We’ve got to sell ourselves

Viewpoint Deb Hadachek – Editor

One of the things my family enjoys most about vacations is the food. We intentionally look for restaurants when we’re traveling that serve well-prepared local food in a place with local flavor.

For instance, I recently ate lunch in a restaurant in a remodeled hay mow in a dairy barn. The farmstead and the outside of the metal building looked pretty much like Clyde and Betty Thomas’s dairy at Narka, a mile from where I grew up. There were large windows in one end of the restaurant that overlooked the dairy cows in their stalls in the other half of the barn, happily eating hay and chewing their cud. (And yes, the restaurant smelled like a dairy barn, although we don’t find that smell unpleasant.)

A tour group sat at another table. As they waited for their food, a young man whose family owns the farm came out and told them about the long history of the dairy, and how they produce milk and yogurt and cheese to make the products served on the menu. The specials mostly consisted of cheeseburgers made from beef raised on the farm. Below the restaurant was an ice cream parlor where you could get a close-up view of the cattle, and a pen with a couple of bucket calves that were a favorite of all the tourists with cameras.

We enjoyed our lunch immensely (especially my husband, who engaged the young man in more in-depth ‘farm talk’. The dairy recently installed robotic milkers for their 45 head of dairy cattle.) The food was excellent, but it was the atmosphere and experience and the conversation and the new things we learned that made the visit memorable.

And trust me, I paid quite a bit more for my hamburger that day than the Wednesday night special at Betty’s Cafe in Cuba, which is
every bit as excellent.

I thought about that meal Saturday as my husband and I sat down to a harvest lunch I quickly pulled together: roast beef from the Cuba Cash Store, potatoes and Harvard beets from C&C High Tunnels, sliced tomatoes from the Depot Market, cherry pie from the tree in my backyard. I will never earn a living as a chef–but our locally-produced food has no match any place in the world.

Republic County is part of a 12-county North Central Kansas Food Council that is just getting off the ground. The council is an organization “that advocates for
enhanced quality of life for all residents
through sustainable access
to regional produced food options,
economic opportunity, and educational resources.”

Someone pointed out recently that Republic County may be the epicenter of the locally-produced food movement: Depot Market, C&C High Tunnels, and farmers like Warren Sutton at Norway have laid the groundwork for high quality, locally grown food on a commercial scale that they market to a wide region.

I can think of a dozen or more other farm-to-table businesses that have sprung up in the last few years that may only serve their local communities–but provide us with uber-fresh seasonal options not imported from other parts of the nation or world.

When I think about it, I visit places on vacation that don’t have anything that Republic County doesn’t offer: beautiful landscapes prime for geological or wildflower tours, historic sites, a fascinating agricultural industry, unique shops, Air B&Bs, and really great food.

The only difference? The places I visit on vacation are learning to tell people about what makes them special, capitalize and add value to their own resources, and create opportunities that make it easy for tourists to come visit.

If we want to develop that market, we’ve got to learn to sell it.