Posts Tagged ‘Minneapolis’
“We have been able to unearth our traditions,” said Deborah Ramos about the Zenteotl project that she started in Minnesota in 2006. The Zenteotl Project, which in Nahuatl means, “first energy,” is meant to unite the Latino community of Central and South Minneapolis through art, traditional Mexica dance, and the traditional cultivation of corn. The project started as a multi-media performance created by Deborah, a visual artist, after traveling to Mexico and learning from traditional teachers about the origins of corn. She learned that corn is not like any other plant, it needs to grow within a community of other corn, and it needs a direct relationship with humans. Humans, and the Mexica people of Mexico in particular, grow with corn; it is a mutual relationship.
She was so intrigued by what she had learned about corn, that she began working on a narrative and a script for the performance that incorporated movements inspired by Aztec dance. But she knew that the only way to fully understand corn was to grow it. So that is what she did–hence, the Zenteotl Project. On a small plot in another community garden in Minneapolis, Deborah and members of the Latino community began experimenting with different traditional methods of cultivating a sweet blue corn that adapts well to a short growing season and has very unique nutritional elements. Over the years, more and more families joined the group through their outreach efforts that have a very specific experience with corn, allowing the group to experiment with even more traditional gardening methods. These methods honor the feminine energy of the earth, the sacredness of the seed, and the elements of the earth. They have experimented with different planting designs made up of rows, arcs, spirals, and many others. Their goal is to find the best traditional method that preserve and contain water.
Along with traditional ways of planting, they have also incorporated the corresponding ceremonies and traditional Mexica dance performed during the growth process of corn, taught to them by an elder of the community from Mexico. And, they use an ancestral method to make adobe homes to build an organic sculpture that represents a stage of the corn. The goal was to help participants understand that they could gain the basic knowledge to make their own home through this creative experience. They have even used recycled corn from prior seasons to make paper. “We take advantage of corn in the most respectful way and try to be as creative as possible,” said Deborah. In this way, this group attempts to recover their relationship with the earth and with each other. “We couldn’t learn this from a book, it had to happen through this collective process,” said Deborah.
In a time when climate change is becoming more and more visible in our everyday lives, Deborah wanted to offer her community more options for growing food. “We didn’t just haphazardly decide to grow corn, to garden, or to dance, it has all been very intentional from the inception,” she said. This unique Zenteotl project is on their fourth growing season, and Deborah feels that they are really onto something very powerful–they are empowering themselves. They hope to gain access to land outside of the city in order to grow more food, and they continue their work in the performing arts with indigenous artists in Mexico and the United States.
If you would like to learn more or get involved, look for “Zenteotl Project/Proyecto Zenteotl” on Facebook for more information.
There’s a lot I love about the Midwest, but mostly it’s the people. And summer. Despite the worst drought on record raging through much of the lower and mid-region corn belts, you wouldn’t notice it at first glance in and around the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul
Out here in support of the Twin Cities Public Television debut of Food Forward, all I can see is lush green grass surrounding smaller suburbs and rural enclaves as I make my way down the Mississippi river valley and over to La Farge, Wisconsin, headquarters for our founding sponsor, Organic Valley.
After meeting up with the team in the main offices, we head through Amish country and over to Spring Green, WI for a picnic dinner and to see Shakespeare’s Richard III. Afterwards, I’m invited to stay at ‘The Kettle’ for a restful night of sleep below a bright and shiny milky way, deep in the back woods of rural Wisconsin and I’m reminded of how lucky and thankful I am to have these opportunities.
Back to civilization and its straight to the St. Paul farmers market in search of food rebels. Amidst a sudden mid-summer downpour we amble through the aisles and met up with several local pioneers, including Mary Falk of Love Tree farmstead selling her artisan sheep milk cheeses and Dean Schwake of Big Woods Bison, offering low fat, high protein meat.
Then it was across the street to meet with Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant and Farm Direct Market. Lenny is a true visionary focused on supporting small-scale and local family farms. We spent a good day of filming with Lenny and look forward to sharing more about his operation soon.
Finally, I watched the airing of Food Forward yesterday at legendary local hot spot, The 1029 Bar in Northeastern Minneapolis.
At this popular Sunday sports bar, we were able to coerce our lovely waitress into switching two monitors from the British Open to our episode on urban agriculture, sans sound. Sure, I’ve seen it literally hundreds of times now, but to watch it far from home, with just the crisp high definition picture, amidst an amazing display of really good food from the Smack Shack with none other than local host Doug Utter, was a real treat. Even though they are nationally known for their lobster rolls, it was the roasted leg of lamb sandwich with harissa, saffron aioli and fennel seed slaw that I’ll remember and will come back for again. Out of site, really.
Living in the Bay Area it’s easy to feel smug about all the wonderful farms, local produce and restaurants we have. But one of the great things about working on Food Forward is I get to discover the food scenes in other parts of the country and I’m here to tell you the San Francisco Bay Area is not the center of the good food world. And that’s a good thing.
A strong movement requires many fronts and out in the Mid-West, the Twin Cities are holding it down admirably. I visited Minneapolis and St. Paul about four years and was impressed with the variety and strength of the area’s food scene. There are good and even great restaurants by the dozen. They know how to eat in the Twin Cities and they do it without the benefit of a sunny climate and year round fresh produce. Today Greg and I are wrapping up a trip to Minnesota to raise funds and meet the excellent people at Haberman, Food Forward’s new PR and marketing agency. I’m impressed anew with the vitality of the area’s local food scene and commitment to a greener, more sustainable regional food economy.
Thanks to my old friend and our Twin Cities host Doug Utter, Greg and I had some great meals (and great beer!) at places like Brasa, Haute Dish, 312 Eatery, The Local, the Red Stag Supperclub, and Sea Salt. These restaurants not only serve inspired cuisine, but they draw on the diversity and strength of the upper Mid-West’s many farms, creameries and ranches.
No place impressed me as much as 9-month-old Heartland, a St. Paul restaurant/market/charcuterie operation. Chef and owner Lenny Russo describes himself as both “the Che Guevara of the food world” for his left-wing politics, but also “the second coming of Adam Smith” because of his belief in a market-based approach to a reinvigorated regional food economy. I just call him food forward.
“We believe the way to affect change is going to be at the grassroots level and for people to become educated and concerned about what it is they’re doing when they feed themselves, not just to their bodies and their children, but to the environment as well,” Russo told me. Amen to that.
Russo champions local food in a way that few restaurants do. Just about every ingredient is local. In some cases he buys all the production of nearby farms and ranches, ensuring his purveyors have a predictable revenue stream, an arrangement that allows them to save on marketing and transportation. By doing so Russo is helping to keep local treasures like the Russet apple and the wooly, fantastically delicious Mangalitsa hog financially viable. Russo’s walk-in coolers and even some corner office spaces are loaded with legs of Mangalitsa on their way to becoming prosciutti (that’s the plural of proscuitto, don’t you know). He’s got plans to sell his proscuitti wholesale in the coming years. Keep and eye out for it.
What’s so inspiring about Russo and his Mid-West food emporium is he’s proving that locavore foodie idealism and profitability aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they go together deliciously.