Lanesboro’s Local Flavor

13 08 2009

By Sarah Milnar

Good Food - by Meredith HartHidden 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.

It’s a town spotted with bed and breakfasts, where welcoming innkeepers know guests by name. It’s where the hum of spinning bike tires fills the air as cyclists pass through town on the 60-mile Root River State Bike Trail. It’s where local artisans display unique crafts, and a live theatre draws in nationally-renown performances. It’s where mountainous ice cream cones are considered the small size, and where locals wave to strangers on the street.

But after just one day, you’re no longer a stranger.

Residents and tourists agree that Lanesboro’s local food community builds much of that connection.

“Local eating strengthens community and communication between locals,” said Julie Kiehne, executive director of the Lanesboro Area Chamber of Commerce. “It also increases pride in products that are raised here and consumed here.”

Lanesboro is located in Fillmore County, which has roughly 1,500 farms supporting an infrastructure of growers, producers, marketers, and agriculture suppliers. Many small Amish farms also advance the area’s commitment to sustainability. The farmers’ market is a popular weekly event, and many restaurants, like Pedal Pushers Café, take advantage of the abundance of fresh foods. Pedal Pushers owners Scott and Angie Taylor also attach importance to meeting the people that grow the foods they serve in their cafe. As Julie says, the openness of the Lanesboro community gives the Taylors, residents and tourists the ability to visit with the “local flavor.”

The local flavor: Anita and Harvey Bue

On a grass-fed hamburger plate with a side of roasted baby red potatoes and coleslaw, the Bue family of Peterson, Minnesota, provided Pedal Pushers with cabbage for the slaw. The cabbage comes crisp and sweet straight out of the Bue’s chemical-free Beans from the Bue's - by Meredith Hartgarden.

Cultivating his fourth-generation family farm, Harvey Bue believes farming is in his blood. “Every generation tries to make the land better,” he said “We’re just caregivers until we pass it on.”

Harvey said farming the 400 acres is a team effort between his wife, Anita, and his 14-year-old daughter, Ashley. Their mission is to educate consumers about where their food is coming from by selling their produce, meats, and farm-fresh eggs locally. Pedal Pushers is one of their central patrons. Bues also supply the café with a portion of the 350 to 400 eggs the family’s chickens lay each day. “Anita walks right in the back door, sticks ‘em in my cooler and says ‘Thirty bucks,’” said Angie of the cartons of eggs she gets each week.

Pedal Pushers and the Bues have developed a close relationship over eggs, and they know that by buying and selling locally they’re supporting each other. “As Angie does well, us producers are doing well, which means we’re spending money locally,” said Harvey with an enthusiastic nod. He works hard to uphold his local mission.

The local flavor: Anita and Keith Brown

On a sunny afternoon many years ago, little Justin wobbled up to his mother with a wheelbarrow full of carrots. “Mom, I think we should join a farmers’ market,” he said.

Now at age 21, little Justin towers over his mother—and he’s selling carrots at the Lanesboro Farmers’ Market. “He’s got it all The Browns - by Meredith Hartplanned,” said Anita Brown of her son, who intends to come home to work on the Brown family farm after graduating from the University of Minnesota. Seeking a major in applied plant science and agroecology with minors in integrated pest management, agronomy and applied economics, Justin is well on his way to successful farming. But the vegetable garden he’s had since he was a kid? “It’s more just for fun,” he said.

Fun as it may be, Justin provides Pedal Pushers with fresh garden produce, especially juicy red tomatoes that Angie uses to top her grass-fed beef burgers. Although this year’s cool growing season has been tough on tomatoes, last winter Anita canned 200 quarts of the ripe reds. Anita also gets the family through the winter by canning lip-smacking raspberry rhubarb jams, a commodity Angie hopes to add to Pedal Pushers’ breakfast menu.

“It’s a good place to grow everything,” said Anita of their 1854-homesteaded family farm. “Kids too.” Although the Browns’ three children may get tired while working on their 160-acre farm, they’ve never gotten tired of it. “Taiya,” Anita asked her 13-year-old daughter, “Have you been bored this summer?” “No,” Taiya replied melodically. Between caring for animals, tilling the garden, and building award-winning gazebos for the Fillmore County Fair, there’s always something to do.

The local flavor: The Amish Community

A dirt road passes through waves of ribbed cornfields in Utica, Minnesota. It winds to a small plot of open land at the mouth of a large barn. On one side of the lot automobiles dusty from the journey heave a sigh of relief as their engines are shut off in the heat. From the ground on the other side of the parking lot rise rails and posts. Tied to them are horses, and harnessed to them are buggies.

This is Amish country.

The Amish have inhabited Fillmore County since the 1970s, making their livelihood by logging, crafting furniture, baskets and quilts, and farming. For the last two summers, Amish and non-Amish have gathered in at the old carriage barn in Utica for the weekly Country Fresh Produce Auction.

Atop a wooden stall that raises as tall as a grown man sat a white-haired auctioneer. He tipped his curling straw hat as he Amish Buggies - by Meredith Hartadjusted the microphone that projects his twanging voice across six rows of bleachers filled with hungry bidders.

“Ooooooh we got green beans, six-pound bags of green beans,” he called hastily to the bidders. “We’ll start the bidding at one dollar, one dollar can I get a dollar?”

Fillmore County residents raised bid cards as a bearded man wheeled a wooden cart piled high with bags of green beans from behind the stall. Four other men in straw hats and suspenders lifted the bags with strong hands for the bidders to see. Cards rose and fell. “We gotta pick up the pace here so get with it,” cried the auctioneer. He finally sold the bags for $1.75 a piece.

Most of the produce is Amish-grown, but non-Amish farmers like Anita Brown occasionally bring their produce to auction to save time at farmers markets. Although produce often sells cheaply, area residents are hopeful the auction will increase in popularity. “I want it to take off for them and for everyone in the area,” said Anita. Angie even plans to integrate some of the auction produce into Pedal Pushers’ menu, and hopes others will find their way out to Utica for the auction.

Although they often keep to themselves, the Amish of Fillmore County are willing to invite the greater community to share in the unifying force that transcends all cultures: food.

To view more photos of Lanesboro’s Local Flavor, please see the Flickr slideshow.

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