CROOKSTON – From the walleye ceviche appetizers to the pumpkin bread pudding dessert, guests at the University of Minnesota Crookston Farm to Table event tasted a healthy sampling of local flavor.
Farm to Table was held not only to highlight locally grown food -- some of it vegetables from the campus garden -- but also to give guests an opportunity to meet students and to see the university’s beautifully landscaped grounds.
The idea for Farm to Table came from former Crookston resident Duane Hoff, who owns Fantesca Estate and Winery in Napa Valley, Calif., said Mary Holz-Clause, UMC chancellor.
“He said ‘It would be fun to have a Farm to Table. If you do that, I’ll supply the wine,’” Holz-Clause said.
Though Hoff, a University of Minnesota graduate, couldn’t attend Farm to Table, held Friday, Aug. 9, at UMC, Fantesca Estate and Winery bottles were on the tables so the 192 guests at the event could taste samples.
Guests also had the chance to sample beer from Rhombus Guys and Half Brothers breweries in Grand Forks. The craft beers were paired with each course, which began with the walleye ceviche and ended with the pumpkin pudding dessert.
In between the appetizers and dessert, 24 members of the UMC football team served guests a Midwestern chef’s salad, cider-braised turkey breast on a bed of vegetable rag-out and crispy mashed potatoes, and pork loin with lemon-roasted Brussels sprouts and parsnip puree. All of the foods had a local connection.
“I think it’s so important people find out where food comes from,” Holz-Clause said.
That’s one of the reasons Rhombus Guys Brewery co-owner Matt Winjum featured his company’s beer at Farm to Table.
“I think the whole farm-to-table thing is fantastic as far as showcasing local ingredients,” Winjum said, noting that the wheat, barley and hops used to make his breweries’ beers are grown in North Dakota and Minnesota.
Besides locally grown food, Farm to Table featured home-grown entrepreneurs. For example, the event kicked off with spirits, including Roknar Minnesota Rye Whiskey, made with winter rye, malt barley and corn, from Far North Spirits in Hallock, Minn. Far North Spirits grows the grain onsite, said Cheri Reese, co-owner of Far North Spirits.
“It’s entirely field to table,” Reese said.
University of Minnesota Crookston alumni Jeff Stauffenecker and Carl Wittenburg, meanwhile, supplied the pork and turkey for the Farm to Table main course. The owners of Protein Alliance, a global meat brokerage and trading company in Alexandria, Minn., graduated from UMC in 1990 and 1985, respectively.
Farm to Table also provided an opportunity for UMC to “showcase amazing kids” pursuing their degrees at UMC, Holz-Clause said.
One of those students is Jacoby McConkey, a horticulture student who designed a UMC vegetable garden featuring gourds climbing on a trellis, winding walkways between rows of feathery-topped carrots, orange peppers and a bed of rose-tinged Swiss chard.
McConkey designed the garden to use space left over from the main garden, adjacent to his.
“I just kind of created to my heart’s content,” he said.
McConkey and other students in UMC’s horticulture program plant tend to and harvest the gardens as part of their education. The UMC chefs, led by Shane Halvorson, executive chef for Sodexo Dining Services, prepare the vegetables to serve in the campus dining hall.
LeRoy Stumpf, of Plummer, Minn., admired McConkey’s designer vegetable garden during a tour before the meal. He is a former Minnesota state senator who owned a winery and vineyard for several years.
“We really enjoyed the event,” he said. “It’s all about promoting the local farm products.”