By Jordan Gerard
Editor, The Caledonia Argus
Where can you get house-made food, coffee, bakery treats and other goodies that have originated within a 60-mile radius of Hokah? At Free Range Exchange, of course.
The new small space cafe on Hokah’s Main Street takes the place of the former Sidewalk Cafe and brings a wide array of a “truly local mashup of what the area offers.”
Co-owner Ben Horn said he and Cambria Kolstad-DeVaney and their spouses Ava and Daniel, respectively, wanted a place where they would be able to feature their own produce and to have a spot for Kolstad-DeVaney to feature her original food creations.
“In a nutshell, we are a coffee shop, cafe, farmers market co-op, and we specialize in everything local and make everything from scratch,” Horn said. “We take the guesswork out for the customers by serving real food ... made with no preservatives, no synthetic ingredients. We focus on organic [and] natural food and produce.”
The cafe was opened in late November 2019. The grand opening will be held sometime in March. So far, the response has been positive, with new commuters every day from southeast Minnesota to northeast Iowa, a mix of locals and commuters and also destination customers coming to see the new business, Horn said.
Coffee and caffeinated beverages are available from local vendors like Carlson Roasters in Houston, Heart Rock Coffee in Caledonia and Bean Juice from La Crosse, Wisconsin. Spring Grove Soda Pop is also available in the cold case.
If you grab a bakery treat or a grab-and-go lunch with that morning coffee, or have a sit-down meal, you can expect the ingredients were sourced from a 60-mile radius around Hokah. The cafe also expands that raduis to about 300 miles in order to shop at a bigger market.
Local sources include Stremcha Orchard from Dakota, JonDor Herefords from Rushford, Longhorn Valley Farm from La Crescent, Van Lin Orchards from La Crescent, Von Arx Farm from Hokah, Owl Bluff Farm from Houston; Pure Minnesota Honey from Houston, Wholesome Family Farms from Caledonia; B&B Honey Farm from Houston, Tapestry Gardens from La Crescent and the Caledonia Bakery.
Lately, they’ve also added Caledonia’s Sno-Pac Organic Foods to their list because they liked the transparency Sno-Pac provides about where their produce comes from.
By working with local resources, it reduces the “food-miles,” or how long produce takes to get to the restaurant. Additionally, Free Range Exchange has their own environmental commitment that directs them to usee eco-friendly take out products and compost all food waste, whether it goes into a compost bin or gets fed to the chickens on the farm.
Horn said it is pretty easy to work with farmers and businesses from the area, as most are happy to source with the cafe.
His own farm, Happy Horns Farm in La Crescent, also contributes produce to the cafe. They grow produce in season.
In addition to produce, there’s also artwork, jewelry, handmade crafts and the gnomes hidden amongst items at the cafe that are also locally made. What’s more is a line of personal care products, natural lotions, vitamin supplements and CBD products.
“We’re a blend of time-to-sit-down-and-enjoy-a-meal, or for those on the hustle, people are grabbing coffee, a bakery snack or a grab-and-go lunch,” Horn added. “We have a variation of salads, parfaits, veggie trays, sandwiches and wraps.”
So far those have included such recipes as cherry almond muffins, varieties of quiches, citrus spinach salads, massive peanut butter paprika cookies, Thai peanut flatbread, a variety of scones, sour dough sweet rolls, real fruit smoothies and many more.
They’ve been continually creating new dishes with daily variations for their menu, Horn said, but every day is a little different.
The mastermind in the kitchen, Cambria Kolstad-DeVaney, formulates her recipes from childhood memories and her grandmother’s recipes.
“Living up north for a while with my grandma in the middle of nowhere, there was no pizza delivery or Thai food,” she said. “My grandma was always a baker. She made stuff from scratch.”
Kolstad-DeVaney would grow up around those recipes and take them with her, all the while working in a cheese shop and learning about different food items.
“I have every kind of condiment in my cupboard. I like to experiement,” she added. “I just like food. I’ve never been traditionally trained.”
She especially enjoys cooking food that comes from a garden and once had more than 500 cookbooks in her collection.
Horn spoke highly of her recipes as well, saying “she has an unmatched passion for creating food from scratch.”
When Hokah and the surrounding communities are plunged into winter and the normal growing season is done, Horn said they adjust their menu to fit what is available.
Instead of fresh tomatoes on their winter BLT (bacon, lettuce, tomato), they use their own tomatoes to make a sauce for the popular sandwich.
“We use goods that hold well, like squash, potatoes ... things that can hold well into the winter,” Horn said. “Greens and stuff like that, we are buying organic greens of what’s available during the spring.”
The overall process of working with farmers, businesses, managing a cafe and interacting with customers has been enjoyable so far, Horn added.
A lot of that has to do with the small town connection many people enjoy, such as two classmates who met by accident on the opening day of the cafe, he relayed.
Kolstad-DeVaney added the dining room is like “always sharing a meal,” with Horn in agreement, who added it’s an extension of their lives.
Additional farms and businesses not in the immediate Houston County area include Ferndale Market in Cannon Falls; Spike Horn Ranch in Holmen, Wis.; Rishi Teas in Milwaukee, Wis.; Beaver Creek Farms in Taylor, Wis.; and Kwik Trip in La Crosse.
Free Range Exchange’s hours are Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Check out their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/freerangeexchange, or call ahead and place your order at 507-894-1111.