fences: real and metaphoric
the Hotel Pattee closed, I drove
up Iowa Highway 141 looking for
the future incarnation of Iowa’s
picket fence past. Because of
the movie “Field of Dreams,” Iowa
economic development has fully
deployed the strategy “Build it
and they will come.” It might
now be instructive to remember
that: 1) The “they” in the movie
were dead baseball players; 2)
The Pattee was the grand slam
evocation of Iowa’s ghostly past
and; 3) Hollywood isn’t the best
role model for economic development.
Purchased in 1993, the Perry
hotel was Christian philanthropist
Roberta Green Ahmanson’s celebration
of old fashioned small town values.
She officially spent $10 million
remodeling it and another $10
million on related restorations.
The hotel was a de facto Christian
ministry. Prayer cards were placed
on guest pillows and C.S. Lewis’
Christian books filled the nightstands.
Biblical verses were a large part
of the décor and there
was a chapel in the basement.
Ironically, the only discernible
growth in the town’s church membership
in the last 13 years stemmed from
something else — the $1 million
the town raised to build a meat
processing plant. That attracted
Hispanic workers who now comprise
nearly a third of Perry’s 8,000
residents. The local priest told
me they are the “entire growth
industry” of his Catholic parish.
With 100 employees, including
33 fulltime workers, the Pattee
bled money for a decade before
Ahmanson applied a tourniquet.
Workers were informed of the closing
by a Seattle public relations
firm while she traveled abroad,
provoking talk about “rich Christian
hypocrisy.” On my visit, all downtown
action had an Hispanic accent.
Casa d’Oro was packed but none
of the quaint little shops and
boutiques near the hotel were
open. Without the Pattee, Perry
looked like Columbus Junction,
which is to say it is young and
alive and bi-lingual.
As much as any other restaurant
in Iowa, the hotel’s David’s Milwaukee
Diner revived old fashioned food
values like sustainability, kindness
to animals and buying locally.
A stunning number of extraordinary
Iowa foods found a market in David’s
kitchen: Pickett Fence dairy products,
Northern Prairie chevre, Doc Carver’s
lamb, Milt Sheeder’s poultry,
I found some really good news
about those foods seven miles
down 141 toward Des Moines. Picket
Fence Creamery’s (PF) country
store is as real as Ahmanson’s
picket fence values are metaphoric.
The store is also the perfect
fix for “fresh and local” foodies
in farmer’s market withdrawal.
Besides their fabulous milk, cream,
cheese and ice cream, all made
without homogenization from their
own naturally raised and organically
fed cows, PF stocks an all-star
lineup of other local foods produced
with similar standards of good
husbandry and stewardship.
Their own beef is raised without
artificial hormones. The cattle
graze pastures and drink Xenia
Rural Water, which is frequently
tested for chemicals and fertilizer
run-off. They also raise pigs
from piglets born at Kay Christian’s
farm in Woodward. The pigs grow
up outdoors, never in confinements
and eat grains, grasses and milk
like the pampered pigs of Parma.
Chickens roam free range in Grimes
and in eastern Iowa. Bison are
raised in Tama, elk in Linden
and lamb in Jefferson. Fresh eggs
came from several local farms
where chickens free-range. Fabulous
ducklings came courtesy of Martzahn
Farms in Green.
Most of the processed items
used local sustainable foods in
their recipes: Rave’s of Boone’s
north German dessert sauces and
cheesecakes were based on home
grown berries and wines; R&D
Country Style cheese products
from Ames used PF cream; Country
Lane Bakery of Woodward’s candies
and other sweets were made with
PF dairy; Keller’s Country Store
in Dallas Center supplied granolas,
candy, trail mix and apple butter,
as well as their famous Lebanon
bologna. There were mustards and
salsas from familiar farmers market
vendors, plus Zimmerman’s peanut
butter, as well as Russ and Frank’s
BBQ sauces, Iowa maple syrups,
Log Chain honeys from Allerton
and Krough Family corncob sweetener
from Atlantic. All wines were
from Iowa, too, including Breezy
Hills, Jasper, Penoach, Madison
County, Sugar Grove and Summerset.
By Jim Duncan CVFDude@aol.com
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