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The State of Organic Food at the Fair - MSP

Karl Gerstenberger Aug 25, 2006 04:47 PM

A quick search of the Fairborne's Fabulous Food Finder database yields two vendors flying the organic flag. One selling organic coffee and the other a BBQ vendor.

DONNA'S BAR-B-Q

Located on the SW corner of Judson Ave. & Liggett St.

A four dollar bratwurst of a political statement about your food values, in the sodom and gomorrah of food for "the heck of it".

This comes off as being a bit hippy freakish preachy, but higher food values are tied to a growth industry - the organic and natural foods movement. It strikes me as a bit tragic that there isn't an organic foods pavillion to highlight Minnesota Grown and produced organic products. I've been absent from the Fair for many years and I hope to find more evidence. Please comment if you're aware of any other vendors/producers/growers or any guide for the same.

All this said, it's a fascinating world of organic junk food that we now live in. Food inputs that represent higher values which are assembled in ways that have little or no regard for the bottom line health effect are abundant. So you won't be clogging your arteries with hydrogenated oil, but the devil may care about calorie counts or nutritional value? Even so, I would personally feel a lot better about the Tom Thumb donuts if they were made with Minnesota produced flour, fried in organic oil, and dredged in organic sugar. How about a bottomless glass of chilly organic milk? I'll pay the premium.

  1. The Dairy Queen Aug 25, 2006 05:25 PM

    The Eco Experience is getting a lot of buzz--apparently, they are going to have some programs regarding healthy food, which I plan to investigate.

    http://www.pca.state.mn.us/ecoexperie...

    Is that a step in the right direction?

    ~TDQ

    5 Replies
    1. re: The Dairy Queen
      The Dairy Queen Aug 28, 2006 07:58 PM

      So, I did check out Eco Experience. The sustainable foods section was in one corner (next to the fair trade coffee folks. Sadly, we had picked up a couple of cups of egg coffee from the Salem Lutheran Church folks on our way in, so had no more room for coffee.)

      There was some free tasting of organic cheeses and milks (which I skipped--it was too much of a zoo and I didn't see anything that was being offered that I hadn't previously "tasted"), but otherwise, it mostly involved waiting in line to gather various promotion materials and "fact" sheets by different grocers and various MN-based producers of organics. I think the MPLS farmers market might have been represented, too. There were a few recipe cards and fridge magnets being handed out. Otherwise, it wasn't any more chowish than gathering materials from, say, the beef, egg, wild rice, turkey producers at the Dairy Building/Empire Commons.

      I was so overwhelmed by the time I was done (and the stack of materials I came home with was shockingly heavy--which is hard to comprehend when you're gathering it a sheet or two at a time) that it will probably be a couple of weeks before I can muster up the enthusiasm to sit down and review it all. Frankly, it was hard to separate the "facts" from the "promotions." I understand the State Fair is all about providing a venue for MN businesses to promote themselves, but I was really hoping for some more independent, factual information.

      ~TDQ

      1. re: The Dairy Queen
        Karl Gerstenberger Aug 29, 2006 02:18 AM

        15 years since my last visit (at least) and the Fair hasn't changed all that much. I'm in a haze of Tom Thumb donuts, honey sunflower ice cream, pronto pup, vanilla custard, Shumacher's pork chop, Alexis Bailey wine, and chocolate chip cookies. Along with all the low food that I remember I had hoped to find some leaders considering the way that the food landscape is changing. I'm not claiming a comprehensive survey, but the leaders are maintaining a low to no profile. The Whole Foods empire made the scene with a little tent near the Grandstand. They were giving away freebies and frisbees. The products weren't local or particularly interesting, but they were there promoting their foothold in the community. The Co-ops should band together and offer some higher food values for a change!

        I found the Eco Experience to have the underwhelming feel of government. These are the kinds of industries that are hot, and don't really need any kind of a boost - or shouldn't in a perfect market driven world. Food in this pavillion seemed a little out of place and maybe better displayed in the horticulture building along with other Minnesota produced products. There's a whole lot of politics here, but organic standards and ecological concerns are not synonymous. The USDA standards don't do as much to promote sustainability as a green oriented farmer would do out of long term economic self interest. Big soap box.

        1. re: Karl Gerstenberger
          The Dairy Queen Aug 29, 2006 12:07 PM

          Yep, I agree with all of that. It does seem that the Brenda Langtons and Lenny Russos of the world steer (hahahah no pun intended) clear of the Fair. I guess they've figured that the Fair is all about excess and fun and that as serious restauranteurs, they just don't have a shot at making any waves with the fair going crowd. Plus, they've got a lot of other big projects they are working on like Spoonriver and Cue that requires their attention.

          I'm intrigued by your remark, though, that the Fair hasn't changed in 15 years. Funny.

          ~TDQ

          1. re: The Dairy Queen
            d
            Danny Aug 29, 2006 02:22 PM

            I think it was the Lamb Shoppe that had a sign that the lamb they served was "sustainable." Dunno what standards they follow, but I did notice the sign.

            I've never been a huge fan of the Minnesota State Fair because it doesn't do very much to promote Minnesota at all - instead it is an annual gathering of Minnesotans. When you look at their goal (gathering Minnesotans, rather than promoting Minnesota) they do a fantastic job.

            The Eco Experience was put together by the MPCA, so yeah... it had a feel of government. But, they're doing more than most government agencies to promote a better Minnesota. At the NY State Fair (a fair that truly promotes the state, but isn't nearly as profitable), the New York State Police have a huge area dedicated to driving safety, seatbelt awareness, fingerprinting kids, crime prevention, etc. Other agencies have similar (sizable) displays. The MPCA seems to be one of the few government agencies doing anything substantial to promote a safer, healthier Minnesota. This was the first year for the Eco Experience, and we need more at the fair like it.

            As for the Brenda Langtons and Lenny Russos, I don't see the fair as a place sorely needing them. The fair has created its own atmosphere around "fair foods," and healthy isn't one of the requirements. The fair is where people lose touch with reality and try stuff they know they'd only eat once a year.

            I'd much rather see the Brenda's and Russo's of the area set up shop at Taste of Minnesota. If you judged Minnesota food on the Taste of Minnesota, you'd think we don't know how to eat if it isn't impaled, battered, and fried. The Taste has devolved into "a place to eat stuff you like at the State Fair, but without the lines." To me, that isn't what the "Taste of Minnesota" should be, but that's what it is. The Taste Website even tells potential vendors: "If it isn't fattening or greasy, its not for the Taste." (read it here: http://www.tasteofmn.org/contact.html )

            1. re: The Dairy Queen
              The Dairy Queen Aug 30, 2006 12:54 PM

              Reply to Danny (since we've hit the weird nesting limit)--I've heard that Midtown Global Market has the atmosphere and spirit of what Taste of Minnesota had in "the old days." But, judging by my one experience at TofM, it's devolved into a lot of "wanna be" State Fair food vendors. I did have a Hmong sausage at TofM, but, otherwise, there was nothing cultural or chowish about it. And certain nothing healthy.

              If we want TofM or the State Fair to be more about providing a venue for people to experience new cuisines--ethnic or organic or otherwise-- I have the feeling the only way they can make it economically (so that the mom & pop ethnic places can afford to take part) is to charge a cover. San Francisco used to (?) have an event Labor Day weekend called “A La Carte, A La Park” where they charged $10 admission. In addition, each vendor charged $1-$5 for tastings. It wasn’t cheap, but the way they pitched it to the general public is that it provided an opportunity for the average person able to taste foods from the highest-end restaurants, which most people could not otherwise afford. Then the mom & pop ethnic restaurants could tag along, too.

              But, when I look at this list of restaurant-participants from 2003, http://www.eventswestca.com/alcrest.html, I only see a few restaurants that, by memory, were that chowish or ethnic and none of them at the extreme high-end. I have the feeling the high-end restaurants decided it wasn’t worth it. I was at a similar event in Chicago about a year ago and got the impression that the high-end restaurateurs were frustrated because it was nearly impossible for them to pull off the dishes they wanted to in the big, open venue.

              When I was searching on an A La Carte A La Park link to drop in here, I wasn’t able to find one. It seems that maybe the event has been discontinued, which, again, goes to show how hard it is to maintain the chowish spirit at an event intended for the public at large.

              I’m sad, actually, because ALCALP declared itself a “zero waste” event, which I’d like to see the State Fair move towards. I couldn’t help but think of all of the waste I was generating at the Fair with my Styrofoam cups, etc. Probably, the zero waste thing was hard to keep up, too.
              http://www.sfenvironment.com/articles...

              How discouraging.

              ~TDQ

      2. Karl Gerstenberger Aug 26, 2006 01:02 PM

        Very cool. I'll check it out. Now getting some reference to this programming to be searchable on the Fair's homepage, that would be really cool. All hail google.

        Minnesota Grown Organic may be a sleeper category for aspiring food vendors?

        1. f
          faith Aug 27, 2006 11:08 PM

          Hi Karl, I am with you on this topic! I am endlessly fascinated by the histories of people these days, including
          what kind of diet their parents and grandparents had, and the
          resulting longevity. It seems that people who grew up on farms
          pre-pesticides were some of the healthiest, and they didn't seem to be worried about fat and calories back then. And a lot
          of them lived a long time. Same with Europeans who don't obsess
          over nutrition but who enjoy their food, take their time eating, and are eating real food as opposed to stuff coming from food factories. I'd love to see the Fair represent the
          kind of food eaten on farms in the old days, and of course back then there was no choice, everything was organic! on this topic, Ben and Jerry's organic icecreams are very good, especially the vanilla...

          1. AnneInMpls Aug 29, 2006 07:38 PM

            The Lamb Shoppe (in the Food Building) is run by Liberty Land & Livestock Farm, which is listed as an organic farm at Local Harvest. (The lamb is grass-fed, too, which explains why it's so yummy!)

            http://www.localharvest.org/farms/M12335

            And isn't the scone booth (also in the food building) run by the French Meadow Bakery? If so, FMB is largely organic; with any luck, their scones are, too.

            But I agree that there needs to be MUCH more local and organic food at the fair. Why not organic cheese curds? (Shepherd's Way Farms' Queso Fresco with organic flour and oil? I so want that!

            )

            Anne

            2 Replies
            1. re: AnneInMpls
              MSPD Aug 29, 2006 09:51 PM

              Good info Anne. I heard Andrew Zimmern on the radio yesterday talking about the Lamb Shoppe. He mentioned they also make the mint jelly (or whatever it is they serve with the lamb...I wasn't paying TOO close attention while driving) from mint grown on their farm. Persuaded me further to seek it out if I go back to the fair.

              I appreciate Danny's post earlier regarding the fair ("The Great Minnesota Get Together" vs. showcasing MN). I think you're right on about the "Taste of Minnesota" -- what a lame, useless event. We really could use some sort of better showcase of MN Agriculture etc. or expand one of the Farmers Markets to more of an exhibition of the delicious creations you can produce from MN products. Sort of a Midtown Global Market-meets-St. Paul Farmers Market collision.

              On a side note, I joined a CSA crop share this year but I had to do all of the legwork and research. Going in, I was really unsure how to find a good one, do price comparisons, etc. I would also love to see a bunch of CSAs together in a convention/booth setting where I could chat, browse and compare at some point during the year. I'm unaware of that forum for CSAs -- feel free to clue me in.

              Anyway...I'm really just free-typing now.

              1. re: MSPD
                The Dairy Queen Aug 30, 2006 12:56 PM

                I belonged to a CSA in the Bay Area and really loved it, though, it was tough to keep up with a weekly box of produce if you're not a family of at least 2-3 people. In California, CSA's are year-round. In MN, are they only available in summer?

                ~TDQ

            2. q
              Quince Aug 30, 2006 12:12 AM

              MSPD,

              The Seward Co-op on Franklin Ave hosted a CSA fair this past April. They also had links to the websites of the participating farms on their website. Local Harvest (localharvest.org) is another good place to find a CSA.

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