It all began with a boast. Back in 1941, state Rep. Will Christian declared to his fellow Topeka lawmakers that he could prepare an entire dinner using food grown in Grant County, his western Kansas home base.
He then backed up his claim, inviting a dozen legislators to his table for a homegrown dinner featuring beef, scalloped potatoes, pinto beans, squash, cherry tomatoes, sweet corn, wheat rolls, strawberry jam and watermelon, all cooked by his wife, Nora.
The Christians continued to host the dinner every fall until the congressman’s retirement. Then, in 1962, the Grant County Chamber of Commerce revived the tradition and made it official, naming it the Grant County Home Products Dinner to showcase the county’s agricultural products, thus establishing an annual hometown tradition in Ulysses, Kan.
“The dinner draws the community together,” says Grant County farmer David Pucket, 52, who has donated thousands of cherry tomatoes, hundreds of green crookneck squash and pickup loads of pumpkins, which are used for decorations. “It gets different people together—visitors, farmers and consumers.”
Each year, an eight-member committee coordinates the meal, chooses an annual theme and entertainment and enlists the help of over 700 volunteers and 50 clubs and organizations to shuck a pickup load of corn, peel 400 pounds of potatoes, barbecue 800 pounds of beef, slice 50 watermelons, pick 40 pounds of strawberries for jam, bake 1,800 whole wheat rolls, decorate the Grant County Civic Center, and finally, to serve dinner to some 1,500 friends, family members and neighbors.
Perhaps even more satisfying than the feast itself, though, is the end result—during the past 15 years, proceeds from all of the $7 meals sold have funded more than $100,000 in college scholarships for Ulysses High School graduates.
“When I was in high school in FFA, I helped set tables, and later I received a scholarship from the Home Products Dinner,” says Lori Deyoe, 33. “Today, I help on the committee. So I’ve come full circle.”
Now that’s something to brag about.