Featured Image: Bon Appétit Fork to Farm Grant Finalists: Midwest Region

Bon Appétit Fork to Farm Grant Finalists: Midwest Region

A grain grower hopes for a mill, a ranch wants an old barn rehab, and produce growers need a pick-and-deliver trailer, a root storage facility, and a movable high tunnel (described in rhyming verse!).

Bon Appétit employees and guests at our locations in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin will get to vote for their two favorites from these five finalists on September 23, our 10th annual Eat Local Challenge. (To see the other regional finalists, use the links at the top of this page.)


GUEST PICK: Open Hands Farm, Northfield, MN

OpenHands1_MWCertified Organic 10-acre fruit & vegetable farm, growing over 40 types and 200 varieties of fruits and vegetables, committed to creating a thriving farm ecosystem and habitat.

Project: A root storage facility to help provide our wholesale accounts with root vegetables all winter long, plus funding for washing and packing equipment.

Details: An extra $5,000 this year would come at the perfect time. We are in the midst of building a root-crop storage facility, purchasing land to transition to more organic production, and increasing our employee wages. We would use this generous grant to help purchase the washing and packing equipment needed for growing our root crop business.

OpenHands2_MWWe have been providing root vegetables for Bon Appétit cafés at St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges, locations that have long been integral to our farm business, and we also hope to begin serving other Bon Appétit accounts with the roots we’ll be growing and storing. Our washing and packing equipment needs include a forklift, bins, bin dumper, and bagger. The grant would ease our cash flow in a big year, helping us achieve all the goals mentioned above. The root storage facility will hold about 100,000 pounds of carrots, beets, parsnips, and other roots. Carrots in particular grow well on our farm. Harvested late fall, they taste so great and are so juicy that people often say to us “I didn’t know a carrot could taste like that.” With this new storage we can provide that flavor and nutrition all winter long.

OpenHands3_MWWe currently grow and sell about 15,000 pounds of roots per year, and run out before New Year’s each winter, so we are excited to be able to grow more great food and provide it to our customers for more months of the year. We love growing root crops, and we believe they are a simple, low-impact way to extend the local eating season in our climate. The building will be well-insulated and use outside air to keep the veggies cool, so energy use will be very low.

The other changes the grant would help facilitate, by relieving some budget pressure, are buying land and paying our employees more. We’re very fortunate to have access to buying productive farmland adjacent to our current farm. The purchases will give us the security of owning land plus room to expand our root business and CSA, give our soils a periodic rest, and trial some new crops. And the employees who work so hard on this farm deserve to earn more than they do. We believe food and farm workers around the world are undervalued for their skills and contributions to our society’s health and future. Growing our root business will help us value their work more accurately, and provide long-term stable jobs in the community.

This is a short list of big goals! Much of this work is being funded with loans from the Farm Service Agency (thanks to your tax dollars at work supporting small beginning farmers), and $5,000 will relieve some of the pressure on our budget as we move forward. There are sure to be many deserving farm candidates for this grant, and whoever gets the awards, it will help each one of us be better servants and stewards of the present and future. Thank you for offering it.

(Optional) How has working with Bon Appétit been helpful to you and your business?

We have been working with Bon Appétit since our first season, and from day one you have been instrumental to our success. Bon Appétit’s dedication to the success of our farm over the past nine  years has meant we can plan and plant for a top-notch reliable customer. Your admirable commitment and flexibility in purchasing and preparing our produce has given us the confidence to invest in the farm to help make a difference in the food system.


STAFF PICK: New Creation Farm, Chardon, OH

NewCreation2_MWFamily (including seven adopted kids!) raises beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and duck humanely on pasture without hormones, antibiotics, or GMO feed.

Project: Restoring a historical barn on our property, to allow shelter to our breeding sows and their piglets in severe weather, a place to process vegetable oil as we convert over our vehicles, store our tractor and create a space for us to host our farm education days.

Details: A few of the struggles we deal with on our farm are severe weather, adequate room to host school field trips, adult and teen livestock studies, along with practical storage for our farm equipment. We also have a large fuel bill from animal transportation and deliveries. We are trying our very best to use the resources we have rather than new.

NewCreation1_MWWe also have a large historical barn on our property that needs water repairs and drainage solutions. It needs foundational repairs done to the stonework and reinforcement to some of the beams. This barn is three stories and is directly connected to two of our pastures. It is a bank barn, so the entire front of the lower level is at ground level.

This is where we would like to have the optional space to bring our breeding sows and their piglets in if the weather becomes inclement. Normally having the sows farrow outside is fine, however this year we had quite a bit of loss due to extreme cold, extreme heat, and flooding. This section of the barn would allow the sows to have access to the pasture while keeping their babies protected. We also already have a ventilation system in this area to keep it cool and circulate the fresh air. It is not only sad for us to see the loss of life, but also hits us very hard financially. Farrowing outside in the huts works well during most months, but living in the snow belt makes it extremely difficult during the coldest winter months.

We have also been hosting many farm “field days” for schools in Geauga County as well as in the Cleveland area. During these classes we give tours and also sit down to discuss sustainability, benefits of farming in a humane environment, effects of factory farming on our health and environment, and how they can educate their community. Part of solving the barn’s drainage problem is building a large overhang. This roof would be an excellent pavilion area to place a few picnic tables for meals and a place for students to leave their belongings while touring.

NewCreation3_MWMore minor uses would be an area to process vegetable oil to fuel our vehicles, which we will be switching over to help with fuel costs. We are also in desperate need of a place to park our tractor! The money would be used mostly for materials, although we may need assistance with stonework. Plans have already been drawn up for this project, so the details are worked out — but we have the project on hold until we have the money to complete it.

(Optional) How has working with Bon Appétit been helpful to you and your business?

I (Kristen) have been able to go down to part time and be with our kids more. Seven are adopted. One of the reasons our farm was started was to give our kids something to build their self-esteem and develop a good work ethic. Most of them were abused and felt worthless when they came to us. The staff at the cafés have been amazing with our kids. Scott usually picks a kid every week to help with deliveries and visit chefs. They LOVE it and the staff members make them feel SO important. Thanks!



Brian Severson Farms, Dwight, IL

BrianSeverson2_MWCertified Organic soft red winter wheat and stone-ground wheat flour, hull-less oat groats, heirloom popcorn, and fresh and frozen corn.

Project: A mill to grind our wheat flour.

Details: We are currently using a neighbor’s mill to grind flour, but it’s not Certified Organic. If we had our own we’d be better able to fill last-minute and larger orders, and it could be Certified Organic. We have seen a lot of interest in organic wheat flour and would love to be able to provide flour to not only individual consumers but also restaurants and businesses interested in larger volumes.


Jirak Family Produce, Atchison, KS

JirakFamilyProduce4_MW14-acre farm produces fresh vegetables including green beans, tomatoes, grape tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, sweet corn, summer squash, winter squash, pumpkins, bell peppers, jalapeño peppers, cucumbers, and zucchini.

Project: A produce trailer that would facilitate delivery of the freshest-quality produce to our customers.

Details: We would use the $5,000 grant to purchase a two-bin produce trailer that would allow us to pick in the field directly into 330 plastic Macro Bins and facilitate delivery to our customers. The bins can also be used to hold smaller food-grade plastic bins, depending on the vegetables species. A two-bin trailer would allow us to better serve the three farmers’ markets, nursing homes, restaurants, and institutional kitchens in the heat of the season.

JirakFamilyProduce3_MWI currently have a four-bin trailer that I had custom built by a local business, USC, in 2004 with rollers for ease of loading and unloading. The four-bin trailer is a bit cumbersome to deliver in cities and to school and institutional kitchens. A new one would also allow us to pursue additional accounts with the added delivery capability and capacity.


I have attached a drawing of the four-bin trailer and a picture of Macro Bins full of cantaloupes, and a picture of Thunderbird Plastic Ag containers with green beans that would be used in conjunction with the trailer.

(Optional) How has working with Bon Appétit been helpful to you and your business?

It has opened our eyes to the opportunity of providing fresh produce to institutional kitchens. Jeff Leahy [Bon Appétit Chef/Manager at Payless ShoeSource Harvest Cafe] has been instrumental in getting us to try new crops and getting contacts that lead to more business. We now have added nursing homes and five school districts to our customer base. We have also enjoyed being able to dine at Payless in Topeka, KS, and have enjoyed eating our produce prepared by an excellent chef and kitchen staff — which makes our work worthwhile.


Vegetable Basket Farm, Waynesburg, OH

VegetableBasket1_MWProduce including tomatoes, squash, and eggplant.

Project: A moveable high tunnel.


It was the day of planting tomatoes and all through the fields
We were wishing for another new High Tunnel so we could have better yields.

With Deb in her Levi’s and Dennis in his boots
We couldn’t stopping thinking about the Bon Appétit contest offering a whole lot of loot.

Five thousand dollars was a lot for our brain
We thought of all the good things that could come by winning this game.

We would buy a High Tunnel and plastic to cover,
And fans to keep it cool and drop down sides for protective cover.

A High tunnel would make the best harvest for our Friends at Bon Appétit
So winning this contest would be really sweet.

Then we started to worry, we had an essay to write
We are farmers not writers, and this gave us a fright.

VegetableBasket3_MWThinking of the natural challenges field tomatoes face everyday
So we drew out our pen and started writing away.

By conserving nature’s water and naturally controlling the weeds
Protecting them from wind and hail would fit some of our needs.

A high tunnel would protect from the frost in the fall
And controlling pesky bugs by rolling down the plastic walls.

We hope everyone understands why we need a High Tunnel
It helps control the environment so our harvest is ample.

For months, we toil in plants from morning till night
Hoping to make our tomato harvest turn out just right.

Produce boxes packed gently and loaded on the truck
We won’t sell anything that will make the chefs say, “Yuck.”

Winning this — oh how Dennis’s eyes they would twinkle
And his forehead would crease with all his tan wrinkles.

There would be far fewer problems from bugs to blight
Keeping control of water and temperature makes the tomatoes grow just right.

As we hold Bon Appétit postcard tight in our hand
We are hoping we would be worthy to win the five grand.

We have hope in our hearts of pleasing all the chefs
And hope they would continue to love our tomatoes and call them the best!

(Optional) How has working with Bon Appétit been helpful to you and your business?

Bon Appétit has helped us to grow our business through the years by continually adding new locations. Farming can be very challenging with many unexpected natural events. Working with professional people at Bon Appétit Case Western, they understand what a farmer’s challenges are. Operating our family farm has been a very valuable learning experience for our children. Thanks to Bon Appétit we have been able to teach future generations the practice of sustainable farming.