Tales from the Life of an Extraordinary Man

BY LINDA EGENES

2014_09_hinkle_coverWhen you meet Ernie Hinkle, a man who has lived 90 years on this earth, you find out pretty quickly that he has stories to tell. In his well-worn jeans and suspenders, plaid shirt, and Fesler Auto Mall cap, he is chatting with a teenager when I approach his table at the Fairfield Farmers Market. While his face is remarkably free of wrinkles, his hands are a sculpture in clay, swollen from arthritis and hard work, dirt embedded in the cracks of his skin.

Sometime in the gap between handing him the cash and adding his persimmons and pears to my bag, Ernie starts spinning a yarn.

“As a young man, I traveled the Midwest performing in showboats and vaudeville acts.” As if to prove it, he opens his mouth and belts out “Old Man River” in the middle of the market.

The Adventures of Ernie

I’ve made a point of visiting Ernie at the market ever since. He once was the “long-time, old-time mayor of Birmingham,” the small town south of Fairfield where he has lived and farmed for 56 years with his wife, Betty. Ernie confides with a sly smile that some rowdies might not have liked him as mayor, “because I don’t put up with much nonsense.”

2014_09_ernie_marketA colorful personality known throughout the state for his performances in charity shows and fundraisers, Ernie was inducted into the Beard-Growers Hall of Fame in Eddyville for his annual green St. Patrick’s day beard and his red, white, and blue sesquicentennial beard. Not to mention 56 years of playing Santa in Sunday schools in Birmingham and Fairfield.

As a salesman for Iowa Tire in Fairfield, Ernie made many friends while driving his long route throughout southeast Iowa and northern Missouri, often raising money for families in need and more than once saving the lives of motorists who crashed on the highway.

He wrote about his adventures in The Travels of Ernie Hinkle. “The big boys didn’t want to fool with it,” he says, “So we self-published under Ernbet Press. Then the United Press picked up the story, and people all over the country bought the book.”

In 2013 Ernie was honored for being a founding member of the Fairfield Farmers Market, which consisted of five vendors when it started back in 1975. Born in Montana and raised on farms in the greater Fairfield area, Ernie knows the old ways of farming, before chemicals and pesticides, and he’s been raising crops organically for the last 25 years, “because that’s what the Fairfield market wanted.”

On the Farm

On the 10-acre truck farm where he and Betty still live, Ernie has lovingly tended over 50 varieties of fruit trees, plus a one-acre garden and some berry patches. He grows his own horseradish and until recently sold 700 pints of horseradish pickles and hundreds of gallons of home-pressed cider each year.

The last time we chatted, Ernie mentioned that he and Betty were about to celebrate their 70th anniversary. And, oh yeah, he let it drop that over the years he and Betty took in 30 foster children—yes, that’s 30—and adopted six of them.

I want to know more about this side of Ernie Hinkle, but when I return to the market the following week, he’s gone.

Dennis in the orchard of his family home in Birmingham.

Dennis in the orchard of his family home in Birmingham. (Photo by Linda Egenes)

Soon I’m on the phone with Dennis Ives, a nephew of Ernie and Betty’s. Dennis tells me that, sadly, Ernie has taken a bad fall while picking plums. He will take a while to heal from his injuries, and will need assistance that can only be given in a nursing home.

Dennis invites me to the family farm, where he and his wife are staying to help Ernie and Betty in this time of need. Other children have flown in as well, including the youngest child, April, and her husband, Dylan, who teach theater arts in Wales.

It’s easy to find Ernie and Betty’s Victorian farmhouse in Birmingham, surrounded by orchards, flower gardens, and a grape arbor. In a way it’s fitting, to be sitting with Betty and Dennis in the Hinkle kitchen with its bright yellow counters, hearing stories about this man who was the best storyteller of all.

Nurturing Children in Need

“Ernie and I used to joke that when he came home each night he never knew how many children he had,” says Betty, who at age 90, has energy and brain power to spare.

“Social services would call up and say, ‘We have five boys—can you take them for one night?’ Then the ‘overnight’ lasted six months.” Those boys ranged in age from two to fifteen.

“Right after that we had a group of sisters come,” says Betty. “Only they arrived at three in the morning.”

Dennis says that his own mother (Ernie’s sister) died when Dennis was 5 and his brother was 7, and “Ernie and Betty took us in just like the others.”

Dennis was taught from a young age to welcome all of the children who came to stay. “Even the cats knew to come to the Hinkle household. There were always at least 10 stray cats that Ernie fed in addition to our own. If he saw a neighbor’s horse was underfed, he’d buy him hay.”

Dennis helped Ernie run the farm, rising at 4:30 a.m. to feed the animals before school. Tuesdays were candy nights, when Ernie would walk into the parlor and toss each child a candy bar. “We were eagerly waiting,” Dennis remembers.

Dennis was a smart kid, and Ernie and Betty sent him to College of the Ozarks in Branson, MO. “I was working with Ernie in the tire business, which helped him a great deal, but it was Ernie who told me, ‘You need to get your education.’ ” With Ernie and Betty’s support, Dennis went on to medical school. Today he manages hospitals in Arkansas.

“I owe my whole life to Ernie and Betty,” Dennis says. He means this literally. When Dennis came to the Hinkles, he had nephritis, a deadly kidney disease in the era before dialysis, and he wasn’t expected to live more than a year. Ernie rearranged his tire route so he could drive Dennis to the University of Iowa Hospital once a week for treatment. With the healthy food and lifestyle on the farm and an innovative medical treatment, Dennis eventually was cured by age 14.

Leslie’s Little Bit of Heaven

2014_09_ernie_market“Ernie and Betty are two of the most generous people that I know,” says Dennis. “They’ve always been there for anyone who needs anything. . .” Dennis stops, overcome with emotion.

Betty picks up the story. She tells about Leslie, a baby with Down syndrome they adopted and raised.

“When we adopted her, someone said, ‘How much closer could you get to heaven?’ ” says Betty. “So Ernie named  the farm ‘Leslie’s Little Bit of Heaven.’”

The cover of Ernie’s book lists his many roles: actor, auctioneer, beekeeper, emcee, gourmet, herdsman, journalist, lay preacher, politician, poet, horticulturalist, entertainer, musician, orchardist, truck driver, writer, loafer, water-witcher, Sunday-school teacher, salesman, and Santa. And that’s just half the list. Yet Ernie’s true legacy is the children he and Betty raised and the people he helped throughout his life.

When I drive away from Ernie and Betty’s orchards, my last glimpse is the sign “Leslie’s Little Bit of Heaven” in the rearview mirror. I remember something Ernie said last month at the farmers market that sums up his philosophy of life.

“I guess that’s what we’re all supposed to do, isn’t it?” he asked while removing his cap and slapping it back on his head. “Something in this world to help other people.”

Due to Ernie’s recent injuries, the Hinkle family sold the family farm in Birmingham.

(I originally wrote this article for The Iowa SourceSeptember 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

Categories: Iowa, midwestern living

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Here I am at the garden in July, 2014. Notice the white blossoms on the vining lauki plant in the foreground. Lauki is sometimes called “white blossom squash.” Photo by Thomas Egenes

It’s been a bumper gardening year, with rains coming throughout June and July and the cucumber and zucchini and other squashes growing to Findhorn sizes. After last year, when torrential rains washed out our seeds and roly-poly’s (pill bugs) mowed down our zucchini seedlings overnight, we had to replant so many times that many gardeners in our campus community garden, which is all organic, gave up for the season.

So this is like winning a big prize. “Free food,” my husband chirps when I haul in bags overflowing with kale, chard, herbs, tomatoes, strawberries and broccoli.

“I call it our loot,” says my friend Dianne happily. She and her husband Rod joined the garden this year, added heaps of soil to already fertile beds, planted a few seeds and seedlings, and it’s taken off big-time.

Dean Goodale, who established a one-acre greenhouse north of campus and now gardens on his own, tells me that the reason our tomato, zucchini and cucumber plants are Findhorn-size this year is because the abundant rains have kept us from having to use the tap water. He says he tested the soil of eight gardens in our area last year, and they all had a high sodium content, from the water treatment system here in Fairfield. The sodium especially affects the squashes, cucumbers and somewhat the tomatoes.

If anything, I and my gardening partner, Charlotte Judge, didn’t plant enough this year. We planned on planting an extra garden along the fence, but ran out of time.

Thinking it would be another year like last year, we skipped the zucchini and went straight to the bottle gourd, a long, thin, light-green vegetable that our Indian friends call Lauki squash. Lauki is a highly revered vegetable in Ayurveda, known to balance liver functioning and help with weight loss, urinary disorders, and even is said to prevent premature graying of hair.

Last summer's lauki squash, sweet potatoes and greens. Photo by Linda Egenes

Last summer’s lauki squash, sweet potatoes and greens. Photo by Linda Egenes

It’s commonly found in Indian vegetable curry dishes and also can be juiced. It has other names: opo squash, long white gourd, white pumpkin, Benares pumpkin, or dudhi in India, calabash in Asia, kakunsa or cucuzza in Italy, fuzzy squash in Canada, and slaouia in Morocco.

The best part is that it has slightly stinky leaves that fended off the sow bugs last year. In fact, it was our star performer, with the two plants vining around the edge of our garden producing at least 30 huge gourds as big as baseball bats, which, unlike zuchhini, tasted better as they grew bigger.

Our Indian friends, in fact, asked us not to pick them young and green but to wait until they were two feet long with seeds inside. We ate them, juiced them and still had plenty to give away to friends. Charlotte dubbed them the solution to world hunger.

But alas, this year, when everyone’s zucchini is three feet tall, our two lauki plants have yet to produce a single vegetable. We’ll see. Lauki grows slower and shines in the later part of summer, when zucchini falls prey to the dread root borer.

One thing I’ve found consistent—that every year is different. One year it was the bush beans that stunned us with their output, the next the beans barely blossomed and the chard was a star. This year the timely rains have created a bumper crop of cucumber, kale, tomatoes (and other people’s zuchini). Oh well.

Lauki also tastes great as an Italian vegetable, and can be substituted for zucchini in any dish. It melts in your mouth. Here’s how I prepare it when I’m planning an Italian meal:

 

Mint-Anise Lauki Squash, Italian Style

Ingredients:

½ lauki gourd, peeled and cut into small pieces

2 T chopped fresh mint

2 T chopped fresh anise hyssop leaves

2 T butter or olive oil

Steam the lauki squash. Melt the butter or olive oil on low heat, add the herbs and lauki and toss lightly. Salt and pepper to taste.

 

BY LINDA EGENES

2009_07_huckIt’s the day after the 4th of July, and in Hannibal, Missouri, the party is in full swing. For the past 54 years on America’s birthday, this riverside town of 17,000 has hosted National Tom Sawyer Days, a three-day celebration of its favorite son, Mark Twain. Fireworks, frogs, and paint fly as kids of all ages participate in frog jumping and watermelon seed-spitting contests and boys race barefoot to whitewash fences Tom-Sawyer style.

Unlike other towns downriver and up, Hannibal narrowly escaped the floods of 2008 and is chugging ahead like the steamboat that first beckoned Mark Twain to the muddy Mississippi and on to national fame. In recent years this plucky place has fashioned its warehouses and factories into art galleries, cafes, and antique stores, which attract tourists along with the historical homes of Mark Twain and Becky Thatcher and the famous cave where the fictional Tom and Becky got lost.

At the arts and crafts show in Central Park, my husband and I glimpse a Tom Sawyer with a fishing pole on one arm and a Becky on the other. Despite the wilting heat, Becky looks cool and crisp in an elaborate pink gingham floor-length dress.

A man standing behind them with a “Chaperone” tag asks if I want my picture taken with them. The chaperone (who turns out to be Tom’s father) tells me that at age 13 the kids of Hannibal compete to become the reigning Tom and Becky. Twenty Toms and Beckys entered the competition, where they were judged for their authentic costumes, role-playing of scenes from the book Tom Sawyer, and knowledge of Hannibal’s history and  attractions, lodging, and restaurants.

The top five girls and five boys, including this couple, will spend many weekends during the next year strolling the streets and attending various out-of-state events in full costume as ambassadors for the city of Hannibal.

“It’s great training for them,” says this proud dad. “They have to be able to talk to adults, to tell a tourist where to find a hotel or a good restaurant.” Parents of both children will be taking turns trailing their kids around for the next year.

“They can do the kissing scene for you,” the dad offers. Kissing crops up often in Tom Sawyer Days, we find out as we trail our Tom and Becky back to the riverfront. When Tom grasps a live frog around the middle, it’s hind legs dangling, Becky actually kisses it! This she does again and again, posing for snapshots, and each time there are exclamations of awe from the crowd that has gathered around them.

Frog-kissing is a warm-up for the Frog-Jumping Contest, just down Main Street, where parents and kids have been plunking down $2 all afternoon to rent a frog. The Frog Jumping Contest is based on Mark Twain’s short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

“You select a frog from the barrel when it’s your turn, then you return it after you’re done,” a lanky Boy Scout explains. It turns out that his troop has caught these frogs with their bare hands, wading knee-deep into local ponds at night, and they’ll release the frogs to their watery homes after the contest today.

Soon we’re crowded around a space similar to a boxing ring—except yellow crime-tape forms the ropes—to watch the contest for kids aged one to six.

A mom with a frisky five-year-old daughter in tow selects her frog. The minute the frog is plopped on the mat it sprints for freedom, flying out of the arena in two hops, slipping over my foot and landing in the midst of a screaming crowd. Teenage helpers scramble to grab it back.

“Fifteen feet, three inches!” shouts the judge.

As our last stop for the day, we drop by the fence-painting contest. We’ve already met the contest’s youngest contestant while floating on the Mark Twain Steamboat earlier in the day. It was easy to spot 10-year-old Dylan Behl from New London, a small town just down the road from Hannibal. With freckles and a fresh, wholesome look, he’s the perfect Tom Sawyer in red gingham shirt, ragged cut-off jeans, paint splattered on his legs.

The paint is a remnant from yesterday, when he and his mother, LaRhonda, both carried off trophies—Dylan for the age 10-13 Fence Painting Contest, his mom for an Over 30 Fence Painting Contest that she entered on the spur of the moment. “It looked like a lot of fun, so I thought I’d try it,” she says. There’s still a spot of paint on her elbow.

Dylan says he’s “scared, nervous, and excited” about the national race coming up. “When they say ‘go’ you get an adrenalin rush and you run down the line, you don’t care where paint goes, you just try to go fast!”

Before the race begins, judges with clipboards tiptoe between the contestants, examining their homemade costumes and Tom Sawyer memorabilia, neatly arranged on blankets.

“He’s a shy kid,” confides his dad, Danny Behl. “This has been good for him. The kids have to read the books and are judged for their costumes and props as well as speed and accuracy in the race.”

Contestent #6, who has come from Japan, dangles a bottle of stinkwater from his belt loop. Dylan’s props include dozens of items from Tom Sawyer scenes, including antique clay marbles, orange peels, and wart medicine.

Finally, the boys are ready to race. Four fences stand at the end of the running lanes, each with a bucket of milk paint and a brush next to it.

Dylan is poised like a runner, his boyish energy focused and taut. He bolts to his fence, grabs the brush, and leaps into the air, slapping paint, whitewash flying. Then he handily dashes back to the finish line ahead of the others.

He’s surely made it into the final heat, and his dazzling smile shows he knows it. His dad is waiting for him across the finish line, wiping paint from his son’s eyes with a towel.

Now Dylan faces three finalists, including the main competitor from Hannibal, 12-year-old Wesley Hjelm. It turns out there’s been a rivalry between Hannibal and New London for years.

In this final round Dylan slaps paint even faster and races back, crossing the finish line first. I find myself screaming for him, emotionally invested in this youngest of contestants. But, alas, Dylan’s final score places him second and Wesley first. I congratulate both boys and leave quickly, trying not to add my own disappointment to Dylan’s.

Fast forward another year. I phone the family and find out that yes, this talented boy, now 11, will compete again. If he wins the Fence Painting Contest of the World,  he will travel to Jefferson City and present the trophy to Missouri’s governor, who will keep it in his office until the next 4th of July. And that would surely be a moment to remember from Dylan’s own “Tom Sawyer” days.

National Tom Sawyer Days will be celebrated July 3-6 in 2014. Find out more  at the website for the Hannibal Chamber of Commerce   or download a PDF booklet at the website of the Hannibal Jaycees.

(I originally wrote this article for The Iowa Source, July 2009. Reprinted with permission.)

Photo by Linda Egenes

IMG_9146One of the simple pleasures of a living in a small town is riding a bike everywhere you go. My husband and I love to pedal downtown to Howard Park every Saturday morning for our local Farmers Market. We’ve frequented much bigger Farmers Markets in Florida and the Bay Area, but there is nothing like the friendly and eclectic mix in Fairfield.

There you can chat with Fairfield’s Amish and Mennonite neighbors who sell pasture-raised organic eggs (Robert Yoder Farms from Bloomfield), the healthiest flower baskets you’ve ever seen (Lengachers Greenhouse in Keosaqua), and freshly made pies and bread from a Brighton family. Smiling Amish teenagers help sell the produce, and shy younger children hide behind their mothers or chase each other in tag games under the trees, their bonnet strings and long dresses flying in the breeze.

IMG_8556And then there are our amazing certified organic farmers, like Steve and Susan McLaskey, who run the new MUM Student Organic Farm. Steve is from my hometown of Naperville, IL, and is a descendent of the Goodrich family, who more than a century ago donated their farmland for Goodrich School, where I attended elementary school.The talented Dale Goodale is wandering around the market, having already sold out of the spring greens and sweet organic carrots he started in February inside his greenhouse. In early May you could buy his spectacular hand-tapped maple syrup if you got to the market early enough.

IMG_6416I never miss a chance to talk with older, local farmers, such as Ernie Hinkle, who at age 90 still shows up every Saturday morning. He was one of the founders of the Fairfield Farmer’s market. Even though he’s not certified organic, Ernie hasn’t used pesticides or chemicals on his garden veggies for decades. The former mayor of Birmingham, IA, Ernie and his wife raised over 30 foster children and adopted six.

Last week I bought a bag of spring lettuce greens from Ernie and was treated to a story about his time in vaudeville. He’ll regale you with a song if you ask him. I also bought organic pasture-raised eggs from Steve and Kim Keller, whose father was a friend of Ernie’s and also a founder of Fairfield’s Farmer’s market. They carry on their father’s farming tradition and are certified organic. (The eggs, by the way cost only $3.50. In the Bay Area organic, pasture-raised eggs were 8.50 a dozen!).

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The Farmers Market is also a great place to meet friends, who gather for the food, music and fun. Eventually we settle down at a crowded picnic table and eat a hot lunch of the best Ethiopian food in the Midwest from our friend Gannet and her daughter Hermella. The lentil samosas are a treat I look forward to all week.

 

 

IMG_8533One of my favorite vendors in spring is Rolling Prairie Acres, run by the Webster family of Sigourney, Iowa. They start garden veggies in their greenhouse for the rest of us to plant in our gardens in spring. Every year I buy three kinds of tulasi (holy basil plant), tomatoes plants and zuchinni starters. All their plants are grown pesticide free, chemical free. Last year when the sow bugs mowed down my squash plants overnight, I asked Doug Webster for a bug-resistant squash. He recommended a bottle guord called Cucuzza, whose stinky leaves and thicker skin repelled bugs. Its vines wrapped around our garden and grew over 200 lbs of long pale green squashes that tasted a bit like zuchinni without seeds.

IMG_8529My Indian friends thought they tasted just like lauki, bottle gourd, and cooked them into fantastic Indian dishes. My gardening partner Charlotte Judge dubbed this prolific plant the Cure for World Hunger. I bought six starters from Doug Webster this year, to share with our friends.

It’s encouraging to see kids getting into the spirit of growing and selling produce along with their parents and grandparents. At Rolling Prairies, Doug’s son Dawson taught me how to plant a seedling in a peat pot. And Paloma and Marisol Braun, aged 13 and 10, run their own business selling snow cones at the Farmer Market. Marisol told me how she markets their tasty drinks: “I whisper to one of my friends that the stand is open and they whisper it to their friend and pretty soon there’s a whole line of kids at our stand.” Talk about word-of-mouth marketing savvy!

One Saturday in early May I drove my car to the market so I could buy flats of seedlings, and ended up with too much to carry away from the Lengacher’s booth, where the Amish parents had left the selling to a teenage daughter Lydia and her older brother.

IMG_8559Seeing my two flats, Lydia politely asked, “Would you like help?” I declined, not wanting to distract them from their job selling. I grabbed one of the flats and started to my car, only to hear bare feet padding behind me. It was Richard, the six-year-old younger brother of Lydia. He smiled shyly under his straw hat and I could see the gap in his teeth where a new tooth was growing in. He never said a word, but he carried my second flat to my car, happy to be helping and grinning all the way.

 

Photo credits: Linda Egenes

Photo of Linda Egenes by Charlotte Judge

BY LINDA EGENES

simone delaty

Simone Delaty’s renowned slow dinners embody what great meals are all about. (Photo by Kurt Michael Friese)

The  first time I drove through the Italian heartland, I thought I’d entered heaven. Romantic medieval villages, rolling hills sculpted with vineyards and olive groves, and, of course, the food. Whether we ate in a family-owned trattoria, shopped in colorful outdoor markets, or frequented tiny frutta e vedura (fruit and vegetable shops), locally grown produce was everywhere. And it tasted amazing—the mineral-rich Italian soil yielded raspberries the size of your thumb and zucchini tasting like manna.

I remember solemnly telling my husband and friends, “You know, we could have this in Iowa.” They eyed me warily, wondering if my brain had fried in the Tuscan sun. But I didn’t mean the castles or winding roads or Renaissance art. I meant the food. Because even on that first  brief visit, I glimpsed how the small family farm was the living heart of Italy’s vibrant rural culture.

In his book A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland, Chef Kurt Michael Friese takes us on a culinary journey as delectable as any Italian countryside’s—except this particular feast for the senses is happening right here in the heartland of America.

As a national board member of Slow Food USA and co-owner of the celebrated Devotay restaurant in Iowa City, Chef Friese knows good food when he sees it. Over the course of four years, he traveled to 13 heartland states in search of people who champion Slow Food. The book is a collection of his informal essays about the various farmers, chefs, food artisans, and organizations that he encountered.

What’s Slow Food?

You can think of Slow Food as the opposite of fast food, and everything industrial, tasteless, and exploitive that fast food represents. Friese points out that eating is a political act, a moral act, and a philosophical, even religious act. He defines Slow Food in simple terms: “If the food is raised with care, prepared with passion, and served with love, then it is ‘Slow’ food no matter who makes it.”

a-cooks-journey-slow-food-in-the-heartland-kurt-frieseThe Slow Food movement started (you guessed it) in Italy, when folks protested the first MacDonald’s opening at the foot of Rome’s Spanish Steps. Unlike its name, since its beginning in 1986 Slow Food spread quickly—around the world and most enthusiastically in America, mainly along the coasts. In 1999 Friese founded the first Slow Food convivium in Iowa (today one of five). He wrote this book partly to show that Slow Food is not a coastal phenomenon—in fact, he points out, many of the world’s most cherished food traditions are from the rural centers (think Tuscany or Provence or Sichuan).

The essays are as easy to read as a chat over the back fence, seasoned with deft character sketches and sprinkled with recipes tested and tweaked by Chef Friese (making the recipes alone worth the price of the book). Infused with the consummate chef’s love for good food and good living, Friese dishes his philosophy with a spoonful of brie, so to speak, skillfully weaving the tenets of Slow Food with sensual descriptions of heat coming off a just-picked heirloom tomato or the nutty flavor of Walloon, a raw-milk goat cheese from Missouri.

In one of the Iowa vignettes, you’ll meet the French immigrant Simone Delaty, dubbed Iowa’s “Queen of Slow Food” by CBS’s Sunday Morning news crew, who raises chickens and vegetables and flowers on her bucolic farm in Wellman. Using her own vegetables and eggs, she cooks private dinners—sold out months in advance—and serves them on her screened porch. She calls her cuisine “plain and simple,” which Friese interprets as “simple farmhouse cooking made with generations of French technique.”

Preserving Variety

While there are many eye-openers in the book, the description of Seed Saver’s Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, one of the world’s largest guardians of heirloom seed diversity, hit close to home. It was sobering to read that today only 30 plant varieties feed 95 percent of the world’s population.

By collecting some 24,000 heirloom seeds from around the world and making them available to its 8,000 members around the world, Seed Savers is possibly the most biodiverse place on the planet. The orchard alone, which is open to the public, contains 700 varieties of 18th century apples. This sounds like a lot, until you read in the next sentence that in 1899 there were 8,000 apple varieties recorded.

The Quiet Revolution

One thing I like about foodies—they don’t dwell too long on problems. Although Friese touches on the bureaucratic snafus some of the organic growers have encountered, referring humorously to the “Law of Unintended Consequences,” he mainly points to the ways our heartland foodscape is rapidly changing for the better.

He talks about a quiet revolution that is taking place, noting that today Iowa has more farmers’ markets per capita than any other state. And throughout the Midwest, he observes, “Where once a restaurant might be judged by the distant and exotic sources of its ingredients, today the best restaurants are known for getting their food from just down the road.”

Friese is eclectic, featuring deer, buffalo, and mulefoot hog ranches alongside the Dragonfly Neo-V—Columbus Ohio’s world-class vegan restaurant. He is also inclusive, explaining that although not everyone featured in his book is an official member of the Slow Food movement, they are still important contributors. “So many are and don’t know it,” Friese muses. As readers, we can become part of the Slow Food movement, too, he reassures us, just by planting a garden, shopping at a farmers’ market, or visiting a farm.

“As I have so often said, if you think about the very best times in your life, I’ll bet that most of them were spent around a table with great food in front of you and the people you love all around,” Friese writes. “If the Slow Food Movement is about anything, it is about making many of those moments possible.”

Reading this book is like sitting down to a home-cooked feast with new friends and old—the best kind of food for the soul.

(I originally wrote this article for The Iowa Source, September 2008. Reprinted with permission.)