"Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness."
Now, many like to think they are are "beyond" being involved in agriculture, but what these consumers forget is that because they must eat, they are very much involved in the results agriculture.
Consequently, for the sake of the health of their children and themselves, people need to stay involved with the source of their food as well as the end products.
This is why we attended the Minnesota Cooks Event at 1:00 PM on Tuesday afternoon at the Minnesota State Fair just south of the Grandstand.
Minnesota Cooks Event is organized by the Food Alliance Midwest, and during the event they had local chefs creating dishes as they they discussed their relationships with local farmers who provide produce for the restaurants. In both sessions we watched as the farmers described their efforts to learn about growing healthy food and as chefs described how buying local makes their dishes better.
Panel members, who get to taste and describe the chefs' creations, and the chefs are as follows:
Lin and Doug Hilgendorf, who grow and mill whole grains locally and work to discover better ways to make a healthy product.
Doug explained that they were learning to grow and de-hull buckwheat in an effort to provide the non-gluten grain to restaurants. Buckwheat is not actually a wheat and if it could be de-hulled and purchased locally, it could provide restaurants and consumers a healthy non-gluten product. This is the kind of thing yours truly likes to hear since I recently discovered I am gluten intolerant.
Leslie (center) and Brian (right) Axdahl, who own and operate Axdahl farms near Stillwater.
Brian talked about how his farms were conveniently located close to the metropolitan area, but yet the area was rural enough to provide space for farming.
Chef Dan Patterson of Rabbit's Bakery, Lake City, explained that the relationships he has built up with these local farms and farmers has gone beyond just being good business. Friendships have grown and created an environment where he can provide the healthiest ingredients possible for his bakery.
Dan and Hallie Patterson buy all of their flour from the Whole Grain Milling Company, Welcome, MN, which is owned by Doug and Lin Hilgendorf.
Chef Shawn Smalley of Smalley's Caribbean Barbeque, Stillwater, MN, buys many of his vegetables locally, but he readily admits that his recipes call for Caribbean ingredients that are not available locally. However, Shawn also praised local farms and his relationship with the Axdahl Farms where he gets his vegetables.
Two final members of the panel are Emily Zweber and Dan Shelby.
Emily and Tim Zweber operate a farm north of Elko New Market that has been in the Zweber family for 4 generations. They are members of Organic Valley Coop, which is a network of farms that focus on organic farming. We are happy to claim her as a neighbor (about 4 miles away) and a new friend, whom we met first through her blog and Facebook and then in-person when she visited us at the Dakota County Fair a few weeks ago. She is an avid and eloquent spokes person for farmers and good farm practices.
It's easy to just say that everybody knows who Don Shelby is, but besides his obvious fame as a newscaster you can trust, he is deep into growing things to eat. He explained that he has a half acre "under crop," and that he cans enough food to provide his family with over two meals per week all year around. He also has six beehives he tends and proclaims that watching his bees work is a very relaxing past time.
His unique, mellow tones make his voice a pleasure to hear, but his voice also has a pleasant sharpness to it that keeps the listener alert and adds to his authority. At several different times during the program, Don discussed the reasons to buy local food to use at home and support the restaurants who buy local. It's a good choice morally and for your health. Don is another very eloquent spokesperson for good farm practices and local farmers.
After the chefs finished their dishes, the food was sampled by the panel and then passed out to the audience members. Everyone agreed the food met the expectations of being special and especially delicious.
So there you have it. The State Fair is about food, but I hope that I've given it a bit of a different slant than you would've expected.
However, let me show you a few more picks from the second panel.
At this point, Nancy and I discover time has slipped by pretty fast and we have to leave soon or risk getting caught in traffic, but we decide to stay to hear a couple of local celebrities be introduced.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Senator Al Franken, both supporters of buying local Minnesota products, greet the audience.
Introductions were short, but as we wait for food to cook, the moderator asks questions of the panel. During an exchange with Senator Franken, the sound system failed for the second time that day, but it took only a moment for the Senator to come up with a fix.
Audience members laughed and applauded as the senator quickly cut the bottom out of his cup and used it as a megaphone.
Soon, the mayor altered a few more cups and the new device was used by all.
Sorry, but since we had to leave, we can't tell you when the sound problem was resolved, but when we left, the show was moving forward as planned, despite the small set back.
As we head back to the car, I remark about how much I've enjoyed our State Fair visit, but a quick sidelong glance from Nancy reminds me to add, "... but not as much as the first time we were here together."
You see, in August of 1969, Nancy and I attended the State Fair together on our first date. We got there early and stayed for the evening Grandstand show, where we enjoyed seeing Johnny Cash.