Disclaimer: The Franklin County Harvest Bloggers Tour was sponsored by the The Franklin County Chamber of Commerce & Franklin County Farm Bureau who provided our lodging, meals and activities. All opinions and thoughts are my own.
At Jeni Eats, I don’t just eat.
Although I primarily blog about experiences through the lens of food, I whole heartedly seek opportunities to explore new communities, whether near or far, and learn about lifestyles different from my own. The topic of food can be extremely divisive, but it can also bring people together. Three and a half years of blogging has brought me new experiences and connected me with people I’d never meet through my day-to-day interactions. It’s also given me the courage to break bread with strangers and for this, my life is richer and much more interesting.
When the Franklin County Harvest Blogger Tour extended an invitation to spend the weekend in Hampton, I gladly accepted.
We received the warmest welcome possible. I was most struck by the hospitality the community showered upon us. Most everyone who hosted components of the event did so on a volunteer basis, whether providing us with tours or showing us around their farms. Volunteers fed us home-cooked meals prepared during their time off and joined us during early mornings and evenings, often introducing us to their families.
Through my travels, I’ve observed that there’s something remarkably humbling about being cared for by strangers while away from home. Humble pie can taste harsh or sweet, but either way, there’s always something to be learned.
Here are some vignettes describing our whirlwind weekend:
Most of us stayed at the Country Heritage Bed & Breakfast. My GPS led me astray on the way to the B & B. I thanked my lucky stars when Donna randomly found me on the side of the road with a dead phone, cursing my brains out. She led me to Country Heritage where we turned right at the pink sign advertising their Giggling Goat gift shop.
My home away from home was the Inspiration Suite. We joked that I’d have to live up to its namesake. It provided a comfortable place to unwind after busy days. Each room was equipped with a whirlpool bath and private balcony.
I was especially taken with my sparkly chandelier.
The owners were gracious and helped us get situated. On Saturday night, they warmed us with a comforting meal of three homemade soups. Jake joined us for dinner and our favorite was beef and vegetable. Simple foods are not so simple when someone nails them. We were surprised to learn that Lacey, who prepared this soup, did so for the first time and without a recipe.
Beth and I greeted their trio of 10-month old Pygmi goats each morning with a handful of corn. They giggled as they hopped and skipped around their yard. I tried to snap the perfect photo all weekend.
Where have these been my whole life?
Reeve Electrical Association Plant
Our first stop took us to the REA Museum, a former power plant that became operational in 1938. According to the official website, it was the “First Coop in the nation to put farmer-owned generated electricity out on farmer-owned lines.” The plant was renovated in 1989 and is listed on the National Registered of Historic Places.
Darwin Meyer, a board member on the Franklin County Historical Society, volunteered as our tour guide for both the REA Plant and historical museum. We peeked at components of the original plant and looked at displays of household appliances from years’ past such as old stoves and a gas-powered washing machine.
I can’t remember the intended purpose of the giant wheel, but it reminded me of the Iron Throne so I got a little bit Cersai Lannister with my selfies.
Beeds Lake Spillway
This evening was teeth-chatteringly cold and windy at sunset, but worth this shot.
It’s one of my favorite photos from the trip.
Carlson Tree Farm
The Carlson family operates a Christmas tree farm in Hampton, along with a lodge that the community is welcome to reserve for personal events at whatever cost the party is able to pay. They also teach wreath making classes around the holidays. Dennis Carlson provides outdoor educational opportunities for many school groups and Cathy Carlson (pictured above) produces locally grown and milled whole wheat flour, which I recently added some to an all-butter pie crust that I used for mini quiches.
We unwound in the lodge during our first night over appetizers and wine from TownsEnd Winery located in Hansel, Iowa. Fortunately, wine tasting commenced after Donna and I started running into things with the Carlsons’ wiggle cars. My favorite wines were the cranberry and gooseberry varieties. Our hosts sent us home with our own bottle of cranberry wine, which has had me singing “Cranberry wine, thiiiiirty,” all week. Believe it or not, it’s not getting old.
It was all fun and games until Dennis brought out a bowl of bugs. As part of his nature education sessions, he challenges kids to try eating a mealworm or cricket. If they succeed, they earn an “I ate a bug today!” sticker.
Bug phobia and all, I wanted that sticker. I reluctantly stared at the mealworm in the palm of my hand. “Eat it, don’t pop it like an Aspirin,” exclaimed a friend as I consumed it with swig of cranberry wine. And when I got home, I caught my dog trying to eat the “I ate a bug” sticker.” I had to pry it out of his mouth.
Until this weekend, I’d never even touched a piece of farm equipment. We got up close and personal with the Plagge’s. Val Plagge of Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids is actually one of the first bloggers I met after moving to North Iowa. We’ve spent time together on many occasions, but never before at her farm. She introduced Jake and I to the Franklin County Fair last July where we won green ribbons in a cake decorating contest.
Val’s husband took each us on combine rides as he harvested corn, patiently explaining the difference between a combine and a tractor and red vs. green. Their son literally couldn’t believe his ears when we told him it was our first time riding a combine.
A monitor next to the driver’s seat is equipped with GPS and monitors data such as the corn’s moisture and quantity harvested. The points on the front of the combine effortlessly moved between the rows of corn trimming the stalks into little nubs we kept tripping over because we forgot to lift our knees up high. It reminded me of the time-eating Langoliers I once watched in a movie, except that it consumed corn.
I got a kick out of the “pew pew pew” noise it made at the end of each row.
Farm Kitties Are The Best
Cute critters turn me into a googly-eyed fool. I got to snuggle lots of farm kitties at Carlson Tree Farm and Roy and Jeannie Arend’s farm in Alexander. The Arends spoke to us about their farm and described the challenges our weather poses. They offered us apples from their trees and took bloggers on combine rides through their soybean field. In the top right photo, Jeanie introduces one of her snuggliest kitties to Beth & Nic’s daughter.
Historical Museum & Latham Hi-Tech Seeds
In addition to combine rides, Saturday’s activities also included a trip to the Franklin County Historical Museum and a tour of Latham Hi-Tech Seeds. I found my childhood in the historical museum as part of a display about top toys throughout the decades. What is happening?
After touring Latham’s seed processing facility and learning about what operations are like during harvest, we enjoyed a lunch of smoked pork sandwiches and Val’s much-talked about Sweet & Spicy Hog Wild Beans while two ladies from Ag in the Classroom program shared examples of their lessons with us. I was mind-blown when they explained that each stalk of corn only grows one ear.
Main Street Hampton & The Windsor
Hampton has a vibrant Main Street. Beth and I ordered our usual Dirty Chai’s (chai with a shot of espresso) at Rustic Brew to fuel us through a brief tour of the shops. Rustic Brew also houses a microbrewery.
Hampton’s Main Street is also home to the Windsor Theater where we we attended a vaudeville show called “An Evening Like It Used To Be.” The theater was built in 1913, remodeled in 1999, and rumors say it’s slightly haunted.
The two women collecting tickets were striking. They donned glamorous capes and pink feather boas while many others also dressed the part.
We found our seats among a full house. I’ve never seen a silent film before and was surprised by funny and relevant I found it. The rest of the variety show included singing, dancing, and comedy sketches. We had a grand time laughing at dad jokes, participating in a group sing-along and eating buttery popcorn. Did you know there’s an Iowa song?
Our tour ended over a breakfast of homemade cinnamon rolls and eggbake at the ABCM Rehabilitation Center. Like the Wandering Tourists describe, our visit to the care facility made me feel bittersweet. I thought of my grandparents who have since passed away and reflected on the twists and turns life has taken me on since I began blogging.
Three and a half years ago, I was a graduate student and herbalist’s apprentice who typed posts from the center island of our old condo in Bloomington, Minnesota. I never imagined blogging would bring me to Franklin County, Iowa where I would become obsessed with cranberry wine and pygmi goats and ride a combine.
Cheers always to new adventures.