Farm to Table showcases northwest Kansas foods

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STUDLEY — When the Cottonwood Ranch was a working sheep ranch frequented by guests for picnics hosted by its English settlers, it would not have been unusual for the food to have originated on the ranch or from neighbors.

And so the state historic site made for the right setting for what organizers believe to be northwest Kansas’ first foray into the modern “farm to table” movement.

The social movement began in northern California and the Pacific Northwest to promote locally grown foods, often purchased directly from the producers, in restaurants and schools.

Approximately 50 people, mostly from Sheridan County, gathered at the ranch Sunday evening for the Northwest Kansas Farm to Table.

Hoxie native Emily Campbell brainstormed the idea about three months ago with fellow board members of Hoxie’s Main Street Arts Council. They approached the board of the Hoxie Farmers Market to use the event for a fundraiser for the market.

Campbell and her husband lived in Seattle for several years, where she attended Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute.

“They do it up in Seattle all the time where I used to work in restaurants, and we thought let’s get our local farmers market involved, and it just took off from there,” she said.

The farmer’s market board was excited at the proposal, said market manager Lori Cressler.

The market had its first full season last year, and this year has had 46 different vendors. Most are from Sheridan County, but shoppers and even a few vendors drive more than an hour for the weekly market. Products include homemade baked goods, custom blended spices, produce and crafts.

“It’s a nice variety. There’s enough produce for everybody, but there’s also the diversity of all these different crafts,” said board member Viktorija Briggs.

The money raised from this and other events will go toward creating a “forever home” for the market, said Rachel Farber, president of the market’s board of directors.

The market is open every Saturday through the end of September at the Sheridan County Fairgrounds.

“We’d like to have a facility, maybe a pavilion, where we have electricity and water hookups,” Farber said.

Members of the farmers market board were the serving staff for Sunday’s event. People began gathering at the ranch at approximately 4 p.m. for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres while a local band played country music. Kansas wineries such as Wyldwood Cellars of Wichita, Prairie Fire Winery of Paxico and Wheat State Wine Co. of Winfield were featured, along with brews from Gella’s Diner and Lb Brewing Co. in Hays and Tallgrass Brewing Co. of Manhattan. Locally produced sand hill plum wine also was available.

Lu Neuenschwander, president of the Main Street Arts Council board, was just one of the Hoxie residents present already familiar with Campbell’s culinary skills and anticipating the meal.

Neuenschwander said the variety of items from area producers did not surprise her.

“People don’t realize that there is all of that in northwest Kansas,” she said.

Delores Mauck, Hoxie, enjoyed the chance to experience the Cottonwood Ranch again, she said, and “just to come and support the farmers market and have some good food and a good time.”

The guests, who paid $60 a ticket, enjoyed hors d’oeuvres such as jalapeño and cheddar bison sausage with sweet apple, and watermelon and cucumber gazpacho.

At 6 p.m., guests gathered in the barn, which had been decorated with strings of lights. They helped themselves to two salads — roasted beets with greens, herbed goat cheese, cider vinaigrette and candied nuts or watermelon and cucumber with fresh mint.

The main meal was served buffet style and included rosemary crusted pork chops with a fresh cherry reduction, grilled ribeye steak in a red wine reduction, zucchini noodles in a light cream sauce, honey glazed carrots, roasted potatoes with lemon basil pesto and homemade rolls with a variety of local jams.

Dessert was mini apple and pear crisps with homemade vanilla ice cream.

The only challenges in the evening were not being able to cook on site and a lack of cellphone coverage to help keep in touch, Campbell said.

“Everything was sourced locally besides the dairy products,” she said. “The eggs I used in the ice cream were local, all the meats were local, all the produce was local, herbs, everything.”

She said she did find a Junction City dairy, but wasn’t able to make contact in time for them to get products to the event.

But that could happen next year. Talk already has started to make the Northwest Kansas Farm to Table an annual event.

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