Madre Katrina Relief Fund with the help of convivia around the nation, to support Gulf of Mexico food communities; recipients ranged from oystermen and shrimpers trying to get their boats back in the water to African-American farmers who raise forgotten varieties of sweet potatoes to New Orleans chefs struggling to retain unique Southern cuisines. Yes, something may be afoot in American eating habits. “Locavore” was named word of the year. More people keep chickens than in recent memory. Your kid’s school may have installed a salad bar, and it may actually be stocking that salad bar with organic greens grown nearby. “We are about to birth a new movement,” says event organizer Anya Fernald. “And the new movement is about connecting plate and planet.” Pleasure and politics will pleasantly collide, as people taste, but also strategize. Activists from across the land will gather to sketch out a national holiday for picnics and sign a mock dream Farm Bill. Chefs from coast to coast will take station in the Green Kitchen, armed only with mortar and pestle and a single burner, crafting essential, simple recipes for busy modern people. Outside the Civic Center, a 15,000-square-foot organic veggie garden—a modern day Victory Garden at a time of soaring food prices, stubborn hunger, and war—has come to life. Attendees will literally see the abundance that is possible if we want to dig up our lawns, support a family farm, or plant a seed. It will be a heavenly overwhelming display of exactly what it means to eat and live well. But remember, it will also be a sort of call to arms. So grab your fork and come to the table.

Brian Halweil is the author of Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket. He is the editor of Edible East End and publisher of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan.

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MarketWatch:

Farmers Markets Salvage a wet season
By Eugenia E. Gratto Photo by Kurt Michael Friese

During the first 12 weeks of the 2008 market season, the Burlington Farmers Market moved not once, not twice—in fact, not even three times. “Twelve weeks into the season, we’re averaging a move every two weeks,” said Judy Parks, Burlington Market Master. “But the customers have been outstanding—they’ve found us every place we’ve been.” Parks, who is experiencing a relentlessly challenging first year as a full-time Market Master, has been forced to move the market to avoid areas damaged by the Mississippi River as it curves through town. Once the flooding river claimed their regular spot at the base of the Great River Bridge, the market hopped to the Train Depot. From there the floods chased it off first to a downtown location, then to a Harley Davidson parking lot and eventually to Crapo Park, a bluff high above town. On August 7, three months after market season officially opened, the Burlington market was able to operate in its original location. Although the flood waters receded from the river bank a few weeks earlier, getting the site cleared and cleaned, and getting the bathrooms in working order, delayed the market’s homecoming. “No one wants to buy food if [the market] smells like sewer,” said Parks. “It’s got to smell good, and it’s got to be clean.” Flooding also displaced Cedar Rapids’ farmers markets. Although city-run markets are open each weekday at Noelridge Park, the Cedar Rapids Downtown District had plans for a larger Saturday market spanning several square blocks. Last year, the market was open the first Saturday of the month. This year the schedule was expanded to twice a month in high season. But, the late June and July dates were washed away, and the market just reopened again on August 2 to an impressive crowd of 8,500. Only two scheduled dates remain this season. Tammy Neumann, Market Master in Iowa City, said both the crops and the crowds are back at her market, despite the town’s record flooding. However, some vendors are still suffering hard losses—one vendor in particular lost 60 acres of arable land to the flooding, and he will not be able to recover that land in future years. Even livestock farmers are suffering. “Our grazing fields were flooded.” reported Lois Pavelka, who raises lamb and pork in Solon for market and for some of the region’s top restaurants. “Even when they do dry out, we don’t want our flocks on them because we don’t know what’s been left behind in the ground.”

For the Washington market, flood recovery isn’t the big problem. Last year’s endless winter is. Bob Shepherd, Washington’s Market Master reported that the rough winter, followed by the cold, damp spring meant planting delays and fragile crops. “[This year offered] optimum conditions for mold on berries and rain splash spread diseases like tomato early blight,” noted Shepherd. While he is happy that the crowds do keep coming to Washington, his biggest concern for the market’s future is not the weather, but rather the cost of fuel. “The Washington Farmers Market has always been an open market welcoming all willing to travel and follow the guidelines. This year, most of our grower/vendor displays originate from inside 35 miles. Market customers we’ve attracted [can come] from 65-70 miles away every week. [But] speaking with a few of the [vending and shopping] regulars that travel 45+ miles one way, they’ve made a difficult decision to reduce visits to once a month.” Shepherd noted with concern. “We’ve had very large crowds of market goers, and our ‘Special Events’ have had great attendance but I’m concerned about the fuel effect.” Despite all the rescheduling, relocating, and recuperating, some of Iowa’s farmers markets are reporting record crowds and brisk sales. “[Vendors are] selling out every week, which means people are interested in buying fresh produce,” said Kelly Foss, Market Master for the state’s biggest market in Des Moines. “During the threat of the flood coming through Des Moines, we did shut down on June 14. That affected us, but we got through that and we’ve been going stronger and stronger every week.” Most Iowa farmers markets will continue their season as scheduled, with many wrapping up once the first frost hits. Hopefully, this year it won’t be early. “It’s just been the strangest year,” reflects Neumann when thinking about her market in Iowa City, “It seems like every season we’ve been experiencing some kind of devastation.”

Eugenia E. Gratto chronicles her adventure in gardening and cooking on
her blog, The Inadvertent Gardener, which can be found at www.TheInadvertentGardener.com She recently transplanted herself from Iowa City to Oakland, Calif., where she tells everyone who will listen they have no idea how good sweet corn can actually be. EDIBLEiowa.COM Summer 2008 13

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Voices From the Field

The View from the West
by Denise O’Brien Photo by Joy Anderson

Denise O'Brien, former candidate for Secretary of Agriculture for Iowa and the founder of the Women, Food & Agriculture Network, is also a farmer in Atlantic. As someone who is committed to Iowa's small farmers, we asked her to tell us what she saw happening to her fellow farmers as the weather set in, and what she decided to do to help.
Things had been tough during the spring. We weren’t able to get the potatoes in on time and getting any cool weather crops in was nearly impossible. The cold, wet weather had settled in and all we could do was wait until it cleared.

I can pinpoint the day that the reality of the spring hit me full force. It was when I heard that a good friend’s barn had been blown down by gale force winds. It was the day that a person on the Practical Farmers of Iowa listserve observed some very serious effects of the spring storms and asked the question: “How are things with everyone out there and is there anything we can do to help?” The stories started coming little by little as people started sharing their experiences and found a safe place to commiserate with fellow farmers. Stories like watching the water rise in the pasture for the fourth or fifth time; having a hoophouse torn apart by fierce winds; not being able to get the oats planted, having the first planting of onions rot and many more. What struck me as I read these tales of hardship was the writer’s optimism that things would get better and that there were lessons to learn from this powerful weather event that had torn people’s lives apart. So many farmers I know are teachers by nature and want to share what happens in order to make things better.

From time to time, I would check with my farmer friends in Linn and Johnson counties to see how things were with them. I felt very lucky to have had a tolerable winter compared to what they had gone through. I’ve always wished I were closer to their farms so we could at least share our lives on a more frequent basis, but after this year, I much prefer my Western Iowa roots.

The weather pattern was reminding me only too well of the fateful summer of 1993.

I am a weather geek. I spend a fair share of my computer time looking at radar, clicking on the storm tracks and the animation to see what is coming and where it is going. My collection of storm pictures this spring has been phenomenal. It seems like the lows have been centered over our state and most of the time stationary. When Elywinn Taylor was a regular on WOI radio, I listened faithfully each week and even called in a time or two. It’s hard to remember when things started to get very serious, but there was a point in time when it seemed that the wet and cold were here to stay. The weather pattern was reminding me only too well of the fateful summer of 1993.

In early June I called Farm Aid to ask if anyone from Iowa had been in touch with them. The answer was negative and they wondered what was going on. Soon after a group of people assembled over the phone to make an assessment of situation and decided that there needed to be a disaster relief fund set up to help those who would slip through the bureaucratic cracks when it came to assistance. The Iowa Disaster Relief Fund was set up with Willie Nelson contributing the first $10,000 to aid farm families. Farmers can download the guidelines and application, and donors can donate, at the www.IowaFarmRelief.org.

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Voices From the Field

Grinnell Heritage Farm:
A Soggy Situation, But Not Without Hope
Story and photo by Andrew Dunham
In the Autumn, 2007 issue of Edible Iowa River Valley, writer Brian Morelli met Grinnell farmer Andrew Dunham in his story “Grinnell’s Grip on Local Food.” Although not in the direct path of flooding rivers, the farm was inundated by excessive rains and swelling ground water. We asked Andrew to tell us about how this season’s severe weather impacted his business, his customers and his vision for Grinnell Heritage Farm.
Rarely do I get the opportunity to so publicly gripe about the weather, so when approached to write about the weather difficulties associated with farming we have faced here in Grinnell over the past nine months, I couldn’t refuse. My wife, Melissa and I own and operate Grinnell Heritage Farm, Inc, a transitioning-to-organic diversified vegetable operation. I am a fifthgeneration farmer on our 151-year-old family farm, and I’ve been farming it since 2006. The local foods movement has treated us well. We started 2008 with a record-breaking 109 subscribers to our CSA program, We had plans to vend at markets in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, and Grinnell. We were also planning to sell directly to seven local institutions and grocers during high season, including the Mayflower Home (a retirement community in Grinnell), New Pioneer Co-op, and Grinnell College. We also had visions of putting in a roadside stand and possibly even making enough money to support our family from our farm income. When we were preparing the farm for wintering last year, we were looking forward to these plans. Our vegetable fields sit at the top of a watershed and 16 Summer 2008 EDIBLEiowa.COM receive no runoff from other places so we had no expectations of excess moisture. We were just doing the things we normally do once the growing season ends: such as mulching the garlic and onions, digging root crops, and replacing fence. Then the autumn rains came, saturating the soils as we went into winter. December’s early winter snows melted in January and refroze into a thick sheet of ice winter: killing over 95 percent of our wintering spinach field and nearly half of our mulched onions. Then, late winter snows covered all of our vegetable beds and left a snowdrift nearly 10 feet tall north of our greenhouse. That drift covered our designated leek bed, and since it didn’t melt until early April, our plantings were delayed by four weeks. In late March, we decided to start seeding transplants in the greenhouse. Because temperatures were record-breakingly low this spring, we had to continue heating the greenhouse through mid-May which meant additional heating bills. In a typical year, we plant onion seedlings and spinach outdoors in midApril. But this year, we couldn’t even get in the field until late-April/early-May. Unusually low temperatures and saturated soil left the wet ground overly clumpy and compacted soils when tilled. By June 2, we had planted all of our cucurbits (cucurbits are members of the cucumber family, including squash, melons, cucumbers, etc.), but the seeds rotted in the ground when it started raining again. This time for 12 straight days. Between June 2 and June 24, we got more than 12 inches of rain. When it stopped, we had lost many of our carrots, nearly all of our salad and arugula

...the farm looked like a moonscape with six acres of once fertile, rich land now ugly, compacted soil with huge cracks.
seedings, sweet corn, and many others. Onions and leeks that had been planted in already wet soils sat in water for days on end during the rains. Our greenhouse flooded with three to five inches of water. We resorted to running a sump pump for both the fields and the greenhouse. It ran for over four days and was pumping roughly eight gallons a minute. We also dug ditches to divert the water. But our early greenhouse tomato plants had already lost two flower sets each, reducing our greenhouse tomato yield by over 1200 pounds. When it was all over in early July, the fields did dry out. But the farm looked like a moonscape with six acres of once fertile, rich land now ugly, compacted soil with huge cracks. We have since replanted what we could and are trying desperately to catch up on weeding. However, our market and commercial sales have suffered greatly, our CSA boxes look quite different than we planned, and the roadside stand is being put on hold until next year. Our county, Poweshiek, has been declared a disaster (as have so many others) and we have begun filing paperwork with Farm Service Agency to make us eligible for any federal farm relief package. We are also trying to recoup some of our loss through disaster relief programs. This channel is easier for conventional row crop farmers to navigate than vegetable farmers because there is federal crop insurance for corn and soybeans and doing the field mapping and associated paperwork for these big crops is much easier than for a diversified farm like ours. Although our expansion plans have been put on hold for this season and things are looking slightly different than we had planned, we’ll have to crunch financial numbers this winter to see what we can do for next year. In the meantime however, we are still very hopeful about the future and at least our chard is still dry and happy, and more importantly, available for sale!

As Edible Iowa River Valley was going into production in late July, Grinnell Heritage Farms took on another seven inches of rain in less than a week. This destroyed a bumper, replanted arugula crop, rotted carrots, and allowed weeds to run rampant over beets. Yet, Andrew remained optimistic. “Every farmer has a year like this,” he said with almost a chuckle. “We’ll make it through.”

When asked what can people do to help farmers like him, Andrew has a simple answer: Buy your CSA share for next year early— preferably before Christmas. This will give farmers like Andrew a much needed cash infusion and a plan for the growing season. “We are taking care of our CSA members first,” Andrew says. “They are our future.” Grinnell Heritage Farm 1933 Penrose Street, Grinnell 641.236.4374 • GrinnellHeritageFarm@gmail.com

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Voices From the Field

Columbus Junction
By Mallory Smith Photo by Joy Anderson

As the statewide coordinator of Iowa's Buy Fresh, Buy Local Campaigns, Mallory Smith usually offers Edible Iowa River Valley readers an overview of Iowa’s various local food initiatives. This season, however, one of the most important stories affecting Iowa’s local food system was happening in her backyard.
I call Columbus Junction home. When I say that, I always hope the response will be “the place with all the great Mexican food?” so I can happily launch into a detailed description of the culinary delights of this unique southeast Iowa town. Columbus Junction, population 1,900, is home to 13 restaurants (five Mexican) and four grocery stores (three Hispanic). However, for a couple of weeks this June, my association with Columbus Junction was often met with a gasp. Columbus Junction was notorious this summer, but it wasn’t for tacos. This is where the Cedar and Iowa Rivers meet, and as the flood waters came, so did the journalists and politicians. They seemed amazed with what they found: hundreds of people in a synchronized effort to build a giant levee to protect the lower portion of town from the raging river. It was an inspiring example of community spirit. Sadly, in the end, the makeshift barrier failed, and over two-dozen businesses and non-profits were flooded, including the town’s largest grocery store, three restaurants, the farmers market site and the senior meal services distribution center. When a water treatment facility and a connecting well were closed, a boil order was imposed. But the same community spirit that was called upon to protect Columbus Junction one week was enlisted to help with recovery the next week. During the floods, a make-shift cafeteria was quickly set up for dozens of National Guard members and volunteers, and the Red Cross organized daily distribution of bottled water and prepared meals.

Now it is several weeks later, and the flood still lingers. For the next 3 months, Columbus Junction residents need to go to Wapello for groceries. The Mexican stores have to readjust their inventory to meet new demands, and the flooded downtown restaurants will take months to reopen, leaving regulars looking for a place to eat and employees looking for jobs. Indeed, Columbus Junction, which normally has one restaurant for every 150 people, needs to do its own cooking, but without the benefit of a big grocery store.

Columbus Junction is a small town making it easy to see how things fit together.
However, the farmers market is back, filling a critical need for fresh food and economic development. Held every Friday at the Senior Center parking lot, the market was almost exactly in the center of Columbus Junction’s flood zone. After skipping a week, it reopened on June 20th at the American Legion parking lot on the north end of Main Street. The first week featured only vendors from the west as the bridge to the east was still closed. By the second week the bridge was open and the five core vendors were back in place. And now, the market is more popular than ever Columbus Junction is a small town making it easy to see how things fit together. The lesson I imagine coming out of this is the same for many Iowan communities: that the local food system is a vital part of the community—socially, economically and nutritionally. As the song says, “you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.” How fortunate that what was gone can be rebuilt.

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Iowa’s small farmers
Resilient to the End
By Brian Morelli Photo by Kurt Michael Friese

Natural disasters have far reaching consequences, and the flood of 2008 is no different. Stories of people and survival and ruined homes may be the first thing to resonate when they think of the flood of 2008. Forty thousand people were evacuated from 30 Iowa communities, according to the state. But, in an agriculture-laden state like this one, the stories of water-logged farmland is just detrimental and just as sad and the reverberating effect may stretch just as far. Take central Iowa, for example. Peter Hoehnle, a project manager for Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development (Iowa Valley RC&D), said 25,000 acres between Marengo and Belle Plaine were underwater. “That is the heart of our area,” he said. 22 Summer 2008 EDIBLEiowa.COM

Iowa Valley RC & D, which is based in Main Amana, works to help people protect and develop their economic, natural, and social resources in ways that better their community’s economy, environment and quality of life. “What we’ve been hearing is that folks are wrapped up with clean up efforts and are frustrated with how slow it’s going,” Hoehnle said in reference to both aid and clean up efforts. The Iowa Valley RC & D recently welcomed Farm Aid, a national organization that works to support family farmers. Members of Iowa Valley RC & D took Farm Aid representatives on a tour of flooded farm lands in Iowa and Benton counties. And country music legend Willie Nelson, probably the best known Farm Aid advocate, contributed $10,000 towards flood relief. He announced this at an event in June. I think they were impressed by the damage that was done and quite shocked by it,” Hoehnle said.

Every bit helps, and the exposure certainly doesn’t hurt, but unfortunately $10,000 is such a small fraction of the damage. Even with an extra $40,000 the organization hopes to raise, it still barely makes a dent. State officials have estimated that crop damage could hit $3 billion, and poor crops could put farm families out of business. In central Iowa, local farmers keep plugging away. The farmers markets in this stretch of the state have continued. After a several weeks of limited options and quantities, the supplies appear to have rebounded. “Everything is very late. For example, we were just picking cherries yesterday and we should have picked them three or four weeks ago,” Hoehnle said in early July. But Hoehnle knows farmers are resilient. “I think it kind of goes with the territory. Obviously, this is very unusual, but when you are a farmer this is a risk you take. People are preoccupied by the flood, but we continue to plan and move forward.” Other parts of the state are finding similar fortunes. In Tama County the crops could be small this year, but the biggest impact appears to be that production is going to be late. Earl Sievers has a small organic growing operation in Toledo and works for a grain elevator. Sievers has been touring farms in the Tama County area. The flooding will likely cause a smaller yield this year, he said, because prior to the floods there was lots and lots of rain. “In our area here pretty much all of them,” Sievers said of who is affected. “It is kind of unfortunate because this is a year where farmers have a chance to get some good prices, and here they are without a full yield. They are not going to be able to realize the full benefit.” The saving grace amidst all of the flooding is the high grain prices, particularly for corn growers. The small crops will not be quite as devastating for them. Farmers are seeing a delayed season as the biggest challenge after the smaller yields, “The big thing was everything was delayed. A lot of the crops got put in late. That is going to hurt some of the fields. The things that were planted just kind of sat there. There was not a lot of sunshine,” Sievers said. “I think we are going to see less yield, especially in this area. A lot of farmers couldn’t get to their fields to put things in.” But, it wasn’t a total loss, and things are starting to look up, he said. “Just now crops are starting to look a lot better,” he said in mid July. Heading east, the attention is a lot more prominent. Flooding in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City corridor, particularly downtown Cedar Rapids and roughly one-third of University of Iowa campus were a mainstay on the national news networks for a few days. However, farmlands in Johnson and Linn counties fared a bit better than their urban neighbors and agricultural lands in other parts of the state.

The recovery will be long and costly. But one thing is for sure, Mother Nature loves Iowa’s locally grown foods, and she will hasten their return.
“My understanding is our farmers have fared well. Very few have been affected by flood,” said Leah Wilson with Johnson County Local Food Alliance. “I think it points to the strength of the diversity of the farms to be able to handle such adverse weather.” Coping with such a crisis is difficult, both during and after. The recovery will be long and costly. But one thing is for sure, Mother Nature loves Iowa’s locally grown foods, and she will hasten their return.

Brian Morelli is a journalist who covers university news for the Iowa City Press-Citizen. A recent University of Iowa graduate, Morelli has a major in
journalism and minor in political science. Prior to writing, Morelli traveled for several years primarily in the U.S. and Canada, and he cooked professionally at several restaurants across the country. He currently resides in Iowa City with his wife and two children.

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Enduring Edibles:

The Gerst Family holds its own
Story and photo By Criss Roberts
On the edge of Gerst Family’s cornfield in Des Moines County, is the Mississippi River, still swollen weeks after floodwaters covered nearly 17,000 acres of farmland a few miles north. Behind the farmhouse, past a picture-perfect field of sweet corn, a long white line of sandbags remains. That sand levee saved the Gersts—Fred, Susan, their seven children and their160 acre farm—from this year’s deluge.This summer, even before the devastating flood waters began receding out of sight, the Gersts had to take out hoses to water their crops. “We were fighting a flood and watering at the same time,” Susan said. in most years—of sitting through bone-dry meetings. In the spring, the drainage district got an official report which said it was unlikely there would be flooding this year. By early June, they knew that was wrong, and soon thereafter, Fred spent some nights on levees with flashlights and neighbors, praying they would hold. The Gersts are the second generation to work these 160 acres north of Burlington. Fred grew up on the farm, planting the corn and beans in federally approved rotations. That changed over the years. When Susan began to rethink the way she fed her family, opting for natural and organic, it forced the family to reconsider its farming practices. The chemicals became a last resort.

Fred also had previous experience with the Mississippi’s fury. In 1965, when Fred was 11, he stood by the family’s barn, watching the levee break. The water spilled over a mile of the loamy soil and crested at 21.5 feet that year—four feet lower than this year’s record. In 1993, things were only marginally better when the bad luck of a burst levee in Burlington took pressure off the river at the Gersts’ farm and their levee held.

We were fighting a flood and watering at the same time

“I had to relearn how to use a cultivator,” Fred said. “We farmed for 30 years the traditional way, but we knew in our hearts it wasn’t good.” The Gersts work constantly to make their small farm viable. And it’s the sweet corn on which they’ve staked their reputation. The Gerst corn is in such demand that market-goers are known to line up 40-deep for three hours on the first day it is available. Last year, they had a constant supply of corn from mid-July through October, a bounty which carried them through most of the indoor fall market. “I was picking corn in one field and Fred was planting corn [in another],” Susan said of last year’s corn marathon. “I could have killed him.” The Gersts knew that flooding is always a possibility where property boundaries are marked by rivers. But the chances of flooding like this, during what some are now calling a 1000-year flood, are only .001 percent in any given year. Long odds, and worth the gamble. “It’s some of the most productive land in the world,” Fred Gerst said. “And you just figure it’s never gonna flood.”

This year, the water climbed higher and higher, lapping at the top of the levee, and seeping through the bottom. As in 1993, a levee burst—this time across the river in Gulfport, IL, again rerouting the brunt of the still-climbing floodwaters away from the family farm. As the water continued to rise in mid-June, the family turned from farming to fighting, letting the weeds take over their fields, leaving the weekly rounds of farmers markets and produce auctions on hold while they first cleared out the lower levels of their house, moved the animals and built barriers around their gardens. Then, they spread out into the neighborhood to help—doing whatever they could. Fred was doing more than double duty. In addition to farming, he is a Commissioner for the local drainage district, a thankless job that consists— 24 Summer 2008 EDIBLEiowa.COM

But it did. As floods spilled through Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Columbus Junction, south east Iowa started preparing. The Iowa River was causing tremendous damage upstream. Particularly once the Coralville Reservoir opened its gates to relieve flooding in Iowa City, and the water was heading south to Oakville, where the Iowa River meets the Mississippi. It was Oakville where some of the most emotional flood photos were taken, hogs stretched out on the steel roofs of submerged buildings or swimming for their lives. Just before the waters went out of control, donated trucks hauled pork-stuffed semi-trailers out of the area. While the hog caravan rolled out, volunteers flowed in from out of state to pack up. In the scheme of things, the Gersts actually had it easier than most. Sure they lost their first planting of green beans, to suffocating weeds. And after a few days of serious weeding the rest of the garden continued producing with abandon, and now, the Gersts are awash in beans, broccoli, cabbage, and of course, corn. Gerst Family Farm Fred & Susan Gerst 8261 125th Street, Burlington 319.754.4958

Criss Roberts, a Chicago native, married into an Iowa farm family. She lives in Burlington, where she writes for various publications and websites about local food.

Freezing corn on the cob
Thanks to the long winter and the wet spring, this year’s growing season is a little shorter than usual. One way to keep summer alive is to preserve sweet corn. Blanche husked ears in a big pot of boiling water. (Small ears should boil for 7 minutes, large ones for 11 minutes). Cool immediately in an ice bath. In a sealed bag, either freeze the corn cob whole, or shave kernels off for corn niblets.

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A Not So Rainy Day for One Step at a Time Gardens
By Dave Murphy
In the late spring of this year, Jan Libbey and her husband Tim Landgraf of One Step At A Time Gardens in Kanawha were like most farmers in Iowa. They were hoping that the unseasonably wet and cool weather that marked April and May would eventually yield a bumper crop. Since 1994, Libbey, Landgraf and their children, Andrew and Jess, have been providing north central Iowa families in Des Moines, Mason City, Clear Lake, Belmond, Clarion, and Garner with CSA shares, and area farmers markets with fresh produce and organically-fed, pastured chickens. As they have for years, Libbey planned for two interns to work on the farm this season. Usually the interns are busy tending to crops and prepping CSA deliveries. This year however, on the day the interns arrived, the weather was so bad that they all sat in the farmhouse huddled around the television listening to the latest severe weather alerts, and watching the intense thunderstorms and driving rain pound their beds of fresh produce. The farm was soaked with over 6 1/2 inches of rain in the first weeks of June. That was on top of 8 inches in May. Instead of planning how to stay on top of the crops, Libbey instead worried that her gardens were turning into a very soggy vegetable stew. “I’m sure [the weather] made quite an impression,” says Libbey of the interns. But there was more to come. On Monday, June 9, it was still raining, and water from the wetlands and river that borders the farm overflowed. The road leading to their farm was flooded and One Step At A Time Gardens was completely cut off to the outside world. That’s about when Libbey sent an email to Practical Farmers of Iowa. “Our immediate problem is flooding that has us landlocked.” She wrote. “Living adjacent to a wetland, the road and our lane are flooded, cutting off access either direction. Monday morning we had access one direction. By noon the water has risen and we had to ferry folks in and out of the farm by kayak. We have vegetable crop harvested for member delivery—fully expecting to be able to get out the one direction, but now we are waiting.” The only way they could get off the farm for the next several days was by kayak. Libbey missed several CSA deliveries and other opportunities for selling the farm’s crops. It wasn’t until four days later, that Libbey was finally able to drive over their own water-logged fields and across a neighbor’s soybeans to make it to the North Iowa Farmers Market in Mason City. This escape route became a regular routine, as the road to their farm remained under two feet of water for another nine days. The crops took a significant hit too. Landgraf, an engineer by trade, noted that, creating the planting, crop rotation and seeding plans this summer was challenging. “Nothing is easy this year,” he said. “In some beds we’ve lost 30 to 50 percent from drowning out and had to replant. And all the water his has meant spending extra time weeding.”

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Libbey estimates that the farm’s losses this year could top 15 percent of their annual yield. Yet she remains optimistic...
Libbey estimates that the farm’s losses this year could top 15 percent of their annual yield. Yet she remains optimistic, responding with the care and diligence of someone who loves the land and cares about the quality of produce they deliver to their customers. “Farming isn’t a science, it’s an art,” says Libbey, thinking about her life’s passion. “You respond by trying to use some creativity to make things work. We’ve had to start things over in the hoop house or plow beds under, but you can always make up for it.” One way One Step At A Time Gardens avoided even bigger losses was by having a diversified crop plan. “Fortunately, CSA [farms] are diversified enough crop-wise that if one crop doesn’t work, then another one can pick up the slack. We try to make it so our members have enough produce in their basket each week with plenty of variety.” Unless it rains more, One Step At A Time Gardens has a lot to offer for the rest of the summer: tomatoes (over 11 varieties including Cherokee Purple, Big Beefy, Celebrity, Goldie, Brandywine, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Pineapple, Green Zebras and Early Girl), spinach, lots of lettuces, winter

squash, zucchini, sweet beans, yellow beans, sugar snap peas, carrots, green onions, green garlic, red garlic, peppers and eggplant, and at least three types of potatoes. For Libbey, this season was indeed far from a wash. “Maybe this is an opportunity for change,” says Libbey, “for a major change in our food system. If there really is a movement in society afoot regarding local foods and building a network for that, then we have to do what we can to support that.” And for Libbey and Landgraf each season—with its challenges and rewards—helps make that system stronger, one step at a time. One Step at A Time Gardens 1465 120th Street, Kanawha 641.495.6367 • OSTGardens.com

Dave Murphy is a sixth generation Iowan and an advocate for sustainable agriculture. When not roaming the Iowa countryside, he spends his time in Des Moines, Okoboji, and Clear Lake.

Photo by One Step at A Time Gardens.

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Even areas that escaped most of the heavy rains have been affected by 2008’s strange weather patterns. Most of Iowa suffered through a tough winter that produced record snowfalls and a cooler-than-normal spring. That got crops off to a slow start.

Edible Endeavors

CSAs Show Stamina
By Michael Knock Photo by Carole Topalian

“Germination was very poor from the very beginning,” said Denise O’Brien who runs a small CSA near Atlantic. “The carrots and the lettuce didn’t do very well. We postponed one week of CSA distribution. But it’s getting better now.” Laura Krouse agreed. Krouse runs Abbe Hills Garden, a CSA for 150 families near Mt. Vernon. She said that she initially had the same problems as everyone else: cool temperatures and too much rain. The rains were an especial problem because they eroded away much of her topsoil. Still, her garden has recovered. “If it lived and it grew, it’s fabulous” Krouse said. Still, she added, everything in her garden continues to be a few weeks behind. She said that her customers have been very understanding. In fact, she said that’s where the genius of Community Supported Agriculture can be seen. The customers who buy shares in CSAs also accept a share in the risk of farming, and a big part of that risk is the weather. “The beauty of the CSA is that customers absorb some of the risk,” Krouse said. “There is no other way to reduce the risk of farming.” Armstrong and Grant agreed. Both emphasized that their CSA customers had been incredibly understanding about their decision to suspend produce deliveries. Still, they said that this year had been frustrating. While some of their crops—sweet corn, potatoes, onions, and garlic, for example—look good, others are probably lost for the season. They replanted some crops as many as six times, but each time the rains washed them out. Frustration like that can take a toll on a person. “It knocks the wind out of you,” Grant said. “You don’t get that year back, so it’s tough.” “I’m a very upbeat person,” Armstrong continued. “Barb told me a couple of times, you need to get out of the house. You’re getting depressed. …Go out and talk to your friends.” Monetary support for CSAs and other small farmers is out there. Singer Willie Nelson met with farmers at Tama in late June and pledged the support of Farm Aid to help farmers affected by this season’s weird weather. So has the Iowa Farm Disaster Relief Coalition, a group of 12 different midwestern organizations that includes Buy Fresh Buy Local and Edible Iowa River Valley. Slow Food USA has turned its Terra Madre Relief Fund, originally created to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, toward Heartland flood relief. Chris Taglia, a resource conservationist with Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development in Main Amana, said farmers should also talk to their local soil and conservation officers about what additional assistance might be available to them. “Non-traditional farmers aren’t used to going to those offices,” Taglia said. “They may think they don’t qualify. But [this year’s weather] is going to have a huge adverse impact on our area. People need to get as much support as they can.”

It was the hardest email Mark Armstrong ever had to write. Armstrong and his wife, Barbara Grant, run Acoustic Farms, a 40-acre farm two miles east of Springville. As a small operation, they produced peas, onions, spinach, Swiss chard, lettuce, bok choy, tomatoes, potatoes, squash, and mushrooms for 15 CSA customers in 2007, the first year of Acoustic Farm’s Community Service Agriculture program. Things went so well, they cautiously expanded their list of customers to 20 for 2008. And then the rains came. “We couldn’t get into our fields,” Grant explained. “The seeds wouldn’t germinate because it was too cold. Some came up valiantly, but they would stay about an inch high.” When the rain stopped, the soil became compacted—Armstrong compared it to cement—making it hard to replant. So, in June the couple finally decided to write the email to announce what Armstrong had been dreading: Acoustic Farms CSA was suspending delivery of fresh produce. “To write that email that said we couldn’t deliver the produce was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Armstrong said. “It was devastating. It brought tears to my eyes before I pushed that send button. We probably should have personally called each and every customer, but I couldn’t do that.” Acoustic Farms wasn’t alone. Heavy rains washed out crops and roads disrupting CSA’s across eastern Iowa and causing some to reduce the amount of fresh produce that they offer and others to cease distribution entirely. 28 Summer 2008 EDIBLEiowa.COM

And, for some, there is always the option of replanting… again. “Even today, we were debating, ‘Should we replant or not?’“ Grant said. “It’s not for lack of seeds. In a way it’s the disappointment you face. Do we want to get our hopes up again? It’s kind of like falling in love. How many times do you want to put your heart on the line just to get your hopes dashed?” Still, Grant is hopeful that despite the trials of 2008, there’s always next year. “There’s the Thomas Jefferson quote, ‘I may be an old man, but I am always a young gardener,’“ Grant said. “That means, hope. We’ve always got to have hope.”

The Iowa Farm Disaster Relief Coalition is accepting donations and relief applications at IowaFarmRelief.org. Slow Food’s Terra Madre Relief Fund is at SlowFoodUSA.org.

Michael Knock is a lifelong Iowan who grew up learning how to cook
while standing on a kitchen chair at his mother's side. He writes the weekly food column for the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

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Advertiser Directory
Edible Iowa River Valley is brought to you by these advertising partners. These partners support Iowa’s best local and artisanal foods and carry Edible Iowa River Valley.

AMES Chocolaterie Stam 230 Main St. 515.232.0656 StamChocolate.Com AmesEats.Com

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Motley Cow Café 160 N. Linn St. 319.688.9177 New Pioneer Food Co-op 22 S. Van Buren 319.338.9441 NewPi.Com Riverside Theatre 213 N. Gilbert St. 319.338.7672 RiversideTheatre.Org
KALONA Organic Greens 319.656.4220 LEIGHTON Tassel Ridge Vineyard 1681 220th St. 641.672.9463 TasselRidge.com LISBON Sutliff Cider Company 382 Sutliff Rd. 319.455.4093 SutliffCider.Com MARENGO Fireside Winery 1755 P Avenue (V. 77) 319.662.4222 FiresideWinery.com MARQUETTE Eagle’s Landing Winery 127 North St. 563.873.2509 EaglesLandingWinery.Com SOLON Redhead 240 E. Main St 319.624.5230

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Devotay 117 N. Linn St. 319.354.1001 Devotay.net The Englert Theater 221 E. Washington St. 319.688.2653 Englert.Org Iowa City Farmers Market Lower Level Chauncey Swan Parking Ramp 319. 356.5210 John’s Grocery 401 E. Market St. 319.337.2183 JohnsGrocery.com Lammers’ Construction 35 Imperial Ct. 319.354.5905 LammersConstruction.Com

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