St. Charles dinner to bring community together for locally grown meal

September 17, 2018

ST. CHARLES — If you need proof that the “farm-to-table” movement is growing, just try to get a ticket to the Sept. 22 St. Charles Farm to Table Community Dinner.

“We were sold out within a month,” event organizer Lindsay Gust said. “We currently have a waiting list in case someone’s plans change at the last minute.”

Don’t hold your breath.

In its second year, the outdoor dinner that is set up along St. Charles Avenue behind City Hall is the hottest ticket in town. And that’s after adding 50 spots to the 100 seats set aside last year.

“We’re going to see how 150 is,” Gust said, when asked if next year’s event will go to 175 or 200.

The dinner, which includes music by Twin Cities guitarist Matt Browne during the social hour at 5 p.m., features one long table with diners enjoying the local fruits of farm labor.

Gust said all the food will come from farms within 100 miles of St. Charles from either Minnesota or Wisconsin.

“Everything is local, which supports the values and principles we try to promote,” she said. “We’re trying to show everybody that, nothing against going to Walmart and Target, you can get all those same items from a local farmer, and it’s fresher.”

In fact, just about every supplier is open for a visit, and people can truly see where their food comes from, she said.

That’s certainly true of Metz Hart-Land Creamery, about six miles north of Rushford. The dairy will once again supply its popular cheese curds for the dinner.

“Our population needs to know where their food is coming from and needs to understand how their food is raised,” said Mariann Metz, who owns and runs the 200-plus head dairy along with her husband, Jeff, and her children.

Between farm-to-table events and demonstrations in which the dairy participates, Metz said she’s glad there are more opportunities for consumers to interact with the people who grow their food. As the owner of a truly family farm, she loves telling the story of her farm and how it’s operated.

“It’s all us,” she said. “There’s no middle man. We’re the middle man, the beginning man and the end man.”

The creamery will donate about 40 pounds of cheese curds to the dinner, making them fresh just before the event. It’s that freshness that shows consumers the difference.

Other farms offering their produce and value-added products include Kappers Big Red Barn in Chatfield, which is donating ice cream for the apple pies. Those pies will be made from apples donated by Thompson Hillcrest Orchard in Elko. That company is also offering cider as one of the beverages at the dinner. The Jenny-O Turkey Store in Altura will donate turkey as part of the dinner.

But perhaps the biggest backer of the meal is Superior Fresh from Hixton, Wis. In addition to salad greens and salmon, the aquaponics farm is helping fund the event as well as supplying a big tent in case of rain.

“We love the concept of farm-to-table,” said Superior Fresh General Manager Kurt Wagaman. “Many of the retail stores and white tablecloth restaurants are moving to the farm-to-table concept.”

Wagaman said it’s impressive to see a small city like St. Charles put on such a big event that supports area farmers.

It’s a movement that the farm’s owners, Todd and Karen Wanek, who also own Ashley Furniture, are putting their fortune behind.

“They have been all around the world building their business,” Wagaman said. “They’ve seen food desserts, and the need for fresh food locally.”

That lettuce at the dinner will come from the world’s largest aquaponic facility, Wagaman said.

“We sell local only, up to 400 miles,” he said. “Outside that, we put up a new facility.”

Gust said the response from last year’s dinner event was overwhelmingly positive, and a big part of that is the goal of creating a meal, grown locally, that isn’t your typical Minnesota hot dish.

“We try to do something that’s not your normal meal,” she said.