Between Heaven and Earth

In the words of Sophia Petrillo (I love The Golden Girls), “picture it,” North Manchester, late September 2011, a light rain was falling as 75 hungry farmers, business people, neighbors, family, and friends happily gathered on the J. L. Hawkins Family Farm to dine between heaven and earth. Well, it was close to being “between heaven and earth”.  Because of the rain we  dined between earth and the top of a clear plastic shed.

The guests were unaffected by the weather.  We could see heaven and the food we dined on was definitely heavenly.  The Hawkins Family farm hosts an annual harvest dinner -between heaven and earth – on the farm.  Actually, right in their yard.  The dinner is $75.00 a plate and all the proceeds go to support Hope CSA “a not-for-profit teaching ministry that offers a course of experiential learning and academic study to assist pastors to become healthier and more effective leaders.”  Jeff Hawkins, the farmer, is a pastor and runs Hope CSA.

All the produce and meat served at the dinner was locally grown.  The coffee and beer was also local, well as local as coffee gets.  The FW based local Red Brick Roasters provided the coffee pairing and FW brewery Mad Anthony’s provided the five beers paired with the four courses served.  Oh, and the pretty flowers on the tables were grown there on the farm – no detail ignored!  Chef Jennifer Disler, who has a passion for local food, prepared the menu and did the cooking in a small building behind the farmhouse using largely a brick oven.  The theme for her menu was preservation . . . thinking canning, smoking, and pickling.

The experience started with brick oven French sourdough crostini (the flour used for the bread was milled in Northern Indiana and the bread was made by the farmer’s son) with fresh goat cheese with assorted tomato jams and beet chutney toppers, open faced duck pastrami sandwiches with Sunny Meadow swiss and Oktoberfest mustard.  The appetizer was paired with Mad Anthony Gabby Blonde Lager, Mad Anthony Oktoberfest, and fresh mint flavored water.  The duck pastrami was amazing, I had never had anything like it (and the fact it was slathered in cheese did not hurt).  The beet toppers were both pickled and raw – very fresh and sweet when paired with the goat cheese.  It was a great start.

Throughout the dinner, which was intended to be leisurely and enjoyed, several speakers addressed the group.  The first was Jeff Hawkins, the farmer, and his family.  The Hawkins Farm is truly a family affair.  Both of the Hawkins children and their spouses were heavily involved in farm operations and/or the dinner.  Mr. Hawkins gave us a tour of the farm (from the shed).  The farm is designed to sustain itself as much as possible – all the animals selected are done so with the purpose of supporting another aspect of the farm.  The farm features pigs, chickens, domestic turkey (big white Thanksgiving turkeys), smaller turkeys, and Jersey steers and cows.  There are also some guinea hens, beautiful birds, that decided to cut-up during dinner.  Apparently it took them 2 courses to realize we were there?  This also got the pigs riled up offering us a nice background of farm noises – it was delightful and fun.

The salad course and entrees were served buffet style alongside one another.  The salad was a collection of fresh greens with apples, French breakfast radishes, flat leaf parsley and a maple/sage vinaigrette.   French brick oven pain au levain was paired with the salad along with Mad Anthony’s Woody Pale Ale, fresh mint flavored water, and iced black and lemon tea.

Please prepare yourself for this entree selections . . . it is impressive.  Once passed the salad we encountered the carrot slaw with honey dill dressing, which was delicious.  Probably the freshest carrots I have ever eaten.  Next was smoked Hawkins Farm pastured turkey, pasture-raised Hawkins farm Tamworth ham with peach and caramelized onion jam, Hawkins Farm pastured chicken confit with shallots and thyme, red fingerling roasted potatoes with oven dried tomatoes and garlic, smoked duck greens, summer bean ragout with creme fraiche, toasted corn, leek, eggplant and garlic strata, wax bean pickles with fennel and jalapeno, eggplant pickle relish with chilies and lemon thyme, sweet potato biscuits with rosemary/orange salt paired with Mad Anthony’s Old Woody Pale Ale and Mad Anthony’s Creme Stout.

Amazing.  I had to try it all – everything looked too good to pass up.

All of the meats served were cooked to perfection and were moist and flavorful.  The smoked duck greens were unique and awesome – why wouldn’t you put duck in your leafy greens?  I am Southern I love greens, it is a rule.  My favorites (although all were good) were the ham, turkey, greens, and wax beans.  This was truly an experience that you cannot get anywhere else.  It was an adventure of food, culture, and conversation.

The speakers during dinner continued to provide short comments.  Around the end of the entree service we heard from Cliff Kindy and Mark Sloss.  Mr. Kindy is the owner and farmer of Joyfield Farm, which provided many of the vegetables that we ate on this night.  Mr. Kindy and his wife have a special farm.  Joyfield Farm is organic, simple, and sustainable.  They are involved in a ministry that involved a trip to the Middle East.  Mr. Kindy returned and decided that he was going to do his part so that “we do not have fight over oil” and his part was to “give up the tiller”.  Mr. and Mrs. Kindy plant their vegetables the old fashioned way – with a hoe.  They also have elected to not use public water for irrigation but rather enrich their soil with humus and rotate their crops in a such as way as to encourage water retention.  Now in dry years they do fine.  It is hard, I imagine, but it must be rewarding.  I was very impressed and I deeply admire this couple and what they are doing for themselves and their community.  They are special and the rest of us can learn a lot from folks like these folks.

Mr. Sloss followed Mr. Kindy and he is a pastor that has participated in the Hope CSA program and now serves on the Hope CSA board of directors.  Mr. Sloss gave a lovely talk about the benefits of Hope CSA programming to pastors.  Participants have the opportunity to become closer to creation and spend a day away from the busyness of life.  It sounded like it would be a program useful to many groups of people in addition to the clergy.  Support your local church!

Then came dessert.  Each table received a tray of deliciousness that included honey brownies, zucchini sandwich cookies (think whoopie pies), apple cider caramels, and maple nut brittle all paired with Mad Anthony’s Raspberry Wheat Ale and Red Brick Roaster’s Cafe Volo coffee.  I never dreamed that zucchini would be a dessert, but it was outstanding.  As for the caramels, well, at least one of those ended up in my pocketbook for later.  They were excellent.    The dinner was closed out with the introductions of the chef and cooks.  It was a marvelous evening.  The food was fantastic and the weather cleared just as dinner started.  An added bonus was that our table was filled with fun, interesting, and friendly folks from just down the road.  To my right was a farmer and his wife who live next door on a family farm.  They farm the land and in their spare time build Habitat for Humanity homes.  To my left were faculty members and the president of a local college.  Who would imagine that such a diverse group could be collected on a farm in the middle of Route 300 in North Manchester, Indiana?  It happens.  The most interesting people are often in your backyard, so to speak, but you have to get out there and meet them and more importantly talk to them and you will probably learn a lot.

I really enjoyed this event.  I am so happy and blessed that a kind colleague of mine thought of me when he and his wife could not attend this event, prompting him to pass along his tickets to me.  His generosity was put to good use.  Next year I will be getting a reservation early.  You should too.

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Worthwhile Cause: Community Supported Agriculture

Nearly every Wednesday The Queen and I go to Solomon Farm on Dupont Road for the weekly Farmer’s Market.  There is always a great selection of fruit, vegetables and other goods, including honey, desserts, and educational information.  Also, there are always plenty of folks who want to pet and love on The Queen, which she loves.  So, it is a win-win.

One group that is faithfully present every week is Graber Farms.  Graber Farms is Amish owned and operated.  The operation does not use electricity or modern conveniences.  A non-Amish volunteer has started a website for them that she maintains.  She also comes out weekly to sell and promote the organization.  Graber Farms is a certified organic farm that supplies produce to local markets, restaurants, and companies in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan.  Graber also has a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation that provides weekly deliveries to subscribing citizens – 20 pounds of organic produce – from May 30 to October 15.  You can purchase in 10 or 20 week shares in small, medium or large sizes.  Graber also has U-Pick events and the option to purchase farm shares.

Graber produce is the freshest you can get, it is organic, and it is local.  There is no better way to support the local economy than to support such an organization.

CSAs exist throughout the Midwest and beyond.  Another favorite farm of mine is the Hawkins Family Farm in North Manchester, Indiana.  The Hawkins Family Farm also offers a CSA that includes beef, chicken, turkey, and pork as well as fresh produce and more (there will be a future post on their fabulous Between Heaven and Earth Dinner).

There are certainly CSAs and local farms everywhere, find one near you and support it.  It will make you feel good and food is pretty!

Farm Fresh Pizza

Drive down any Indiana state route and you will see signs for farm fresh tomatoes, sweet corn, peppers, onions, eggs and the like.  There is a farmers’ markets open somewhere nearly every day of the week.  But I only know of one place where you can get pizza fresh from the farm.

The J. L. Hawkins Family Farm (“HFF”), located just outside of N. Manchester, Indiana (about 40 minutes from FW), is 90 acres of gorgeous farm land that is a third generation family run farm. The farm has a small store as well as a share-system allowing people to purchase a share of the farm so that they can collect from the farm’s bounty all year long, depending on what is being produced at the time.  The HFF is a farm that offers more than fresh vegetables, grass-fed hogs and beef, Thanksgiving turkeys, and chickens.  Every Friday night during the summer the HFF makes its own fresh wood-fired brick oven pizzas using fresh locally grown ingredients.

I was advised of this “long time N. Manchester tradition” by a colleague who is close friends with Jeff and Kathy Hawkins – the farmer and his wife at HFF.  Upon hearing of such an offering I promptly devised a plan to check it out.  I called up Globetrotter and she was nearly as excited as I was.  So, Globetrotter, The Queen and I set out for N. Manchester with high hopes, a cooler, a blanket, and empty stomachs.  We were not disappointed.

We arrived at HFF at 5:15.  Pizza hours are from 5:00 to 8:00 and I was warned that some times they run out by 6:00.  So, we were prompt.  The farm is very pretty –  an old brick farm house sits in the middle of the road frontage and it is surrounded by super green fields that are fragrant and lively with baby Thanksgiving turkeys escaping from their pin and neighbors from around town setting up their tables, chairs, and blankets.  Please keep in mind that the HFF does not offer drinks, silverware, seating, or trash collection.  So, come prepared.

Soon upon arrival we realized that dogs were not allowed.  But Mr. & Mrs. Hawkins are so nice that they permitted The Queen to stay as long as she was out of sight of their dogs (visual detection resulted in a barking frenzy) and away from their cats (The Queen is not so cat-friendly).  We ordered our pizza – one pepperoni and one margherita – cracked open some sparkling water and enjoyed the sunny afternoon.  The good Lord has blessed the Midwest with some relief from the extreme humidity and heat and lately it has been very pleasant. And on behalf of everyone in FW, at least, I say thank you.

The crowd grew as the evening wore on and it was eclectic.  There was a group of older folks with folding chair gathered in a circle chatting like family; a couple brought their own table with table linens and wine service and seem to be on a date; a group of hipsters with a blanket, some imported beer and Chuck Taylors enjoyed the lawn; and a couple who are friends of the owners drove down from Michigan for their anniversary sat by the hammock and chatted with the farmer’s wife.  It was a unique way to share a meal.  Also, it was a great snapshot of small town life in the Midwest – quiet, laid back, and friendly.  Oh, and don’t forget the good and very farm fresh food – even pizza.

All of the proceeds from the HFF Pizza Fridays and their annual Between Heaven and Earth dinners go to support Hope CSA, a pastoral education program.  A good cause, indeed.

Here are some snaps from the farm . . . enjoy!