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Bank, newspaper, grocery store, doctor, dentist, chiropractor, accountant, auctioneer, pharmacy, hardware store, beauty salons, restaurants, flower shop, gift shop, realtor, insurance agencies, landscaper, car dealership — that’s just part of Cheney, Kansas’, Main Street.

This no-stoplight, rural, small town has 2,094 residents and a crowded, revenue-generating business district. These are long-standing businesses, too. Some are in the second-generation of family ownership.

What’s going on in Cheney? Where’s the dying small-town Main Street?

“Cheney has always felt a purpose for its existence,” says Carl Koster, long-time resident and former mayor. Some of that comes from its distance to Wichita, the nearest largest metro area. He also credits forward-thinking leaders who don’t have a political agenda; a locally owned bank that sees the potential in local businesses; and key economic anchors, such as a grocery store. Koster also says Cheney residents know how to work together, having been the host city for the Sedgwick County Fair for many years.

Another key factor to Cheney’s Main Street success is “the Wal-Mart rule,” Koster says, where a main street can survive if it’s more than 25 miles from Wal-Mart. Cheney is now 22 miles from the nearest Wal-Mart.

That will change in 2012. A Wal-Mart is being built in nearby Goddard, about 12 miles away.

The community is already going on the offensive with its “Think Local, Buy Local, Cheney First” program. Its first campaign involved $10,000 in Cheney Bucks. Shoppers could buy $100 in Cheney Bucks for just $90. The chamber and several local businesses provided money for the discounts.

I sincerely hope Cheney’s Main Street can survive, even when the campaigns stop — and that Cheney can always know its purpose for existence. What better way to show it than with a bustling Main Street.

Here are some sights. Come on over:

Cheney, Kansas, City Hall

A view of Cheney's Main Street

Citizens State Bank

Jim's grocery store

Robinson's hardware store

Open doors welcome visitors on Cheney's Main Street.

Sedgwick County Fair ribbons
Sedgwick County Fair ribbons

I make two dishes that I’m proud of – banana bread and lasagna. So, last year, when my 4-H kids were in county fair prep frenzy,  I joined in and entered my banana bread in open class. I whipped it up. Plopped it on a paper plate. Zipped it up in a baggie and off we went. I thought it looked and smelled great.

What did the judges think? White ribbon. That’s one higher than the thank-you-for-coming ribbon. I didn’t think I had an ego, but, apparently, I do. It was bruised.

The judge’s comments: over filled; under done; ingredients not at room temperature; and others I’ve tried to forget.

Now, a year later, I had a chance to reclaim my baking honor. Humbled, I tried a new approach. I followed the recipe exactly. I measured the flour carefully, using a knife to scrape off the excess; not my usual shake and dump. I mindfully chopped and measured the nuts, adding just ½ cup. Bananas were mashed with love. I used a new baking pan.  And, my ingredients were at room temperature (still puzzled by how the judge could identify that).

Most importantly, I didn’t multi-task. No phone calls. No starting a load of wash. No email checks. No Facebook or Twitter.

It was actually liberating to focus on one simple task – and aim to do it perfectly.

Unfortunately, the judge didn’t deem my bread perfect just yet , but I did bump up to a red ribbon. The bread was “nicely browned, moist
and had good flavor.” However, it was also a little soggy on the bottom (need to remove it from pan earlier) and top edges were overdone (go easier on the cooking spray).

Next year it’s my year. I can feel it. 357 more days to practice my banana bread — and single-tasking. My ego and shelf need that blue ribbon.

Burracos in Rolla

June 2, 2011

Rolla, Kan., is half way between here and way over there — and home to Archuleta’s restaurant. Or, maybe Archuleta’s is home to Rolla.

I didn’t venture into the city on my recent trip through Western Kansas. I’m sure there’s more to see than this trailer-house restaurant, but this trailer-house restaurant was all my empty belly and I needed.

My wonderful western Kansas friends Donnie and Chris introduced me to Joe Archuleta and his burracos — a combination burrito and taco.  He  makes them in his kitchen and you devour them at the kitchen table. You grab a Coke (no diet drinks are worthy of this meal) in the refrigerator. Burracos: $2.50 (or $24 a dozen). Coke: 50 cents.

The burracos are full and meaty and juicy and perfectly paired with his homemade salsa and a paper plate. Archuleta’s is about food and friends, not tableware.

Chris asked if I could guess the secret ingredient. It was right on the tip of  my tongue, literally, but I just couldn’t name it. I’ll share the secret after you take your first bite.

You can find Archuleta’s on Highway 56  in the southwest corner of Kansas. Meet me there when I head back in late June. I already have my spot picked out at the picnic table out front.

Eat interesting

May 5, 2011

Eat healthy. Eat local. How about eat interesting?

Our fifth Kansas Farm Bureau Masters class was an exploration of Stafford County, Kan., and the stories behind locally grown food.

Stafford County is “a flat county punctuated with grass-covered sand dunes once labeled the Great American Desert,” says the official website. The site also says the county is like a treasure hunt. It’s true.

How about this find: Stafford County Flour Mills Co., one of the last remaining independent flour mills in the U.S.  The mill is in Hudson, population: 125. The company is 105 years old and its signature flour is Hudson Cream:

“Hudson Cream flour is made using a ‘short patent’ milling process, a method that was much more common a century ago than today. The difference is that in short patent milling the wheat is ground more times and sifted with finer-meshed sieves than in standard milling. Also, the short patent process sifts away more by-product, leaving only the heart of the wheat kernel to make Hudson Cream flour. The result is a flour that is smoother in produces baked goods that are consistently light and fluffy.”

What’s even better, wheat for the flour comes from grain elevators in Stafford County and nearby Reno County. Local wheat, local flour. I’ve walked past the flour bags in my grocery store. No more. I have two bags in my pantry right now. (You can order online here: http://www.hudsoncream.com/product.taf.)

Here’s another interesting Stafford County food find: 4 Star Hydroponics. This family business grows hydroponic tomatoes in St. John. Jarrod Taylor, son of founder, Rita Taylor, says they went to many, many farmer’s markets when they started. They offered samples to disprove the notion that hydroponic tomatoes don’t have flavor. The business has grown and prospered, now supplying grocery chains, restaurants and distributors. 

Here’s a good story on 4 Star: http://www.freshplaza.com/2006/03jan/2_us_hothouse-tomatoes.htm.

Their operation yields about 2,000 pounds a week this time of year. On one record day, they picked 8,000 pounds of tomatoes. Jarrod shares details here about the mechanics of hydroponic tomatoes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYHRPJ2YoyE.

I brought home some of his tomatoes. My son eats them like apples. Jarrod was right. They were delicious.

It was a good day of healthy, local and interesting food.

This was tucked in with my mail. Sad news regarding our country post office that I wrote about in February: https://lynnwoolf.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/whats-so-special-about-milton-kansas-67106/

My V. says,  “That little ol’ post office never hurt anyone.”

Maybe this was the last resort of a desperate person in need. I bet the good people of Milton would have helped this person, if they only had asked.

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