Return trip reveals bustling business
In rural Nebraska, the meaning of “reaping what you sow” is embedded in our DNA, both agriculturally and socially. We tend to work the fields just as we live our lives and can be as grounded as the land in which we plant our crops. One of the most important aspects of this philosophy is patience. A stalk of corn or a spike of wheat does not materialize overnight and harvest is as much a celebration of diligence as it is hard work. Begin with good intentions and hope your efforts pay off.
That practice is alive and well in the small village of Davenport where entrepreneur Harold Stone has reaped wonderful efforts in the field and in his shop. Rural Foodies ventured to this community a year ago to document the endeavors of Stone, who wears many hats: farmer, retailer, restaurateur and storyteller. His brick and mortar runs under the name of South Maple Street and the details of his small town experience are chronicled in the blog Stone’s Thoreau.
One step into South Maple Street and you are greeted by the classic signs of the season: freshly picked orchard apples and a happy farmer. With the exception of a harvest table filled with glistening jars of preserved tomatoes, the shop looks nearly the same as it did a year ago. The gracious Southern charm of this Texas transplant welcomed us into his shop with a hug and a hearty handshake.
An apprenticeship is formed
Then we met Hannah, a bright-eyed young woman and the newest addition to the South Maple Street operation. She brings to the table a passion for food and a love of farming. Her mother, Lynn, first approached Stone to use his commercial kitchen and spread the word about his work. In a small town, it helps to have a local citizen champion your efforts. Shortly after Lynn used Stone’s culinary resources to preserve produce from her garden, Hannah knew this was where she needed to be as well. An apprenticeship was formed. Hannah had a place to learn and work while Stone had the assistant he needed. It was a perfect match.
Stone’s need for an extra hand is the result of the growing success of South Maple Street. His vision was to create a space that offered an opportunity for the community to gather as a result of good food and shared resources. His shelves are always stocked with freshly preserved goods from his gardens and his state-of-the-art commercial kitchen is available for rent. His concept was innovative for this rural region, and it took people awhile to realize his offerings could bring to fruition their own ideas and experiments. A year ago, Stone seemed to be the only one taking advantage of his kitchen. Now it is regularly booked by locals who churn out homemade pizzas, preserves and provisions.
“I’m using food as a vehicle for economic development,” Stone said.
New interest in South Maple Street
Inspired by Stone and his kitchen, one woman now serves artisan pizzas once a month using her own recipe and fresh produce from the community. But this isn’t the only event that has sparked new interest in South Maple Street. Stone has joined Concerts in Your Home, a network that connects artists and hosts, and he is now luring in musicians traveling through the area with the promise of good food and a great place to perform. Just like offering to house the town’s farmer’s market during off season, Stone’s concerts are a place for the community to connect. If his intentions were to have a storefront that served as a gathering place, his mission was successful.
Adding to the allure of South Maple Street is Stone’s partnership with a local family to preserve a historic culinary staple. Stone has permission to produce Grandma Grace’s Mustard, a sweet and spicy traditional style German condiment with roots deep in southeastern Nebraska. Even though he does not have access to the family’s recipe, he hopes this will be a positive example of how his kitchen can be a resource for properly producing and preserving local foods.
“Growing, producing and serving food increases the texture of a community,” Stone said.
Impromptu tasting reveals tasty treats
Grandma Grace’s Mustard instigated an impromptu tasting during this visit. We tried the famous mustard with Stone’s homemade herb- and seed-crusted crackers. With one taste you knew why this generational gem needed to be preserved. The mustard sampling came with other offerings created in Stone’s kitchen: apple sauce, tomato relish, pickled bright yellow squash chips and dried teardrop tomatoes fresh out of the garden. The bounty of local produce shined bright in the flavors.
We stocked up on South Maple Street goods before we departed. On our way out of town, we followed Stone and Hannah to his plot of land that generates most of his produce. A greenhouse was being prepared for winter with beets, chard and peas. The young fruit trees lining the property had been picked weeks ago. Tomato stalks and pepper plants rose from the mulch and a few remaining bits of produce dangled from their branches. While in his garden, he munched on raspberries he picked as he walked and spoke about his plans for next year’s fields.
I have come to learn that a farmer rarely thinks in present time and their thought process is strongly rooted in the future tense. It seems to be the plight of a farmer to always be contemplating how to improve and maximize their efforts. If it was good this year, it can be better next year. In farming, perseverance is just as important as irrigation. When Stone planted the seed three years ago for what has become South Maple Street, his vision was as much a gamble as any other Nebraska farmer. You can only hope your hard work and diligence will translate into success. And as a result of Stone’s innovation and forward thinking, his endeavors have made him an integral part of the community. He is finally beginning to reap what he has sown and the results are not only positive but tasty as well.