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Farm To Table Options Growing In North Iowa

A collaboration of food producers in North Iowa has resulted in the opening of one of the area’s first farm to table restaurants. That means as much of the menu as possible is locally grown.  

Joshua Frederick is so passionate about his new venture that his steel blue eyes fill with tears as he talks about it.

“I feel like we’re bringing back eating and growing food the way our ancestors did. This is the way things were, you raised your own animals, you grew your own food," the 35-year-old said, "and I just think we’re never going to get entirely back to that but think we can certainly swing the pendulum in a little bit of a different direction.” 

Frederick grew up near Forest City but left the Midwest soon after graduating high school. He says a combination of family ties and food has brought him home.

“Yeah it’s kinda been a long journey. I think it just started out as a little seed in the back of my mind, maybe a couple of years ago while I was still in LA. I really loved what I was doing but I’d been out there for a while," he explains. “I never fancied myself as the kind of person who stays in one place and does the same thing for a long time. And I think something inside me started to fester, searching out for something a little bit different.” 

Pat Blank/IPR

Frederick is partnering with One Vision, formerly known Opportunity Village, to open a farm to table restaurant called Fieldhouse in downtown Clear Lake.  One Vision helps adults with disabilities learn new skills. Chief Development Officer Michael Mahaffey says in 2016 they added growing and packaging produce.

“If you can produce it, we feel like we can sell it now. A year ago we weren’t so sure, so things really have changed in that regard.” Mahaffey said.

Mahaffey says they’re busy selling to a number of grocery stores as well as restaurants, including the Fieldhouse.

“The nice thing for us, is that at one point, we viewed the gardening and produce we create as a therapy, as a means of keeping people busy and doing something meaningful," he said. “And now we’ve been able to convert that into employment, so now people are getting paid for the work they do here.” 

A third member of the farm to table collaboration is North Iowa Fresh, a membership food hub composed of about a dozen farmers.  North Iowa Fresh provides produce, it’s prepared at the commercial kitchen at the One Vision campus, and orders are taken and filled for grocery stores and restaurants.

North Iowa Fresh farmer Josh Nelson from nearby Belmond says working as part of a hub means he can focus on farming rather than marketing.

“It’s fun because someone is out there not only driving you but almost dragging you sometimes to get there, he said. “Because some days it’s hot and you’re tired and you don’t want to do that there’s someone out there who wants you to keep doing it."

Farmer Jan Libbey raises vegetables and chickens with her husband near Kanawha. Libbey has been part of a local food movement for a number of years. While not all past ventures have been successful, she’s optimistic this collaboration will grow and thrive.

“It is the creativity of putting these things together and opening up those possibilities, even in North Iowa," she said. “You look around and you talk about ag in North Iowa and you’d say it’s corn and beans, but there are also these fantastic little niches of things that are happening and it’s making a difference."

Back at the restaurant, Joshua Frederick says having all this local produce is both a blessing and a challenge.

“It forces you into this whole other realm where you’re not conceptualizing dishes and then going and seeking the ingredients, these ingredients come to you and you’re forced to say, 'okay, I just picked this up today, we open this restaurant in like five hours what are we going to do with this?'” he said.

“It gets you into this very spry motion of having to constantly be on your toes and be creative.” Frederick added.

That creativity does not end in Clear Lake.  In August, Joshua and his cousin Nathaniel opened Café Mir in Fertile, a few miles north and just off Interstate 35.  Café Mir features wood fire oven pizzas made with many of the same ingredients provided by North Iowa Fresh .