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Eat Local Food, Protect Local Land

by Dan Cross


On Saturday, July 18, there will be a tremendous opportunity to eat—for a cause!  The 6th Annual Field to Fork event will bring together five local chefs and lots of fresh, locally-sourced food from Metro East growers for a night of delicious dining, to highlight the value (both ethically and gastronomically) of buying local.  And if that is not enticing enough, the event benefits the fantastic conservation efforts of Heartlands Conservancy.


Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 9.13.04 PM (1)Heartlands began in 1989 with the mission of protecting our area’s unique natural resources.  They are involved in many different efforts, including acquiring land to pass on to local and state agencies for environmental protection and public recreational.  Two such areas are the White Rocks Nature Preserve and Kidd Lake Marsh in Monroe County.  Heartlands, using private funds raised by events like Field to Fork, helped purchase each area, protecting over 900 acres of diverse and spectacular natural habitat, now administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.  Another big acquisition by Heartlands was Engelmann Farm in Shiloh, 143 acres on one of the highest points in St. Clair County, which will eventually become a county park.


All you have to do to support these wonderful conservation efforts is come and eat fresh local food exquisitely prepared by five master chefs.  It’s hard to imagine a more pleasant way to support worthwhile environmental causes!

Jennifer Kennedy, owner of J. Fires’ Market Bistro in Waterloo, will be one of the culinary artists preparing food for the event.  If you have ever visited her lovely restaurant, you know what a gifted chef Jennifer is, and she is a big believer in buying local.  “Here at J. Fires, we do a lot of local produce. Everything is very natural here, and I have my own garden out back where I grow most of the herbs and spices we use.  Even big grocery chains carry local products now, so that’s perfect.”

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at webOne of the local growers supplying produce to Field to Fork is Scharf Farms in Milstadt, a beautiful living example of the family farm, something that is becoming rarer every year in America.  While transferring a freshly harvested crop of winter wheat from combine to silo, owner Al Scharf took a moment to tell me about the farm.  “My parents started this establishment in 1946, after the war.  After college and marriage, Nancy and I came back and took over things here.  We have a very diversified operation here.  We still do corn, soybeans, and wheat, but our first crop in the spring comes from our greenhouse operation, and then asparagus, followed by strawberries, followed now by sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, and squash—you name it, we try to grow it.”


1 webI asked Al how they became involved with Heartlands.  “Last year, they approached us and asked if we would be one of the participating farms for the Field to Fork dinner.  We went—delightful evening, great people—so when they approached us this year, we said we would do it again.”


In the store at Scharf Farms (right on Highway 163 north of Concordia Church Road in Millstadt), I found co-owner Nancy Scharf stocking the shelves with fresh peaches and tomatoes.  I asked her if Field to Fork helped make people aware of their operation.  “Everything helps,” she said.  “Most of our business comes through word of mouth.”


Jennifer(Bright) webField to Fork will be a scrumptious five-course meal, each course prepared by a different chef.  Along with Jennifer Kennedy, the chefs will include Joe Hemp from Robust Wine Bar in Edwardsville, Josh Galliano of The Libertine in Clayton, MO, Tim Faltus of the Pie Pantry in Belleville, and Ben Rudis, of Cleveland Heath in Edwardsville.  Along with the local produce and local chefs, there will also be live music by local alternative country band, The Trophy Mules.  There will also be a silent auction (including Cardinals tickets, items from local microbreweries, and more) and a live auction to help raise funds for Heartlands’ conservation efforts.  The festivities will take place at Bellecourt Place in Belleville.  Cocktails will be served at 5:00 and dinner at 6:15.  Reservations are required and space is limited, so visit the Heartlands website at www.HeartLandsConservancy.org.


Who:  Heartlands Conservancy

What:  Field To Fork Local Gourmet…..

Where:  Bellcourt Place —- Belleville IL

When:  —-, 5pm

How:  www.HeartlandsConservancy.org /