Over the course of the summer of 2009, four student interns spent time in communities all over Minnesota and Wisconsin, visiting farms, cafes, restaurants, coops, and individuals learning about the social, environmental, and economic bonds created by local eating through a project at Renewing the Countryside . The hope of the Community of a Plate project was to illustrate how when you eat locally, you connect with other members of your community, even if it is not instantly recognizable. Each plate of food was documented by tracing its origins from the farm to the table, meeting the people involved in producing the food along the way.
Several stories were also contributed by a group of students from the Minnesota College of Art and Design (MCAD) from coursework in the fall of 2008. Their farm to table tracking brought them to several parts of the state and their stories are included on this website, with credits given to all authors and photographers.
“It’s just like Christmas!” a man in a blue polo shirt and khaki pants exclaimed as he opened the box. The box, however, did not contain a toy tractor, a remote control car, or any other toy commonly associated with Christmas. Instead it contained fresh produce from Featherstone Farm in Rushford Village, MN.
In a bright blue plastic kids pool – one you assume has a whale or a mermaid on the bottom – grew circles of lettuce and spinach. The greens contrasted nicely with the vivid blue of their retired pool turned planter, and looked happy and healthy swimming in their rooftop spa. Along the brick wall sat eight tomato plants, neatly caged with chicken wire. “It’s a joke, really,” St. Luke’s Hospital Director of Hospitality Services Mark Branovan said of their new garden.
“I make the boxes!” the man told me proudly as he held up a shallow box reading “The Superior Tomato” for me to photograph. The completed box continued down the line on a conveyor belt to be filled with hand-picked tomatoes, weighed, stickered and delivered to customers.
When I first spoke to Don Solwold at Quartermaster Buffalo in Esko, Minnesota, he asked if I’d ever been introduced to a buffalo before. No, I hadn’t. I had been introduced to all kinds of things: new foods, new people, new activities, but never buffalo.
Residents of the Mille Lacs Health System Nursing Home in Onamia, Minnesota, gathered to chop vegetables as an activity the afternoon before MLHS’s monthly themed meal. Each month, nursing home residents choose the theme of a noontime meal to share with friends and family in the hospital dining hall. Themes of the past have included Mexican and country-style, but July’s theme brought the meal a little closer to home: local foods.
Barb Eller has made it her mission to keep her community out of the hospital by providing good, healthy food. She and her husband, Paul, returned to Onamia in 2002 to take over the farm on which Barb grew up. Her parents, Fran and Rich Eller, began the farm in 1947 with just 20 acres and a milk cow. The 140 acre farm has since diversified to sell custom processed grass-fed beef and pork, pastured heirloom meat chickens, free-range chicken eggs, fresh goats milk and garden produce. Many of the products form the Eller Family Farm are feed the elderly of the Mille Lacs Health System Nursing Home in Onamia, Minnesota.
Jo learned to play with dirt with her grandfather, on the same 58-acre farm she and her husband, Allen, currently own in Onamia, Minnesota. Her father bought the land just after World War II, but her grandfather had owned an adjoining farm since 1908. Together, the family has always been gripped by homegrown food and the value of sharing labor and resources. Jo shared the gifts of her soil with Mille Lacs Health System by providing fresh Swiss chard, green onions, radishes, parsley and garlic for MLHS’s Local Foods Meal.
Scott and Angie Taylor gathered for a quick bite to eat with their family between shifts at Pedal Pushers Café, the 1950’s-style restaurant they own and operate in Lanesboro, Minnesota. They call it “The ‘good for you burger’ joint.” The Taylors have made it their mission to feed their customers the same good, healthy foods they feed their children – and they do it by sourcing locally.
There’s nothing like a tall, cold glass of milk. Be it 2%, skim, or chocolate, it’s hard to resist, even more so when it comes straight from the hands that bottled it that very day. At 4:30 a.m., while the rest of the people in the central time zone sleep, dreaming of their next two hours of rest, Bob and Jeanette Kappers of Kappers’ Big Red Barn in Chatfield, Minnesota, are watching the sunrise from their milk bottling room where they begin by scrubbing down the facilities. The two, who had their first date 30 years ago at the county fair, have been running their organic milk business almost five years, and though they work hard at it for up to 10 hours a day, their warmth and calm nature feels like they have invited you over merely for a relaxing day on the farm.
Hidden in the gorge of southeastern Minnesota’s rocky, tree-speckled bluffs lies the historic town of Lanesboro. With roots as deep as 1800, the town exists not only as a pictorial haven for travelers, but as an open-armed community willing to share its abundance of resources and hospitality.
Hilltop Pastures family farm, which started with chickens and slowly acquired a slew of pigs, turkeys, and cows, has remained uncertified organic from the start but considers itself “going beyond organic.” Every animal on the Austin’s gorgeous property lives its life in the open air eating the very basic of foods straight from the ground: grass. Ever since the start, they knew that pasture-raised animal meat was the smarter option for not only the animal but the consumer and the land too. “People want to connect to a real farmer with a real farm with real food,” said Tom. And with every sale, that is what the Austins are doing.
Bed and Breakfast: a wonderful combination. At the Inn Serendipity in Browntown in Green County,WI, two comfortable beds wait in cozy rooms in classic four-square farmhouse, but breakfast is decidedly a break from tradition—there are no pancakes with maple syrup, sausage links or crispy bacon strips to be found. Instead, co-owners Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko create a delicious and savory breakfast plate, chock full of herbs, fruits and vegetables from their beautiful organic garden outside. “We’re convinced we can change the world one breakfast at a time,” said Lisa.
The local community makes Klondike’s production possible. Eighty-five percent of the milk for their cheese comes from diary farms within a 30-mile radius with a few from within 60 miles. Klondike’s relationship with its farming community does not stop at milk production. Once the excess whey has been skimmed off the cheese it goes on to water 120 acres of alfalfa that is grown to feed the cows. “We’ve got our own little circle of life here,” said Luke.
The countryside of Green County, Wisconsin is dotted with examples of Swiss heritage. Swiss-style chalets, restaurants serving traditional Alpine foods like Fondue and Raclette, yodeling farmers and the Swiss flag in the Monroe, WI crest are just some instances of the proud Swiss culture in “Little Switzerland.” It seems only natural, then, that Green County would produce the first Alpine-style Gruyère cheese in the United States.
Owner and creator of his own business, Elemental Pottery, Eric has been turning earth into art since his college days in Nebraska. After a six-month apprenticeship under local ceramicist Tony Winchester he really got started. The plan: to become a sustainable, environmentally responsible potter. And that he has.
Henry Najat started growing roses 41 years ago when he came to Monroe from Iran. In his younger years he grew 1,000 rose bushes in the backyard. Now at the age of 76, the retired orthopedic surgeon maintains 700 rose bushes—by himself. Najat also collects 80 to 90 pounds of honey from each of his eight hives. But he doesn’t sell it. He gives it to charity.
In 2004, Jan and Roy opened the Contry Store on Highway 69. The store serves the city of Monroe and many Illinois travelers on their way north to Wisconsin. The husband and wife are originally from families of dairy farmers. In his earlier days, Roy exported Wisconsin cattle all over the world. He always went for the local, quality product to export, he said.
For our first event related to the Community of a Plate, we attended the 30th Annual Women’s Weekend at Moonstone Farm in Montevideo, Minnesota. Moonstone Farm is a grass-fed beef farm focused on sustainable practices, and has been in operation for more than a century, passed down through five generations. The weekend had no flyer, no information was available on the Web site, and no mailing was sent to invite people, so we found ourselves looking for a purpose statement, a label, some clear, defining description of what exactly it was we were going to. Was it a retreat? A meeting? A conference? How did this fit into the Community of a Plate project? Read more to find out!
Differing from fast food dining where cars are lined up outside of a drive-thru window, every Sunday evening Luigi Sison promotes his community by opening his home in Northfield, Minnesota, to students who are interested in learning how to cook. Each week the meal is different, sometimes Ethiopian, Thai or Filipino. But no matter the cuisine, it is cooked using all locally sourced ingredients. Luigi treats the evening as though his guests are a part of his working kitchen, assigning each person a task, whether it be washing, cutting or cooking the food. Luigi also uses it as an opportunity to experiment with new recipes and to understand what is works and what does not.
After indulging in the much appreciated Albo chicken dish prepared by Luigi Sison, a plate-to-source quest brought us to the gravel road leading to the Rural Enterprise Center, where hundreds of chickens pecked at the open ground and sounds of cooing and clucking filled the air. Next to it all, working with an intense concentration and devotion was the creator, Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin. Originally from Guatemala, Reginaldo followed his girlfriend, now his wife, to the United States in 1993 when she was accepted into the University of Minnesota.
I didn’t have to travel far to find where the cheeses Luigi used were made. Less then 12 miles away is Shepherd’s Way Farms, owned and run by Jodi and Steven Read. After I arrived, Jodi and Steven laid out an array of fresh cheeses for me to sample. From the first bite of the Friesago and the Big Woods Blue, I was in love. Until my visit to Shepherd’s Way Farms I didn’t know what good cheese tasted like, having lived off of Kraft Singles and Happy Cow wedges for too long.
In this country, it is starting to become apparent that wealth and health are directly linked; more money buys more nutritious foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, which are notoriously more expensive. Thus, the poorest in our country have the least access to fresh fruits and vegetables, which are an essential element to any healthy diet. The volunteer-run garden at Guardian Angels Church in Oakdale strives to change that. Over the course of the growing season, the Parish Food Shelf Garden donates all of its nine thousand pounds of produce to four food shelves in the St. Paul suburbs.
Ryan and Maree Pesch are constantly busy as they represent a small part of the agricultural community: the young farm family with day jobs. Starting a CSA was not the goal when they first moved onto the 20-acre parcel of land but after a test-run with a couple of friends in 2004 they decided they could handle adding a few more people to the table. A few turned into 21 and now Ryan is the president of the Detroit Lakes Farmers’ Market as well. They seem to have it down, working hard at their jobs, taking loving care of their farm, having fun with their children, and stopping to enjoy a beer in the evening.
Dallas Flynn comes to the Detroit Lakes Farmer’s Market every Saturday, proudly displaying his vegetables with Minnesota Grown signs, the same logo that is on his trailer and on this rainy Saturday, his shirt. Forest Glen Farm has been selling produce at the farmer’s market in Detroit Lakes for six years, often selling out of produce within the first hour of setting up. Five years ago, Dallas was given the opportunity to construct a high tunnel and has since developed the nation’s first solar powered high tunnel in Frazee, Minnesota.
A sharp tanginess hits the tongue shortly after the first bite and each subsequent chew brings out an abundance of flavor as the petals release their oils. Dill, calendula, bee balm, and bachelor’s buttons are all edible flowers and they are sold at the Detroit Lakes Farmers’ Market by a woman named Kendra Ferencak.
Common Roots Café opened up in July of 2007 on Lyndale Avenue South and West 26th Street in Minneapolis and has been thriving ever since. Common Roots Café is proud to provide the knowledge to their customers about the origins of their breakfast, lunch or dinner. The Lyn-Lake and Uptown areas are great places to live and experience the Bohemian lifestyle of Minneapolis, and the café is one of the best places to start. Bikers, college students, business executives and health-conscious parents alike make the trip to enjoy a plate at Common Roots Café. The community and atmosphere of Common Roots Café is the perfect combination of small town coffee shop and popular restaurant for the residents of Minneapolis.
I decided to go to the Common Roots Café for a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of tap beer the other day. I asked the women at the register which beer she would recommend, and she asked, “Have you ever tried a Surly?” I said, “Not to my knowledge, I’ll give it a try.” After the glass was dry, I walked back to the register to ask the women where the beer was brewed. “It’s brewed right here in Minneapolis, at Brooklyn Center,” she told me. That’s where I now stand today, 4811 Dusharme Drive, ready to go on a tour of Surly Brewing Company. Standing outside of a traditional redbrick warehouse, I would have thought I was in the wrong place had I not seen the eight-foot Surly logo made out of crushed beer cans.
With a constantly changing menu, the kitchen of Common Roots Café is challenged to shape the menu around the seasonally fresh and available ingredients that are almost 90 percent locally grown (within 250 miles), organic or fair trade. Brian Frederickson, a Minnesota beekeeper, provides honey to Common Roots Café. He holds similar food ethics as Danny Schwartzman, owner of the restaurant, who tracks of the exact sources of the products he uses. In this case, Brian tracks what produces the fine variety of flavors in the honey. Brian bought a small apple orchard from David Bedford, professor at the University of Minnesota and inventor of the Honeycrisp Apple, but he soon found that he couldn’t make a living off it. He took interest in some beehives on the property, and noticed the naturally changing flavors of the honey and the unique flavors from particular plants in bloom during various parts of the season. Brian explained this initial process of discovery as one of chance.
The Cedar-Riverside area of Minneapolis is best known for its diversity, edge, counterculture, nightlife, and restaurants. Nestled along Riverside Avenue between the gritty, brick buildings and the shiny new college facilities, is an inconspicuous little restaurant called St. Martin’s Table. A part of the Community of St. Martin, the restaurant is truly unique in its mission and operations, as it serves not only its daily customers from the surrounding community but also people from all over the globe. One visit to St. Martin’s Table can include a wonderful meal or a new book from their bookstore, but definitely the feeling that you are in the presence of something inspiring.
As we drove into the parking lot of Sno Pac Foods, it was clear from the rumbling, shiny machines sitting outside that this would be a unique experience. In the small town of Caledonia, Minnesota, tucked far behind a number of large factory buildings, Sno Pac works for many hours every day of the week, freezing organic produce and making a name for itself in the world of sustainability.
In 1976, Eichten’s signed on to a University of Minnesota pilot program to turn their farm into a farmstead cheese plant operation. University researchers wanted to explore the market for cheese fresh from the farm, just like in Holland. The Eichtens knew people craved something more than traditionally processed American and Cheddar cheeses.
After spending the summer hunting down stories to cover about people using local food to create a community, it seemed only natural that the four interns of Renewing the Countryside would share our own story of the community that we have built around local food. Like the people we have been meeting with all summer, we have very strong connections to local food in Minnesota and are all charged with keeping that passion and our budgets in line with one another.
Most young girls start dreaming about their wedding at a young age, with visions of lace and cake on a perfect summer evening surrounded by family. As the years go by, the image of that perfect wedding shifts as elements are added and subtracted and the image of that perfect person waiting at the altar becomes clear. For Margaret, one of Renewing the Countryside’s program associates, and her new husband Chad, during the planning of their June wedding it became clear that the day she had always dreamed of would revolve largely around her surrounding communities to make her day an unforgettable one.
For sixteen years, long before the ideas of slow food and being a localvore existed, Jenny Breen and her high school friend Karn have been cooking for clients using local and seasonal ingredients directly from farmers and producers. The business moved from their kitchen into a full restaurant, then back to catering out of a community center and now finds its home in the Midtown Global Market. Their motto is, “Live Simply. Eat Well. Enjoy Life,” which they will continue to do for years to come.
Hope butter is not just a product but a tradition. Not just a factory but a community landmark. With each hand-delivered one-pound package of Hope Creamery butter comes not only the promise of its slogan to “better the bread,” but also to better its community of customers in Hope and the rest of Minnesota.
Open Arms Minnesota is a non-profit in Minneapolis that prepares and delivers hundreds of meals a week to Twin Cities residents battling HIV/AIDS and cancer. Not only does the community around each plate exist between the organization and its clients but also the thousands of volunteers, staff members, and donors that help out every day preparing and delivering food, managing the office, and providing resources. To be a part of the Open Arms community is special because not only are you providing a service to people in need but you are also getting the feeling that your work matters.
Larry Schultz Organic Farm of Owatonna, Minnesota, specializes in free-range, cage-free, certified organic eggs, chickens and turkeys. Larry is a new, but very eager, supplier to Open Arms, a Minneapolis nonprofit delivering meals to individuals living with serious and life-threatening diseases. Larry, his wife Cindy, and their six children have operated the farm since 1992.
Smooth, new blacktop on Highway 95 stretched into the countryside in Chisago County. Pristine, rolling farmland punctuated with groves of trees surrounded the road as it twisted and turned farther away from North Branch, MN. On Highway 12, the rough pavement soon dissolved into gravel. The lonely road snaked past trees and large, sunny pastures until a large sign announced: WEI. Women’s Environmental Institute.
Gardening lessons from a Master Gardener, nutrition and cooking lessons from Graduate Students, Finances 101 from a banker and creating marketing plans for a farmer’s market sales all fit into a normal Tuesday in Hugo, Minnesota. Throw in lessons on gardening tools, harvesting, century seeds, ceremonial tobacco and traditional art lessons and you have a week at Dream of Wild Health, a summer program that 55 Native American children from the Twin Cities will participate in this summer. Dream of Wild Health does more than just serve as a summer camp though; it connects children to their history while teaching them important life lessons on how to live healthy lives.
It is hard to get more local than finding your own food in the forest next to your campsite. Of course, it helps to have experts explain which plants are edible and nutritious, and which ones should be avoided like the plague. From cattails to wild mushrooms, and from plantains to wild sumac, there is a plethora of food in the natural world that we see daily but never view as food. The idea of bringing the wild into our lives was the theme of the fourth annual Wild Food Summit at the White Earth Rediscovery Center on White Earth Lake, White Earth, MN that occurred from June 17th to 20th. The White Earth Tribal and Community College Extension Service founded and hosted this event, and it grows and changes with each passing year.
The Minwanjige Café is a humble little log cabin on the edge of one of White Earth’s many forests. It exudes a homey and homemade feel, reflected by the handmade Native American crafts and goods lining the walls. The smell of the current day’s lunch fills the café, patiently waiting to entice anyone who enters. The dining area of the café consists of about eight wooden tables that fit tightly together in the largest portion of the single room dining room. Jenise and Keira greeted us kindly when we entered. We assumed they both were staff members, but found later that only Jenise is officially staff. Jenise served several White Earth locals who had stopped by for lunch, and Keira sat down with us to enjoy a delicious meal.
While enjoying the Minwanjige Café’s wild rice and buffalo soup, many people may not give much thought to the history of the ingredients sitting in that bowl. But underneath and amongst those tender pieces of local buffalo swimming alongside those recently harvested potatoes and soaking up freshly made broth is the ingredient that has one of the most important stories to the people of White Earth: the wild rice. However, the wild rice from harvesters at White Earth should not remotely be confused with the generic wild rice you purchase in a Minnesota grocery store.
After a sampling a wonderful wild rice and buffalo soup at Minwanjige Café on the White Earth Indian Reservation, we set out to find the second ingredient in the soup: the buffalo. We sought out the buffalo farmer, Steve Roberts. Steve started raising buffalo twelve years ago. He wanted to utilize more of his land but not degrade it with unsanitary cattle. Cattle degrade the wetlands by defecating in the water, but buffalo’s instincts make them fearful of predators near the water. Thus, buffalo go for a drink but that is all.
The anticipation of a public school lunch does not evoke mouth-watering excitement at the promise of happily filled bellies. Rather, the stereotypical idea of public school lunches contains images of tater tot hot dish, boiled spinach cooked beyond any nutritional value and Wonderbread. But a school lunch shouldn’t be like that. School lunch can include bison hot dogs, baked apples, wild rice pilaf, and can involve using student input to shape the menu. That’s how Willmar School District does it, using a Farm to School program to bring healthy Minnesota products into the cafeteria.
Toby buys his flour from two local mills: Dry Weather Creek in Milan, MN, about 30 miles away, and Nordman Farm’s in Hancock, MN, a mere 15 miles away. When his father owned the bakery, there were eight local flour mills that routinely sent salesman to his bakery. Then, his dad had a plethora of local flour to choose from and didn’t have to ship flour from half way across the country.
The Larson Premium Sweet Corn Stand sits in a parking lot of a strip mall next to a mattress store on the main drag in Willmar, MN where they are deeply rooted in the community. Mary and Larry have been farming in Willmar for 25 years, and have occupied their roadside stand for the last 16. All the locals know where to find them– next to the Rainbow playground equipment and in front of the blow-up Serta sheep–and they know nothing beats the flavor, texture and freshness of Larson’s corn.