Archives for posts with tag: farm

I have been privileged to dine at some great restaurants.

Dinners at Le Bernardin before I even knew who chef Eric Ripert was. Same with Jean-Pierre. Dinner three nights running one magical week at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans in the era of chefs Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme. A buffet catered by Alice Waters. Dinner at the original Spago by Wolfgang Puck (ask me about him sometime…). Citronelle, Jean Claude, Le Bec Fin, Café Milano, Nobu, etc.

It is one of the few privileges of being a journalist – to dine with the rich and famous while you are neither.

This week I dined with journalists at a restaurant in St. Louis that is the equal of any of the elite. It was a meal that one jaded journalist said was the best of her life. I told her: if you can remember any one dish in six months, then indeed it was the best.

Where? Farmhaus, in St. Louis, where chef Kevin Willmann is at the helm. Born into a farm family, raised on the Gulf of Mexico, trained in kitchens all over and then came “home” to cook his own food, a passionate blend of local ingredients from Missouri, Illinois, the Mississippi River and the Gulf.

Willmann delivers. I had an amazing meal there with 20 journalists chosen for the National Press Foundation’s food and farm sustainability seminar. His restaurant is normally closed on Mondays but Chef Willmann made an exception to teach journalists about his special brand of (27)

He created a menu to showcase the best of the season:

*Missouri caviar (from paddlefish) on a corn blini

*Charcuterie board with porchetta di testa, smoked hogs head, chicken liver mousse, cheese and assorted embellishments

*Summer veg salad with corn, pepper, tomato, goat cheese on a lettuce leaf.

*Snapper en papillote with chanterelle mushrooms, husk cherries and fennel

*Bacon-wrapped meatloaf with charred tomato reduction

*Peach cake with candied ginger streusel and blackberry sorbet

Did I mention the local wine and beer pairings? Without reservation I can recommend Farmhaus. If you’re in St. Louis, see a baseball game or walk the amazing botanical gardens. Then find an hour or two for Farmhaus, a foodie’s dream.

Watch the 5-minute video by NPF digital manager Reyna Levine:

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

“Sold!” The auctioneer’s voice boomed. Land that had been in my family for 70 years changed hands last week, from three generations of Johnsons to the new owner, a Peterson who grew up down the road.

My ancestors were homesteaders, taking up the government’s offer of free land in the late 1800s in exchange for someone willing to settle it. They built a ranch in northwestern South Dakota but were driven east by drought and the Great Depression in the 1930s. In 1942, my grandparents, George and Judith Johnson, bought the farm where I grew up near Revillo, S.D., for just under $5,000.

The decision to sell the land wasn’t easy. After my father died in 2004, we set up an LLC and rented the land with every intention of passing it on to another generation. But as time passed, it became apparent that it would be a burden on the 14 kids who were dispersed literally around the globe. We decided late last fall to sell…then hesitated for a few months…and then finally went ahead last Friday.

A farm auction is a social event, and the streets of the small town were lined with pickup trucks as neighbors and potential buyers drove in from miles around for the sale. My brothers Bill and James were there, along with cousins representing almost every branch of the family. A Meyers was bidding. A Magedanz.  Both neighbors. Second cousins were seen punching a calculator.

In another era, the bidders would have all been local. The global economy brought bids from Chicago and Arizona, via telephone. In the end, I’m glad the land went to a neighbor, whose grandparents used to swim and water-ski with my parents at Lake Alice.


We siblings deemed the sale a success. But I can’t help but be a little melancholy with thoughts of my dad and mom, who built a house and raised a family on this little patch of God’s earth. They grew wheat and corn, raised cattle and hogs, planted hundreds of trees and tended a vegetable garden as big as a city block.

I can still picture my father standing on the road to the pasture, scanning the western horizon for rain.