Food and beverages, we don’t get very far without them; sustenance, in some form or another, is still a daily requirement for our continued existence. This is to say that life’s necessities can be translated into a money-making venture— and in this case, that would involve the industry. That said, if you are planning to open a restaurant and get rich, you’re probably going to fail. In terms of difficulty, starting a restaurant is possibly one of the most stressful and difficult propositions the average entrepreneur (even the above average) can hope to take on. Going a step further, opening a restaurant and making it a financially viable long-term operation, that’s rare. Most restauranteurs are happy if they can pay the bills and take a little vacation once a year (—usually the latter half of January)
In the U.S., three out of every five restaurants close before they hit their 2 year mark (and the myth about 90% of independent restaurants closing in the first year is likely not true but considering the variety of eateries that are called “restaurants”, it’s possible that the number is higher than 60% in 2 years). Anyway, the point is this, if you think owning a restaurant would be fun, and you have a few million to throw around (and don’t plan on being directly involved in the operations) then you’re probably right, it can be fun. But if you plan on being the person who spends 18 hours a day, seven days a week, making sure that every detail is checked twice and helping manage every facet, until you’re comfortable letting the staff take over the day-to-day, then “fun” is probably not the word I would use. But it can be exhilarating.
Aside from the long hours, interactions with contractors (prior to opening… hopefully) who are always behind, customers, staff (who are people— and therefore occasionally sick, tired, crabby — all of which are frowned upon in a service job), and lack of the more normal social outings (because when you have a chance to get away from work, eventually, you’re always looking at what other eateries are doing and how they’re doing it), it’s really great, if you’re into that kind of thing.
As a former industry professional, I was involved in the successful opening of nine unique establishments, and beyond that worked in a couple handfuls of great eateries. My experiences run the gamut from fine dining to bar & grill joints, independent and corporate-owned & operated. A few of the places whose inception I assisted: The Wine Market Bistro; The Red Star; Chomp; McCormick & Schmick's - Kansas City; & M&S Grill - Baltimore. Four others have since closed: New Pointe Grill (Kansas City, MO); Up The Creek (Lexington, KY); Bella (Cincinnati, OH); & The Blue Sea Grill (Baltimore, MD).
Aside from learning as much as possible about this fickle field, and having the monetary side of it lined up, a couple of other things to think about: location, audience, location, target group, location, and… desired customer demographic. Does that make sense? Who are you catering to and where best will you situate yourself in order to satisfy that group? Because, while you want to draw from a diverse set of consumer groups, you need repeat business if you’re going to make it work (unless you are Talula’s Table, The French Laundry, Trois Mec, or some other place where reservations are impossible to score on short notice).
Once you know what kind of fare you want to focus on (and don’t try to emulate The Cheesecake Factory, 1,800 menu options is too many), you will be able to determine your target audience, more or less. Location, on the other hand, is more about what spaces are available and how much money you have to play with. As a rule of thumb, if you have to choose between starting small and growing a space (or opening a second) and starting big and hoping for the best—start small. If you are unsure about anything and you’re in a small space, you have room to err. Big spaces, with bigger costs, provide less room for failing; and if the restaurant business is built on anything, it’s failure. From failure to failure to failure we go until, Voilà, Success! Plus, when you look at the majority of places that are “hip“, “cool“, “hot“, “in“, and “it“, they are, by and large, not behemoth.
Last, and certainly not least, is the quality factor. Whether talking about the staff, the food, the feel (ambience & décor), or anything else, quality is essential. It is easy to think that having the most chic joint in the city will guarantee a steady business; but if you have a staff that hasn’t bought in and hasn’t been properly trained, food that comes out of cans and boxes, and dirty restrooms, you may as well purchase stock in a Siberian cat-milking conglomerate — the returns couldn’t be any worse and your reputation may withstand the deprecating remarks that will be lobbed at you for years to come. This goes for all manner of establishment: bar and grills, diners, dives, and fine dining at its finest. The price on a menu should never influence the caliber of the experience.
If you’re interested in starting a new food industry venture, and you don’t know where to begin, solidify your finances/backing first; then talk with a successful local restauranteur, read industry staples, figure out your niche, and make sure you aren’t opening up a burger joint across the street from a vegan commune, i.e. keep the drama to a minimum (you’ll have more than enough once you open).
And, if you’re looking for someone to help with the details, drop me a note, maybe I can help…I’m Down.
What happened to vanilla? Seriously. When was it that vanilla came to be associated with a shade of the color white, and an adjective describing “bland”—and why? Who would commit such an injustice to a product of the beautiful Vanillaplanifolia(a member of the orchidaceae family)? And what, you’re probably thinking, does this have to do with policy? Well, quite a bit.
The history of vanilla “production” started in the geographic locale of the Aztec Empire (previously controlled by the Teotihuacán and then the Toltecs), in what we now know as Mexico (North America) and was cultivated by the Totonac. With the arrival of the Spanish into this region (circa 1520) and other areas in the Western Hemishpere, the Old World and New World underwent drastic changes. The movement of ideas, disease, precious metals, technologies, foodstuffs, and spices, et al., which would come to be known as the Columbian Exchange,dramatically changed the course of both hemispheres (this period also saw the annihilation/genocide of millions of indigenous peoples and several empires, by Columbus, Cortés, and other conquistadors, and their men). And the “exchange” of vanilla, to the Old World, was the first step in vanilla’s story of becoming a colour no longer tied to the plant’s origins.
Fast forward 200 years and we might find the next clue in the color mix-up. Ice cream was gaining in popularity in 18th century Europe (according to historians), and when a fearless culinary madame/monsieur mixed vanilla into a batch of ice cream, I believe the “white” fallacy was born. As the base of ice cream is, yep, you guessed it, cream, the thick and fatty substance that is strangely similar in color to today’s perceived shade of vanilla, it would make sense that over time people eating vanilla ice cream would wrongly assume that vanilla was white. But this doesn’t help explain the other part—bland, plain, blah, meh.
Over the next couple of centuries, ice cream became America’s favorite dessert (even in ice cream deserts). And naturally, the colors that were most commonly associated with the frozen treat: white (vanilla), brown (chocolate), and pink (strawberry), also came to have additional significance. Here’s where we may find part of the background on vanilla’s “plain Jane” problem. Whether it was due to the seemingly more decadent taste of chocolate (and all that went along with the desire to have something “other/different”), or the memories of a dish of freshly churned ice cream with just picked wild strawberries mixed in, after a Fourth-of-July celebration, the widespread availability of “regular” vanilla didn’t seem to evoke the same type of emotion. Which leads me to believe that the passage of time, combined with the desire to believe what is placed in front of one’s face, has led to the misconception of vanilla’s True Colors. As a society, we believe vanilla is both white, and boring, neither of which bear any resemblance to the true character of this most flavorful and versatile spice.
So now that we’ve determined who and what is responsible for this catastrophe of maligned color designation, lets talk about other instances where time and indifference have contributed to beliefs that are neither true nor sensical (which is akin to sensible). And then, I’ll discuss the importance of truth in labeling and the deleterious effects of buying products that are not what we think they are (this is where policy comes into play).
We currently accept a great deal of what is presented as fact, so long as the presenter is acceptable to our ears and eyes. The effects of such marketing/propaganda have helped shape current debates, policies, historical inaccuracies and general attitudes. Ask 10 people why the U.S. Civil War was fought and you’re likely to get one of three answers: Three might say slavery, two might look at you like your speaking Shyriiwook, and the other five would likely say States Rights. Both answers are correct, in a way. However, many people still believe that the war was primarily about States Rights. And while we can say it was related to that idea, we must explain that the one right that was by far the most important (to the men who controlled the States), was the right to own human beings (slavery). Some “smarty pants” might spout off a list of rights that includes: taxation, tariffs, trade, freedom from federal powers, blah blah blah (they sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher). Yet, they leave out the fact that the Bill of Rights, specifically, the 10th Amendment, covered many of the State’s concerns. And, when one looks more closely at each of the “concerns”, they all have direct links to slavery, i.e. the South’s primary economic driver. So while this long held belief (State’s rights), as a stand alone argument, is essentially wrong, incorrect, untrue, a lie, we are still talking about it as if there’s some doubt as to the veracity of the real reason for our Civil War, the enslavement of human beings.
A short list of other time-tested fallacious fabrications, fictions, falsifications, fibs, and falsehoods includes: ♠ Jesus was “White”—kind of like vanilla, Jesus was a darker shade than the one he is often purported to resemble; ♣ the term “race” as used to describe different ethnicities—just plain wrong; ♥ we don’t lose 50% of our body heat through our noggin (this is not an excuse to go without a hat when it’s -20°); ♦ trickle-down economics will lift all boats—think about it, if you could make 10 million dollars a year by working more hours or fewer, which would you choose? Well, wealthy business people think the same, if they can work less, hire fewer people, invest less capital in new ventures and still make the same amount of money, why bother with all the extra nonsense. They have vacation homes to visit (not just 1 little cabin in the Northwoods), yachts to party on, polo matches to watch, and politicians to influence…they’re busy folks. So lets get on with the process of making income/wealth inequality grow; ♠ andwhile we’re on the topic of finance, “money can’t buy happiness”—I’d be happy to make a wager with anybody who’s looking to lose some money. Sure, after a certain amount of wealth is earned, we wouldn’t expect to gain as much “utility” from an extra million or two; but for anyone who lives paycheck to paycheck, or is unemployed and relying on the social insurance programs administered by government agencies, money can and does buy happiness. ♣ and a couple more recent illustrations of this phenomenon: ♥ you have to be smart to be successful—George W. Bush (I’m not hating, just pointing out the obvious); ♦ and, guns are just tools, like shovels, rakes, garden hoes, etc.—guns were designed with one purpose in mind, and it wasn’t skeet shooting. Guns were the next big thing in the evolution of individually controlled killing implements. While many people use them for shooting clay pigeons, beer bottles, pumpkins, and the dust off of a fly’s wing, they are still designed to end a life, be it human or animal. That, I would argue, is a far cry from what most “tools” are designed to accomplish.
Now then, let’s look at the problems associated with products that are labeled as (ex.) ƒ(x) = 36x + 5, but what you actually end up with is pistachio pudding. What happened? How did that function of (x), that I bought with my hard-earned money, turn out to be pistachio pudding? Well, maybe the celebrity endorser pitching the product wasn’t being completely honest with you. Or maybe you wanted to believe that you could get a real Rolex for $150. because that guy on the corner with the table of nice watches really needed the money and that’s the only reason he was selling it so cheap. Sometimes, nobody is any worse for the deal. The knockoff Prada handbag made the buyer happy to have a replica that looked legit, and the salesperson made some money. The problems occur when you are unknowingly endangering yourself or others.
Do you remember the toxic drywall that was imported from China and caused (and is still causing) plumbing, electrical, and health problems across the South? How about the formaldehyde trailers that were delivered to displaced Gulf Coast residents after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, in 2005 (because that’s just what every dislocated person wants after a catastrophic event, more health problems)? Ever asked for a Coke at a restaurant and gotten a Pepsi, or is it Royal Crown, no, wait…it’s “cola”, something sharing a few of Coke’s qualities, carbonated water, caramel color, caffeine, but definitely not the same as Coke. Big or small, these things matter. When we’re told we are buying, or being provided with, one product, and later find that we’ve gotten something that is close to what we assumed we were getting, but not quite the same (and in some cases extremely different), we have reason for concern if not downright outrage. Sure, the generic cola won’t kill us (we hope), but if you’ve been looking forward to lunch (at the place your project manager recommended), thinking about that patty melt with bacon, perfectly deep fried tater-tots, and the crisp refreshing bite that hits the back of the palette after taking a big swig of real Coke, and instead you get a lackluster mouthful of overly saccharine cola, your lunch break letdown won’t ruin the rest of your day (your coworker did that by accidentally squeezing the jelly out of his donut and onto your shirt sleeve), but you might return to the office feeling a bit more deflated than when you left, and now you have to go into a post-lunch meeting with the same project manager, the one who tells you to smile more, with one less reason to smile and one more reason to leave anonymous hateful little notes on his desk.
Again, a short list of items that you may want to double check prior to purchasing (or maybe you like to live dangerously): ♠ fish—the mislabeling of seafood is bad for three reasons: you might be paying too much for an inferior product that doesn’t taste as good, the people working on the fishing boats are enslaved, and you could be unwittingly eating a fish that is currently over-fished/not sustainable; ♣ sunglasses—if you’re not concerned about your eyes long-term viability, don’t worry about this; conversely, if you hope to keep your sight top notch into your golden years (so you can watch the paint dry), make sure you’re getting the real deal; ♥ fragrances/cosmetics—some of the chemicals etc. that are being used in the fakes are toxic and/or gross; ♦ pharmaceuticals—no commentary necessary here, but, think about the cost and the potential consequences of getting a drug that is potentially the same but due to lack of oversight the dosage might be high, or low, and make you more sick, or simply fail to cure what ails you; ♠ flea & tick products—many are good, some are not, and your pets are not the only family members that can be affected.
Mislabeling of products, and inaccurate classifications run the gamut from “no big deal” to “holy shit, that coulda killed me”; these are issues I think about when I hear people relating boring and white (like thisguy appears) to vanilla. Vanilla is anything but boring and most certainly not even close to any shade of white. And while the vanilla farmers of Mexico, Madagascar, Comoros, et al. may not care what you believe about vanilla, so long as you’re buying it, I think of the vanilla lie as a type of “gateway drug” to believing, and even promoting, other untrue and possibly slanderous/historically inaccurate theories. Fertilizers, pesticides, nutritionalsupplements, comestibles, and other products are regularly found to be noncompliant with generally accepted consumer product safety measures/standards.
To be clear, I know that vanilla ice cream, frosting (butter cream or others), protein powders, yogurt, etc., etc., are shades of white (and sometimes very bland) due to other ingredients. However, these products, and others, have coloured our perceptions about actual vanilla characteristics. When we make assumptions about something based on false pretenses, we fail to consider the background as well as the implications and ramifications for future generations. Policies that fail to address flawed or distorted belief systems (thank you South Carolinians & Gov. Haley) and overlook misleading (intentional or otherwise) product statements can have serious negative consequences, both known and unknown.
Anytime someone is trying to sell you something, or sell anyone else something, take a piece of advice from Suzanne Massie, “Trust but verify”.
It’s lefse making time all across the Nordic and near-Nordic scapes. From Hamar, Norway, to Portland, Oregon, to Ladysmith, Wisconsin, and beyond, the aroma of griddled potato flatbread fills the air. The annual tradition signals the beginning of winter, the coming of the holidays (Christmas to Easter), and the realization that one’s weekly exercise routine may need to be doubled, or even tripled, if there is any hope of keeping the svelte figure that was chiseled summer last.
Lefse can be made year-round, if the humidity levels are low enough (or if you’re willing to add additional flour); but it is often affiliated with the winter months as a companion to dinners of lutefisk, and/or some type of Northern European meatballs, and/or rakfisk, smoked trout or salmon. The history of potato lefse dates back two-and-a-half centuries and flour lefse might go back before the age of the Vikings (not Bud Grant’s Purple People Eaters). If you’ve never tried this Scandinavian staple, and you’d be willing to dedicate parts of two days to crafting this treat, then the recipe below will guide you through the process.
First, gather the ingredients for making the lefse:
(1) 5 lb. bag of Burbank Russett potatoes (if you can’t find burbank, see what your grocer offers that is the driest potato—less moisture = better outcomes); this should yield 8-9 cups of riced potatoes, adjust following ingredients by pinches or smidgens if you end up with more or less; recipe will make approximately 2 dozen pieces
(2) sticks of unsalted butter – room temperature; do not substitute margarine and if you want to use lard, that’s fine, just go 80% lard, 20% oil, equivalent to 2 sticks butter (1 cup) (having never tried this, I’m going with what others have said)
(1) Tbsp, or thereabouts, salt (I use kosher—no iodine, and larger surface area means increased contact (with less salt) resulting in greater absorption of moisture, think geometry and chemical reactions); additionally, add at least (2) tsp of kosher salt in the water when cooking potatoes
≈ (1)Tbsp white sugar
(3) cups white flour (again, keep humidity in mind)
This recipe does not use cream or ½ & ½, as many othersdo, which does create a different, though not necessarily less authentic, version; it’s just our particular take (it’s more about the Love you bring into the kitchen). As an aside, The Sons of Norway don’t use cream either.
Second, gather the necessary implements
(1) pot for cooking 5 lbs of potatoes
(1) potato ricer or masher and forks if no ricer is available
(1) mixing spoon
(1) 1-cup measuring cup
(1) Large mixing bowl
(1) flour sifter if you want, not entirely necessary
Day 1 – peel potatoes, quarter potatoes, and cook as for mashed (until a fork easily pierces the flesh)
drain potatoes and then rice the entire batch (in the same pot); if you don’t have a ricer, use a masher, and then two forks to ensure you’ve removed all the lumps
once riced, transfer to larger mixing bowl (you may want to transfer by packing the measuring cup and counting so you know how many total cups you’re working with, or not)
add both sticks of butter (or lard & oil), salt, & sugar while the potatoes are still warm, and mix until well married
cool uncovered for 1½ -2 hours then cover with paper towel and then over the paper towel place a clean cotton dish towel and let potatoes rest over night, on a counter, not refrigerated (don’t tuck the towel in)
Day 2 – Prepare for lefse making by staging the following items: (here they are)
set up the lefse griddle/flat top grill (make sure your chosen surface heats to a minimum of 450°, 500° is optimal)
lay out towels for steaming: 3-5 towels should be laid down for the lefse to rest upon, depending on thickness and ability to retain moisture (at least two towels should be akin to a flour sack dish towel-100% soft cotton, these are the towels that will contact the lefse, top & bottom) and another 2-3 towels should be placed on top to cover the lefse as it comes off the griddle, this is done for the steaming process
(1) wood pastry board, round is preferable but if you have another shape and it’s large enough to roll out the lefse (at least 20″ x 20″) you can use that, the lefse should roll out to a circular-type shape approximately 12″-14″ in diameter
(1-2) pastry cloth(s) that can be secured in a taut fashion over the wood board (having a backup is handy; if you begin to experience excessive gumminess or it is generally being disagreeable, change your cloth)
(1) good basic rolling pin with 2-4 covers → (“lefse cloth”/pastry cloth material)
(1) corrugated rolling pin (this is for finishing/design purposes)
You may use the corrugated rolling pin for everything, just make sure it is sheathed in the pastry cloth for the primary dough rolling
(1 or 2) lefse sticks; if you are employing multiple helpers, it’s nice to have an extra stick but don’t allow for any light-saber battles, they are rather delicate
(1) vessel of white flour (at least (2) cups) for dusting the board and the rolling pin
(1) small clean cloth stationed next to the griddle for wiping off excess flour in-between each flatbread
(1) ¼-cup measuring cup
(1) designated location to place your beverage(s)
Day 2 – Procedures
divide bowl into half, be as exact as possible but don’t buy a scale just for this, do your best
set aside one bowl with half of the potatoes, cover again with new towel
add half of the flour to the first batch and mix by hand, this is very important as you are kneading the flour into the potatoes until smooth, because you’re making bread, not potatoes (this will be repeated with the other ½ , post completion of 1st ½—hence, beverage preparation)
fill a ¼ cup measuring device (packed but not smushed) and then form the dough into a spherical-like shape and place it onto a plate or board (has to be able to fit in the fridge) allowing it to rest in fridge for at least 30 minutes
Commence with the lefse making
preheat griddle to 500° and reduce to 475°ish a few minutes prior to first round hitting the grill (continue to monitor/adjust heat as needed, older grills can be finicky)
work 2-3 Tbsp of flour into the pastry cloth (by hand) where the dough flattening will occur (this must be done to sufficiently minimize adherence of dough to cloth)
prior to every precious nugget of dough being placed on the board (including the first), lightly dust the rolling area with flour (approximately a Tbsp that is slightly heaping should be enough but adjust as necessary)
place dough onto board and give a pat, then turn over and push down slightly, this gives both surfaces an initial coat of flour to help keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin or board
start rolling out the dough in short quick strokes of the pin (make sure the cover is on the pin), do not use too much force, just enough to get the dough spreading evenly; here (at the 5:30 mark) is a good example; and pick up the pin as you reach the edge or the fringe will be thinner than the rest of the “disc” making for an overly crisp outer ring
keep rolling into a roundish shape until quite thin, a millimeter at most (a dime is 1.35 mm, so thinner than a dime is the goal); if during the rolling, you find the dough sticking to the pastry cloth covered rolling pin, scrape the cloth clean and rub a little flour on the soiled spot, then determine if you need a little more flour on the dough/board or if you’re using too much force (easy, Arnold; repetitive bouts of scraping and flouring means you should replace your rolling pin cover); also, if you find that you’ve completely mangled the now defunct dough ball, just roll it back up, throw it in the fridge and come back to it, just try not to do that more than once to the same lump as the addition of too much flour will give you something that tastes more like a flour cake—no eggs, no butter, no vanilla, no bueno
This is a good time to point out that the most difficult part of the lefse-making process is preventing the dough from sticking to the board, or pin, or both.
once the proper thickness has been achieved, give a quick 2-3 wisp-like rolls with the corrugated rolling pin (with or without a cover, for decorative purposes) very carefully slide one lefse stick under the flattened dough, pretending that you are following a diameter line (maximize surface area for even weight distribution) and gently lift the lefse and transport to the grill
gradually unfurl the lefse onto the grill by twisting the stick, don’t try to rush this, it’s not going to help if you’re picking at it to get it flat after tossing it on in a heap
allow lefse to cook for as long as it takes, you’ll know it’s ready to flip when you see smallish bubbles forming and the edges browning nicely; if this is taking more than 1 & ½ minutes, or less than 45 seconds, the heat needs to be adjusted to a warmer/cooler setting (485°/460°)
using lefse stick, again gently slide your saber under the mid-section of the half-done bread and using the same technique (twisting motion) place uncooked side down and wait another minute +/-, check it by peeking at underside, before taking it off
when lefse is done, remove with lefse stick and lay (still folded in half) on the bottom cotton towel and cover with top towels (& don’t forget to dust off any flour left on the griddle)
Continue to layer each lefse on top of the last, with about one inch showing on the top of the previous piece
When you are close to reaching the end of the towels, about 12-15 pieces, move up the first 10-12 so that they are almost entirely on top of each other, about 1/4 inch overlap, and then continue with the layering, moving up more as necessary; and don’t forget to keep the lefse covered, it needs to steam in the towels to retain moisture
Once you’ve finished the batch, allow them to steam for another 20 minutes before putting away (if it hasn’t already disappeared); Lefse keeps best in a sealed bag in the refrigerator. It’s good for a few weeks but we don’t usually wait to see how long it will last.
How to eat your culinary delight:
My preference is a modest spread of butter, rolled up, that’s it. However, many folk prefer a little sugar, brown or white, along with the butter. It’s also perfectly delicious solo, smeared with fruit butter, nibbled with cheese, or filled with meatballs, smoked salmon or gravlax. There is really no wrong way to eat lefse. It tastes delicious any-which-way you nosh it.
Additional information/tips for the artisans attempting this feat:
The import of dry arctic-like air from the region around Oslo, Norway (or Ladysmith, if their bottling line is up and running) can help artificially create conditions that are favorable for a successful lefse making venture (similar to what some bourbon drinkers do (importinglimestone filtered water to supposedly enhance the experience). However, you run the risk of getting a package that was not properly sealed and has no return address, and then you are left with nothing to attenuate the humidity in the cooking area.
Ladysmith (and Rusk County more generally) is lucky, when it comes to lefse-making; with the semi-aridFlambeau River enveloping the village, and the dehumidifying plant that is situated neatly on the river’s edge removing even more moisture from the big drink in the Heart-O-The-North, much of the remaining pine forest dampness is removed and the resulting steam is sent off in the general direction of Syracuse, New York (so now you know why Western New York gets so much winter precipitation). This all adds up to create a near-perfect micro-climate for the lefse experience (much like Santa Barbara’s wine regions).
And for all those kitchen craftswo/men attempting this feat in-between Palm Beach County, Florida (from Belle Glade to Boca Raton) and St. Martin Parish, Louisiana (either region), you may need to seal off your workspace, install some dehumidifiers, and crank up the heat, in addition to importing the more arid form of atmosphere. Moreover, if you don’t have the World Champion lefse-maker (a.k.a. my Mom) helping you out (because she’s busy crafting lefse and other heavenly confectionery, in Fall Creek (which has it’s own semi-arid micro-climate, if less intense), Lefse Time and many many other useful sites/videos have you covered.
Updated: July 2016 Links to State/County Fairs in all 50 States
The Minnesota State Fair is, by all accounts, one of the great Fairs worldwide. With an average attendance of nearly 2 million visitors, it ranks near the top for major expositions in North America and beyond. The spectrum of entertainment and attractions ranges from top-flight musical groups to hundreds of different varieties of flora and fauna (including the amazing renderings of crop art), food in jars, on plates, in bowls, and of course, on sticks. There are games & rides, specialty events/days that highlight various sectors of the State’s economy & heritage, and booths that provide insights on: gardening, art, installing a hot tub, brewing beer, wind power, Spam (a national treasure), and so much more. The fair has something for everyone.
Fairs are an important piece of what is known as “Americana“. Our state, regional, and county fairs, help remind us whence we came—as a society, a country, a rural-agrarian community that placed a high degree of importance on tradition; not simply for the sake of tradition, but because it provided a historical remembrance of how things were done, in the name of survival. And furthermore, it provided the learning that was needed for succeeding generations to improve on the way things had been done traditionally, giving rise to the advances that brought us hitherto.
These extravaganzas celebrate all things agricultural; and while every state has one or two products they are known for: (dairy in Wisconsin and New York, wheat in Kansas & North Dakota, swine in Iowa & North Carolina, rye in Georgia & Oklahoma, turkeys in Arkansas & Minnesota, grapes in California & Washington, beef in Texas & Nebraska, etc., etc.) it is common to see hundreds of different plant and animal varietals at the larger fairs. Agriculture is, of course, every fair’s raison d’être, but these gatherings have often attracted the ladies and gentlemen who are pedaling their wares, ideas, and technological advances that are going to “change the world“, and sometimes do. 2016 attractions include: green energy exhibits; water efficiency, sanitation/filtration, and sustainable management practices; and in Minnesota, the Eco experience.
Minnesota’s state fair is not the oldest (started in 1859), that Blue Ribbon belongs to New York’s State Fair (1841), nor does it have the largest total attendance (Texas claims that title, however, the Texas shindig runs nearly two weeks longer), but Minnesota does have the largest average daily attendance. “So [its]got that going for [it], which is nice“. Furthermore, the MN State fair has Ye Old Mill, a non-vomit inducing ride that, in 2015, celebrated 100 years of floating Young, Old, and In-between, through the Tunnel of Love.
America’s State Fairs are an iconic symbol of our country’s agrarian past, present, and future. Our agricultural landscape has changed immensely in the past 239 years. Technology has allowed for the massive scaling up of farm operations and therefore the massive decline in the number of families engaged in farming. This mechanization was also undertaken in the processing/manufacturing of food. As the size of farms increased, so too did the size of the corporations buying the farmers’ wares. It is basic economic theory in action.
Economies of scaleallow for more efficient use of manpower, physical space & machines, and capital. This production model has been the major contributor to the dwindling number of artisanal producers. However, with the resurgence of restauranteurs, small grocers, and school districts, across the nation, increasingly working with local small and medium size family farms, the artisanal method of handcrafting in small batches is returning. Add to this trend, the growing numbers of millennials who are taking interest in where their food comes from and how it is made and we can see the beginnings of a movement that will in some ways bring us full circle.
The Fair is a chance to interact with the members of our larger community whom we don’t see on a regular basis. Those families who engage in the practice of animal husbandry, horticulture, and agriculture, as well as the artists, vendors, politicians, and performers, who make our lives better by perfecting their craft and rewarding us with the products of their labor.
Get out to your State Fair, wherever you live; and if you want to take a trip to the Greatest Fair on Planet Earth, the airport code is MSP and Southwest just might have a deal.
Food, next to oxygen and hydrogen, is the human races’ most important survival need. A great deal of attention is paid to the foods we eat, the foods we try not to eat, the policies that dictate food production, safety standards, and labeling requirements, and the differing agricultural practices used by small family farms, medium size production sites, and large agribusiness facilities. We count calories and fat and protein and fiber, or we don’t; and we often think about eating healthier—and sometimes we do. But at the end of the day, we eat to sustain our existence; and, if we’re lucky, the foods we enjoy not only provide us with the necessary nutrients to preserve life, but also bring us joy through the flavors, colors, and aromas, that envelop each culinary delight.
One of the more recent trends in the food world (really taking off in the past five years) is the return to local sourcing, specifically with farms that engage in organic and sustainable practices. Restaurants featuring regional fare, school districts working with local producers, and increasing numbers of farmers markets, are all proof that people are 1) demanding food and beverage options that originate in their state or region, 2) are produced on farms that use sustainable and organic or biodynamic practices, and 3) are not just talking the environmental (social entrepreneur) talk, but walking the conservationist/land steward walk.
Amongst grocers, Whole Foods has been at the forefront of this movement. They were the first major grocery chain to be certified organic (2003) and they have been promoting natural and sustainable farming practices since they opened in 1980. They implemented an animal welfare rating system to provide consumers with background information about where Whole Foods sources meat and seafood and how the animals were raised/treated.
The grocer’s most recent policy change comes in the form of a rating system for produce and flowers. NPR produced a pieceabout this on Morning Edition (12 June 2015). Some organic farmers are upset because they don’t agree with the way Whole Foods is grading their farming practices. These farmers believe that being certified organic is in and of itself a very useful, and adequate, measure of how a farm is operating.
Whole Foods, however, didn’t incorporate the new system as another means of showing off their commitment to organic farming practices; rather, this initiative is intended to highlight those operators (organic & conventional) that are being good stewards of the land. Practices that are not included in organic certification, such as “water conservation, energy use in agriculture, farm worker welfare, [and] waste management” are extremely important to the long-term health of rural eco-systems and the people who work the land (Charles, 2015). This appears, from an outsiders perspective (namely mine), to be aimed at conserving our resources, rather than simply ensuring no pesticides were used. Both ideas, organic production and growing in an eco-friendly responsible manner, should be the goal of anyone interested in sustainability.
The issue of conservation and land stewardship is directly related to the interconnected ideas of eating to live & living to eat. When we choose to buy food and drink that is grown and produced locally, using practices that support the welfare of the land and the farmers, we are choosing to invest in our future and our health (and the health of those we cook for). Furthermore, we have to eat, physiologically speaking; so why not support the local/regional economy when possible. And, as an added bonus, we get to indulge in the amazing flavors that are found in the grains (local craft beer), fruits, and vegetables, that don’t require additives and preservatives to stabilize them for their extended shelf life.
Eating to live comes from necessity. Living to eat comes from those food experiences that we didn’t know were possible—until we savored just picked sweet corn-on-the-cob, tomatoes from the garden, or blueberries plucked from a bush. Support your local farmers, brewers et al., and purveyors of all things connected to your extended neighborhood.