Farm to Table, Iowa-Style
Much of the nation relies on the food produced by Iowa farmers, so it makes sense to include a farm meal or farm visit on your group tour itinerary. It’s also a place to tap into the farm-to-fork concept that fuels a growing number of restaurants that take pride in using local, seasonal ingredients.
A big juicy bonus of touring farm states like Iowa is the food. From milk to dinner rolls to pork tenderloin sandwiches, everything just seems to taste better, much the way we remember it growing up. Since it wouldn’t be a trip to Iowa without visiting a farm, a farmers’ market or a restaurant that relies on farm-fresh ingredients, we suggest a few ways to experience the bounty of America’s heartland.
In Kalona, home to Iowa’s largest Amish colony, the tourism folks can arrange a hearty meal for groups of 10 or more. Served family-style in a Conservative Mennonite home, the spread includes Amish staples like chicken or roast beef, dressing or noodles, mashed potatoes and gravy, salad, vegetables, tapioca pudding and home-baked bread with apple butter or Amish-style peanut butter. Save room for angel food cake with fruit topping or peanut butter pie. Groups can combine their meal with a full-day tour of Amish Country or have a speaker discuss the Amish and Mennonite lifestyles.
How about dinner in a cornfield? For a magical evening, consider reserving seats at Cuisine in the Corn, an annual event staged at Bloomsbury Farm in Atkins. Amid the cornstalks on Aug. 23, some 200 guests will be transported by hayrack to one elegantly appointed long table complete with china, white linens, green napkins, flowers and lots of candles. Free-flowing wine and live music accompany the four-course feast.
Groups get an inside look at dairy production from cow to table at Hansen’s Farm Fresh Dairy in Hudson, a short drive from Waterloo. Tours at this family farm dating back to 1864 let you feed a calf, milk a cow or make butter. Top off your visit with a dish of premium ice cream or cheese curds and crackers. A catered meal can be arranged in the new visitor center. (hansendairy.com). Near the Quad Cities, see robots milking cows and cheese-making operations on the popular tour of Cinnamon Ridge Farm in Donahue. Some tours include the hog barn.
There’s also a taste of the country in the middle of Des Moines, Iowa’s capital and biggest city. Let your group loose at the Downtown Farmers’ Market, held every Saturday morning from May through October. Producers from 51 Iowa counties sell everything from herbs, flowers and fresh-picked fruits and vegetables to cheeses, wines and baked goods. Recognized as one of America’s best farmers’ markets, it spans nine city blocks in the Historic Court District and attracts an average of 20,000 visitors and more than 200 vendors.
Following the national trend in presenting healthy seasonal dishes made mostly with farm-fresh foodstuffs produced just miles away, farm-to-fork restaurants have popped up in many Iowa communities. In the historic East Village of Des Moines, the menu at HoQ evolves almost daily and showcases flavors from around the world using the finest of Iowa ingredients—almost 90% of them from local farms. HoQ features grass-fed beef and lamb, and pasture-raised chicken and duck, all are raised without the use of hormones, antibiotics, steroids or cages. Its butter and cream come from grass-fed cows.
Des Moines’ Proof and Table 128 Bistro in nearby Clive also takepride in using local ingredients. The place to go for locally grown food in Waterloo is the RiverLoop Public Market. The market’s cafe, a favorite with tour groups, has an all-you-can buffet for $11, including drink, dessert, tax and gratuity.
Nostalgia Farms, providing the Quad Cities with chemical-free produce since 1996, owns and operates Fresh Deli at the Freight House on Davenport’s riverfront, offering made-from-scratch soup, sliders, salads, and desserts. . The neighboring Freight House Farmer’s Marketis open every Tuesday and Saturday, year-round.
The Greater Burlington Partnership can customize a “Farm to Fork” itinerary that features tours of farms and wineries along with meals from the very crops and animals raised in the places you’ve just visited. Visit a Mennonite creamery that turns Amish milk into cheese, dine in an Amish home, tour an elk farm, see a certified organic dairy operation and stop by Iowa’s oldest working orchard.