Across the country, farmers and chefs are partnering to feature fresh food, straight from the field. The Minnesota Cooks program has shone a light on these partnerships for 14 years, highlighting Minnesota’s delicious local bounty to consumers.
“The idea was to very visibly connect family farmers and restaurant chefs, so that locally grown and raised foods would be showcased,” says Bruce Miller, membership and outreach director at the Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU).
“Today, it demonstrates the significance of time-honored foods produced by Minnesota farmers, with attention to both heritage and sustainability of the rural lifestyle.”
The president of MFU, Doug Peterson, started the program in 2003. He jumped at the opportunity to present the idea as an all-day stage show at the Minnesota State Fair, which is one of the largest agricultural fairs in the U.S. Minnesota Cooks was featured as the fair’s Taste of Tuesday event, and through the years has grown to garner such popularity that the day has been dubbed Minnesota Cooks Day at the Fair.
From its humble beginnings, the program has grown exponentially over the past decade, both in its offerings and audience.
“The program now features farm and cooking demonstrations and full discussions with celebrity tasters including U.S. senators, members of Congress and others who want to comment on the importance of local food,” Miller says.
He adds that the MFU distributes close to 15,000 Minnesota Cooks calendars each year, which highlight area farmers and recipes. They’ve also created an Emmy award-winning program called Farm Fresh Road Trip, which features locally grown foods and airs on Twin Cities PBS.
Another benefit of the program is that it allows urban restaurants to gain access to farm-fresh food.
“We have farmers who participate from all across the state,” Miller says. “The multi- generation Van der Pol family from Kerkhoven provides pork and beef to Twin City restaurants. The Red Lake Nation, a Minnesota Native American tribe, provides restaurants around the state with the only fish that can be called Minnesota walleye.”
Eye on Education
Miller says the day at the Minnesota State Fair plays a major part in spreading the word about Minnesota Cooks and educating consumers. It begins with demonstrations from a culinary school student or other expert, and continues with seven hours of onstage demonstrations, famous chefs, celebrities and local farmers, all talking about why they do what they do and why it’s important for Minnesota’s economy.
“Fourteen years ago, when Doug Peterson started Minnesota Cooks, the interest in local food was just catching on again,” Miller says. “Locally sourced, farm-fresh food has grown as a phenomenon, and it’s spurred other resurgences too, such as Community Supported Agriculture farms (CSAs), an increasing number of farmers markets, and participation in the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Minnesota Grown program. Increasingly, people want to know where their food comes from, how it was grown and who the farmers are who grow it.”
For the next decade, Minnesota Cooks will continue its mission to promote just that.