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Solon Couple Works to Bring More Local Food to Eastern Iowans

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JOHNSON COUNTY, Iowa A Solon couple who lives on a small farm is embarking on a unique project to bring more farm-fresh, local produce to Eastern Iowans.

"It's not that common," said Produce Farmer Eric Menzel.

Eric and Eve Menzel are developing what they call a community kitchen. Crews will build it right on their farm, Salt Forks Farm, located just outside of Solon.

The couple organized an Easter Benefit to help their cause. Dinner was served at 5:00 Sunday night during a fundraiser at Devotay Restaurant and Bar in Downtown Iowa City.

The chef, menu and cooking ingredients were all different than usual.

"Chicken and eggs from our farm, potatoes and shallots," Eric Menzel said.

Eric Menzel plucked many of the ingredients right off of his farm. He's hoping his green thumb will bring in more green, in the form of cash, for his community kitchen project.

"The hope is that our food system is healthy," Eric Menzel said.

From the plate to the farm, the Menzel family has plenty of healthy food to go around. The couple has about 800 hens, which are currently producing about 300 eggs a day. They also farm everything from blueberries to okra on land behind their home. They're ready for Mother Nature to grant Eastern Iowa a good dose of warmth to get back out in the field.

"As soon as the ground gives us a sign that it's ready, we'll start putting seeds in the ground," Eve Menzel said.

The couple said they'll cook their own produce, chicken and eggs in the community kitchen. They'll also buy food grown on other local farms.

The space will be utilized in many different ways. They plan to allow people to rent out the kitchen.

"We're also going to start a catering business through the kitchen and start doing dinners on the farm and elsewhere, and the main focus is supporting local agriculture," Eric Menzel said.

They'll also eventually organize cooking classes to help people learn the basics.

"I think people really just want to know how to cook for themselves," Eve Menzel said. "It's something we've moved away from, years ago, and it just became kind of the norm to buy packaged, processed food. As people are finding, it's not the healthiest option."

They're looking to bring in about $30,000 for their project.

"We just really felt called to put a commercial kitchen on our land and work with what we grow and teach people how to use it and feed people good food," Eve Menzel said.

They said their goal is to get the building project started this summer.

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