Archive for November, 2014

Long Journey Home

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

It’s been a long journey, but the caravan is within sight of home. On November 21st at 5:00 p.m., the Amery Community Food Hub will celebrate its completion with a formal dedication ceremony, including a ribbon-cutting, a presentation, tours of the Food-Hub facility, hors d’oeuvres, and champagne. This event is free and open to the public of Amery.

It should be a fun night! Next door at the movie theatre, there will be a 7:00 showing of a locally made film from 2004, featuring Amery actors and citizens. So, come on down, grab a bite to eat, enjoy an Amery-themed dinner at Farm Table, then watch a film made right here in western Wisconsin. Or, get a table and just hang out with friends and linger over craft beer, keg wine and coffee.

This dedication marks the end of a journey. Last year, 2013, the idea of a Food Hub in Amery was in its infancy. In fact, it existed only on paper, and only as a concept. With Locus Architects, a Minneapolis design firm, Resilient Northern Habitats swung open the doors of City Hall on a crisp November day and fired up a slide presentation showing artist renderings of what the old Fay Auto Building would look like after an extensive — super extensive — rehab process.

Having something on paper and having something tangible on the ground — the difference there is akin to the difference of dreaming and being awake.

To this point, I am not certain that people fully grasp what has happened over the past year within the 12,000 square foot confines we are now calling the Amery Food Hub. So, picture this: what once was a livery stable, that sounded of stomping horses and clattering hammers — that was built in an era of hand-mixed cement and board-formed walls, in a single year of furious work by local contractors, now is a stunningly beautiful and comfortable restaurant with one of the most powerful, efficient, clean and modern kitchens in all of northwest Wisconsin. And its patio, which was once Tyler’s Tavern and a tiny barber shop, is now an exquisite assemblage of pavers, planter boxes, LED lights and perennial plants.

In addition, in the back of the building, where old Model T’s once had their engines checked, there is now a completely refurbished, fully licensed food-grade warehouse for organic produce, complete with a 24′ x 24′ walk-in cooler. This is the Hungry Turtle Farmers Coop and it experiences the coming and going of pallet-sized loads of produce, most of it headed to the Twin Cities market on a 24′ reefer truck. About a million dollars of product went through the warehouse in 2014, and next year, the farmers are hoping to double that. Or triple. These guys are brassy. And they love to work.

And, up front in the two north store fronts, what was once a Napa Auto Parts store, and more recently, a retail dog-food outlet, is now Hungry Turtle Institute, a non-profit that holds classes and events to build understanding of the importance of quality local food: for people’s health, for the strength of the local economy, for the benefit of this area’s soil, water and habitat. Once the show floor for the newest Chevies, the space features beautiful wood floors, historic tin ceilings, and most important of all, a stunning commercial kitchen. The kitchen has a dual function: it can be rented by area producers, if they get a State license, so their food products can be legally sold in retail outlets or to restaurants. And, the kitchen hosts cooking classes and demonstrations so that visitors can experience one of the great pleasures in life: taking locally grown food and making it into heavenly-tasting meals. Last, but by no means least, the Hungry Turtle space also functions as a banquet facility, capable of hosting receptions, dances, retirement parties — if you have a group, and you love local food from Farm Table Restaurant — beer, wine or great coffee — this is the place to throw a memorable event. Bring musicians. Put on a tux. Dress in that gown. We’ve got the old time flavor of hospitality. Complete with a few faded oil stains through the wood finish. In the end, gotta remember the old Chevies.

Folks, this story has history, a ton of characters, all the local flavor you could want, complete with style, grace and charm. What is old is made new again. And it all comes together around local food, local farmers and how we can take back our local economy, our personal health and appreciation of Wisconsin’s small-farm heritage.

Hope to see friends old and new on November 21st at 5:00 p.m.