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Lamb Jam review
by Lisa Kiley
It was a rainy Friday evening when visitors of the first annual Lamb Jam arrived in Wilmington, Ohio June 20. Ohio Farm Bureau members traveled from as far North as Cleveland and Sandusky as well as the Cincinnati area, none of them had ever been to The General Denver Hotel and some had never been to Clinton County. After enjoying a meal in the pub, our guests retired for the evening. Saturday morning started off gray and overcast as the visitors stepped out onto Mulberry Street to take in the Farmers Market. Dessie Buchanan has been in charge of the Clinton County Farmers Market for many years and has helped to organize a market that prides itself in local products that must be grown or made primarily within the County. The General Denver Hotel serves a breakfast on Saturday mornings on the patio and in the pub overlooking the market. Specials for the day are made with local produce and other products from the markets. On Saturday mornings, if you get out early enough, you can see Jen Purkey, the executive chef and general manager of the hotel purchasing items for the menu.
The sunshine came out to greet us as we prepared for the day ahead and the main portion of our Grow and Know Event. Guests piled into a van and we began our trek across Clinton County to visit three of the farms that we often use for meat and produce at the Hotel. Our first stop was at Branstrator Farm in Clarksville. We were greeted by Jon Branstrator who operates this farm that has been in his family for generations. We climbed onto a flatbed with straw seating pulled behind Jon’s tractor. He took us all over his farm and showed us the strawberry patches, newly planted pumpkins, and a field of tomatoes, all while discussing his philosophies of farming and sharing his extensive knowledge on seeds and soils. The passion that he has for his farm is tangible. We stopped up on the hill and picked tasty blueberries. We sampled black and red currants and gooseberries, then walked through an asparagus patch.
Soon, it was time to move on to our next farm. Guy and Sandy Ashmore of “That Guy’s Family Farm” in Clarksville were waiting for us with a pickup truck for our next tour. Their property is dissected by creek lines and we drove through the creek to check out the chickens that are a main component of the farm. The young chicks hung out in chicken tractors and were free range to hunt and peck for bugs and eat grass while the larger hens occupied an even larger fenced area and were guarded by a goat that lived with them and protected them from a variety of predators. We drove around the vegetable gardens that included everything from fresh greens to popcorn. Everyone was impressed with the cut flower fields that are managed by Guy and Sandy’s daughter, Nellie Ashmore. Nellie sells cut flowers for markets and has grown flowers for many weddings in the area. Guy discussed the importance of making the farm a sustainable enterprise for his whole family and the generations to come. Visitors were sent home with popcorn still on the cob.
Our last stop of the day was across the county in Sabina. Bruce and Debbie Linebaugh of Taylor’s Tunis have an impressive animal focused farm that they run on small acreage. This is where the lamb comes from that is used on the hotel menu on a daily basis. They also have hogs, beef cattle, and chickens along with vegetables and beehives. The farm is named after the Tunis breed of sheep which are distinct for having red points and are known for being both market lambs and producers of wool. Taylor is the name of their granddaughter who attends the markets with Debbie and helps to run their stand. Although every farm we visited had a different focus, the love of the land coupled with concern for sustainability of family farming was apparent.
When we arrived back at the hotel, Aidan Carr-Henderson, our chef de cuisine, had prepared a cooking demonstration for the guests. Courses included fresh local greens salad, Greek flatbread with lamb, lamb sosaties (kabobs) with couscous, the lamb burger and finished off with homemade local honey lavender ice cream topped with local blueberries. The meal was paired with local beers from Yellow Springs and Rivertown (Cincinnati) and Wines from Valley Vineyards (Morrow). Mark and Molly Dullea, owners of the General Denver Hotel, talked with the guest about the food and the history of the hotel.
At the end of the evening as the sun was beginning to set, the patio was re-opened to the public and we welcomed Gran Bel Fisher (Jessie Littleton) from Sabina. This talented song writer and musician enchanted the crowd with his heartfelt songs that have been inspired by growing up in rural Ohio. As the evening slipped into night, everyone on the patio was enjoying the music. Regulars of the Hotel chatted with our new visitors, sharing stories and making new friendships. With the help of Steven Berk, organization director at the Ohio Farm Bureau, who was key in helping to organize this event along with Dessie Buchanan, executive director of the Clinton County Farmers Market, we are hoping to have many more Farm Bureau events like this at the General Denver Hotel showcasing the community spirit and agricultural heritage of Clinton County.
Lisa Kiley is marketing director and event coordinator at the General Denver Hotel.