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Thursday, January 29, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 34.0° F  Overcast
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Flooded farm, part two
Another year, another devastating storm
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After last year's $750,000 loss, Richard de Wilde was doubtless hoping for a not-too-wet wet season. He didn't get one.

On de Wilde's Harmony Valley Farm, the organic operation near Viroqua, 20 acres' worth of plantings were destroyed by the recent storms. Among the losses were tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, salad greens, dill, cilantro and a cornfield - the same one ravaged in last year's rains.

A drainage ditch for the damaged cornfield cost the farm $10,000. "We had a nice crop in this field," he says. "The same thing happened again." Where there was a field of sweet corn, there now is gravel.

The damage is less than half that of 2007, de Wilde says, and some plants may be salvageable, including melons that "weren't under water too long." And because the floods came earlier in the season than last August's disaster, there is time to replant.

Even so, the loss is devastating, and de Wilde doubts his crop insurance will help much. For last year's losses he received less than $23,000 from the federal program. "It's not a very good program," he says.

As happened last year, de Wilde has received an outpouring of concern from his customers. "We've got a couple hundred emails," he says. "'Oh, my gosh, I'm sorry to hear this happened again, but we'll stick with you.'"

Says de Wilde, "If it wasn't for them, I couldn't see doing it again."

Lightning strikes

Also affected by the bad weather was Talula (802 Atlas Ave., 608-441-1977), the new east-side restaurant in the big pink building that used to be Mexicali Rose, and CJ's before that.

The restaurant opened Friday, June 6. Two days later, lightning tore through shingles, rafters and the ceiling in the restaurant office. Computers and phones were destroyed - along with cash registers.

Talula is open again, and the kitchen is serving what co-owner Mary Reed calls "supper-clubby" fare. Some menu items might look familiar to fans of Fyfe's, the East Washington Avenue restaurant that closed last year, and there's a reason they might. Reed's partner is brother-in-law Keith Blew, who co-owned Fyfe's.

Reed declines to explain the significance of her restaurant's name, other than to say that she wanted "something feminine" to match the pink exterior. (She will say that the eatery is not named for Tallulah Bankhead.) Reed recently ended a 19-year stint behind the bar at the Willy Street tavern the Crystal Corner Bar.

No one wants their two-day-old restaurant to be struck by lightning, but Reed is philosophical. "If it weren't for the monsoon rains, we would have burned," she says. "That's the cup half full."

From Abidjan with love

There's a lot Yul Ouattara likes about Wisconsin, especially the friendly people. But the native of Abidjan, Ivory Coast isn't fond of every particular. "Every time it snows here, I feel so sad," he says.

Still, he sounds happy when he talks about Africana, his new restaurant at 2701 Atwood Ave. (608-204-9999). Why did he open it? "When I moved to Madison after school at UW-Stevens Point, I noticed there was no West African restaurant." That was a shame, he says, because "West African food is the best in Africa."

In Africana's kitchen are two cooks, one Senegalese, one from Ivory Coast, who whip up the restaurant's specialties. Among them are seafood dishes, fried plantains and maffe, the classic peanut stew. Wines from South Africa are served in the lounge; the beer list features Wisconsin breweries like New Glarus and Tyranena.

Ouattara studied business and information systems at Stevens Point, where a program for international students helped him feel at home. "We even took a class on what to wear in the snow," he says.

Try them, you'll like them

Think you don't like collard greens? Free your mind. The Southern staple is on the menu at A Place for Friends (2105 Sherman Ave., 608-244-6000), the north-side soul food restaurant that opened in February, and co-owner Heidi Dickerson is handing out samples.

"A lot of people aren't used to it," she says of the dish. "People are scared to try it. Then they try it, and they're like, 'I want a bowl of that.'"

Heidi's co-owners are husband Charles Dickerson and Darius Wilson. The two men, who come from Orangeburg, S.C., found that there was not much soul food in Madison, so they sought to change that. Their restaurant serves catfish, black-eyed peas and banana pudding, along with enchiladas and Spanish rice that reflect Heidi's Hispanic background.

A Place for Friends is open until 4 a.m. on weekends. "Instead of having to go to McDonald's or Denny's" for late-night eats, she says, "you can get your collard greens."

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