Finding Your Food at the Fondy Feast
Story and Photography by Joe Laedtke
“Be careful not to step on Kermit. If you’re lucky, you might see Miss Piggy.” Young Kim, former executive director of Fondy Food Center, snarked, sloshing along under the tent covering what could easily double as the rice paddies a stone’s throw across the dirt ruts standing in for a road. Frogs representing every color of a Wisconsin rainbow darted, croaked, and swam through six inches of starkly clear water, below a sparse mat of crab grass and ground ivy.
Last year, rains from the day prior soaked the clay-laden soil, and the soiree was hitched up and moved to higher ground, with no storms in sight. While a humid August mist draped across a lazy August day’s sun, chefs darted between massive gas grills to prep stations, coolers and impromptu sinks. Thus, the preparations for the Fondy Farm Feast were marked.
There is something breathtaking, electric, addictive about a group of chefs—friends— moving about in a semi-synchronized interpretive dance of food. Today, the food is about the guests, about the farm, about the land. There are no James Beard Awards at stake, no newspaper accolades or trendy blog posts. Fantastically talented women and men come together, bring their ideas, their insights, and their knife rolls, and cook ingredients grown underneath their very feet.
This notion brings reverence with it. Dining on the earth that produced the food is akin to visiting a historic marker— standing on the same stage as Jimi Hendrix or fitting your hands into Judy Garland’s on the Walk of Fame—there’s a palpable connection completely unique to these circumstances. The smiles, the laughter and the anticipation all make that connection immediately evident.
A grunting tractor begrudgingly treks around the farm fields, our guide points out crops, harvests and fallow. Only weeks before, farmers from across Southeastern Wisconsin fervently worked these fields, many of them members of Milwaukee’s Hmong community. Strong hands plant strong produce, strong produce builds strong communities on the North side and beyond. At the Fondy Farm in Port Washington, the bounty comes full circle—the land, the farmers, the chefs, and the diners all taking part in the cycle of food, moving beyond anonymous aubergine and shrinkwrapped spinach in garishly lit megamarts.
Our world does not allow every meal to be a farm dinner—yet, what does it say about our food system when eating, slowly, with friends and strangers, in the verdant beauty of our land becomes an exception and not the rule? With this seed firmly planted in your mind, come to the harvest with new executive director, Jennifer Casey, and team at this year’s Fondy Feast on Sunday, August 28.