By Isaac Andino
People sometimes mistakenly think that Iowa does not boast exciting, tasty events—but that is because they have not heard of the Farm Ramble happening this Sunday, Sept. 15. The event is an open house for local farms to exhibit their fresh, organic produce and for visitors to learn about the work that goes into a farm and taste some of the delicious food that comes out.
The first Farm Ramble was created three years ago by stakeholders in the Marshalltown community determined to form a local food network with a mission to “Build a strong local food economy by developing economic opportunities; by energizing and educating residents in the Marshalltown county area in their production and consumption of local foods and by forging new connections between producers and eaters.”
By all accounts, they’ve succeeded. The event has two new farms participating this year, bringing the total to six. Visitors are free to stop by any of the farms, in whatever order they want, from 12 to 6 p.m.
This year, the Farm Ramble is also doing something it has never done before —partnering up with a local restaurant, Relish, located just a few blocks off campus. Run by Kamal Hammouda, Relish has been dedicated to using local and organic supplies for the past 27 years.
“How could I not?” Kamal asked. “I grew up helping my family pick up food from the farm. For me, going to the supermarket is just more inconvenient, not to mention I just don’t agree with it.”
The pairing of Relish with the Ramble is an appropriate match, since Kamal and Relish have been committed to the local foods cause long before the Ramble existed. This weekend’s menu will include some ingredients from the local farms featured in the Ramble.
The Ramble officially kicks off at noon in Marshalltown at the Midwest Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and everyone is welcome to come. Last year people came from all over the state.
“We would like to see a couple hundred participants on the Ramble, if not more,” said Sally Wilson, event organizer. Among the day’s treats will be the anticipated local foods take on the classic hotdog, offered at the start of the Ramble in Marshalltown.
“We will have locally produced natural hotdogs available along with great condiments and relishes produced from fresh produce this season.”
One of the stops this year will be Middle Way Farms, run by resident farmer and local foods enthusiast Jordan Scheibel ’10 at the Grin City Collective.
“I started out at the Grinnell Heritage Farm and really loved it,” he said.
Three years on, the Connecticut native is still invested in Iowa’s farms and foods.
“I started the farm last year and this is my first year participating in the Farm Ramble. I grow just about everything here—tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, eggplants, squash, basil and more … [about] 40 different types of produce in total.”
In fact, Scheibel’s impressive array of produce is culminating in his application for organic certification of Middle Way Farm. Scheibel encourages fellow Grinnellians to check out Middle Way and the other Ramble farms as a fun way to see the local community.
“I look forward to see who shows up,” he said.
Another local farm not to be missed is Compass Plant CSA at 2039 Penrose. Lisle Dunham and Ann Brau have been running the farm since 2000, and it was the first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) venture in Grinnell.
CSAs take a modern spin on the traditional farm, wherein local people purchase a “share” in a farm and in return they receive a weekly box of fresh produce. Compass Plant is no stranger to the Farm Ramble, and the two-year veterans of the Ramble stress the range of opportunities the event offers.
Brau encourages all to stop by.
“We always look forward to meeting people with an interest in local foods and how they are produced. Anyone looking to improve their diet, become more sustainable in their food choices or having an interest in alternative agriculture would be able to find information about this on the Ramble. Last year we had over 100 people visit and would love to see more this year!” she said.
The rave reviews and packed schedule have proved popular in the past with locals of all ages, some even experiencing unexpected revelations.
“[Last year, a young boy] tried the gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free zucchini chocolate cake and declared that it was as good as his grandma’s,” Wilson remembered.
If you’d like to see how Grandma’s chocolate cake shapes up, not to mention support Grinnell’s local foods community, bring yourself and your appetite to any one of the Farm Ramble locations this Sunday from 12 to 6 p.m.