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Farm to Table

September 11, 2013 2:16 pm  •  BY KIM QUADE

From the farm. Through the kitchen. To your table.

It’s a dining concept practiced in Northern Italy and in many parts of the United States. And it’s a philosophy Jerry and Renee Cornett embraced and are bringing to rural Waverly.

Through their travels with the U.S. Navy as pilots and officers, the Cornetts visited more than 40 countries and had the chance to experience an array of culinary adventures. They appreciated the opportunity to savor a meal in the countryside where the bulk of the food is grown on the family’s adjacent farm, prepared in the onsite kitchen and served in an idyllic setting far from the hubbub of a city.

“In Northern Italy, the idea of a farm-to-table restaurant in the country is just part of the culture,” Jerry says.

When the Cornetts anticipated their retirement from the military a number of years ago, they compiled a list of all the options they could pursue. The idea of a countryside restaurant, sustained primarily by locally grown food, appealed to them, and the idea evolved.

Jerry’s roots drew him and his family back to Nebraska. He grew up in Omaha and graduated from the University of Nebraska-Omaha before joining the U.S. Navy. Renee was raised in Maryland, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served in the Navy. Jerry and Renee met, married and now have two children – Erika, 14, and Paul, 10. Renee graduated with a degree in culinary arts from Metropolitan Community College in Omaha.

They found the perfect property about five miles northwest of Waverly – a 40-acre parcel with a home overlooking a small lake. They named it Lakehouse Farm, planted a selection of vegetables on a small scale in 2012 and increased their offerings in 2013, now growing about 70 organic items including an assortment of tomatoes, ground cherries, potatoes, green beans, carrots, cucumbers, beets, broccoli, kohlrabi, spinach, eggplant and a variety of herbs and edible flowers.

Through research, trial and error and a lot of sweat equity, the Cornetts have selected unique, or niche, varieties of many of the vegetables. They also focus on employing organic farming methods while managing the land sustainably, getting back to the way things were done 50 or 60 years ago, Jerry says.

That diversity allows a lot of flexibility and options for the restaurant. “As a chef, I’ll be able to do some neat things with these on a plate,” Renee says.

“We’ve spent a lot of time testing different varieties,” Jerry adds. “We’re looking for what we like in the way of flavor and texture, what we like growing and what grows well here.”

Currently, Jerry and Renee sell their produce at the Haymarket Farmers’ Market in Lincoln each Saturday morning. It provides them an opportunity to not only connect with their customers, but to also educate consumers about how to prepare and eat the vegetables.

Meanwhile, renovations continue on the lakefront home that’s being transformed into the Prairie Plate Restaurant. Expected to open in early October at 10405 Branched Oak Road, the Cornetts say Prairie Plate’s cuisine will feature what’s currently in season on the farm, and the simple menu will change every couple of weeks as the produce moves through the growing stages. Renee is looking forward to being creative as she develops the menu.

Open 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, the restaurant will seat nearly 60 inside with another 10 outside on the patio facing the lake. Prairie Plate will close for the season to the public before Thanksgiving and reopen in April. The Cornetts will also sell fresh produce from their on-farm store.

The Cornetts understand they won’t be able to supply all of the food for the restaurant, but they are seeking quality sources to provide the poultry, fish, meat and dairy items.

Once the facility is operating, Jerry and Renee envision many possibilities for Prairie Plate, such as the ability to host special events like weddings, cooking classes, and workshops and conferences where participants can learn about everything from organic farming to birding.

Lakehouse Farm and Prairie Plate Restaurant are part of the Cornetts’ philosophy of bringing customers to the farm, building relationships and connecting them more intimately with the food they eat in a tranquil rural setting.

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