Donna Warhover’s farm, Morning Glory, sits just outside Mount Vernon, IA, a cheerful small town in the east of the state where Bon Appétit client Cornell College is also situated.
A Bon Appétit Farm to Fork vendor, Morning Glory’s roots stretch back to before the Civil War, when the land was the site of a yeoman homestead. During my recent visit as a Bon Appétit Fellow, Donna explained how she is just the latest link in a chain of Iowans who have tended to this patch of ground for over 150 years. Her part in this lineage is one that she’s proud of, but not one that she expected.
Like many newcomers to sustainable agriculture, Donna spent much of her career on a very different path. She worked as an executive assistant for Goodwill of the Heartland, and after completing a master gardening course, headed up a garden project that provided employment opportunities to adults with disabilities. It was while working on this project that she chose to forge a new career in agriculture, inspired by the way farming can serve as a wellspring for so much more: community, dignity, and connection to the land.
Donna and her husband, Bill, began Morning Glory LLC with this ethos in mind. From the beginning, they set up their tidy 3-acre farm to run as a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, in which members become shareholders of the farm, making a one-time payment at the beginning of each growing season in exchange for boxes of produce every week during harvest. In doing so, Donna and Bill offer a model that not only nurtures the health of the community, but also of their soil; while not USDA Certified Organic, they follow organic practices, and maintain rotations of cover crops that inject plant matter back into what had previously been compacted conventional farmland. Donna also remains connected to her former role, hosting adults with disabilities who work on the farm once a week or more.
Morning Glory has taken off: In 2013 they started out with 10 shareholders, a number that has since ballooned to 70. In this time, Donna and Bill have also increased their sales outlets, selling to select wholesale accounts including the Bon Appétit team at Cornell College, only a mile and a half from the farm.
The team at Cornell is happy to work with them, recognizing that Morning Glory’s small acreage and high retail volume means that sales to the café on campus will only happen sporadically, when Donna has a glut of a particular crop. But it’s always been a practice of Executive Chef Dave Smigo and Executive Sous Chef Austina Smith to be nimble in their ability to source from their small Farm to Fork vendors like Morning Glory. In doing so, they contribute to a cascade of interactions and a web of soil, community, and resilience on the rolling plains of eastern Iowa.