Minnesota Cooks at the State Fair: Fair-Fresh Healthy Choices

As the coordinator for the Minnesota Cooks™ program at the Minnesota State Fair, I'm writing today's post to give you a preview of this event, which features Minnesota chefs and cooks, local farmers, and consumers with a full day of cooking demonstrations, discussions, and sampling of delicious cuisine.

The big day begins at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, August 31, (with samples of scones and French toast!) and will continue with eight hourly presentations, featuring 16 restaurants and 16 farms. The Minnesota Cooks Stage proudly sits in Carousel Park, just south of the Grandstand, and is the place to be on the Tuesday of the Great Minnesota Get Together for one of Minnesota’s most admired and longstanding sustainable foods events.

Onstage, these über talented chefs will create amazing dishes using farm-fresh ingredients supplied by local stewards of the land. As they prepare their creations, emcees JD Fratzke of The Strip Club Meat & Fish (a longtime Minnesota Cooks chef) and Lori Sturdevant of the Star Tribune (a longtime Minnesota Cooks celebrity taster) will engage the chefs and also an impressive taster panel of farmers, whose food is being prepared, and local celebrities (come and see Senator Franken crack jokes) in lively and meaningful discussions about why sustainable food and agriculture issues are so important. At the end of each demonstration, the panel, as well as fairgoers, will sample the mouthwatering fare. In addition to Senator Franken, we’re also honored to have the ongoing support and presence of Senator Klobuchar, Mayor Rybak, and Mayor Coleman, among other Twin Cities movers and shakers.

The beautiful 16-month Minnesota Cooks calendar, our legendary mini cookbook, will continue its tradition of debuting at the event. (Take a gander at our 2009-2010 calendar here.) This stunning publication, available for $5, will proudly feature gorgeous photography, enticing stories about the rich relationships between farmers and chefs, and delicious recipes. For the duration of the fair, it will be available for purchase at Minnesota Farmers Union’s building at 1635 Dan Patch Avenue. (Details about further availability are still being worked out. E-mail to be placed on a list to be informed of how to obtain the 2010-2011 calendar beyond the fair.)

A Nugget of History

In 2003, Doug Peterson, Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) President, had the notion that creating a healthy, educational and sustainable cooking event at the Minnesota State Fair would demonstrate to the public the critical connection that they share with our local farmers and would highlight the importance of how Minnesota-grown foods support our local economy. He approached Food Alliance Midwest as an inaugural partner, and eight years later, the two organizations continue to produce this highly respected program.

While the groundswell of food issues had certainly begun bubbling when Minnesota Cooks was initiated, Doug had the insight and creativity to create a program that was somewhat ahead of its time, given the intensity at which the local food and sustainable agriculture drumbeat is currently beating. He really deserves kudos for championing Minnesota Cooks’ mission, as MFU is a membership-based organization that represents all of agriculture.

A Personal Perspective

When I relocated to Minnesota in May of 2007, I knew little about the sustainable agriculture community in the Twin Cities, but arrived with ants in my pants, eager to work directly with small farmers. I come from farming folk and had graduated the previous year with a certificate in holistic nutrition, during which a rousing daylong lecture by ex-rancher Howard Lyman left me wide-eyed and in a dither; I was raring to leave NYC and become a farmhand. (Remember Howard Lyman? Think Oprah and the anti-beef lynch mob, circa 1996.)

While nutrition/wellness counseling and writing are tremendously wonderful and gratifying, something would be gravely missing for me without a connection to the amazing and thoughtful farmers who produce food sustainably. How can we nutrition counselors do our jobs without the work of these careful land stewards who produce food the way it’s meant to be grown? That’s how I see it. What an even greater world of hurt we’d all be in with Big Ag running the whole show.

I wanted to know these growers and support them. I wanted to learn about their challenges, their rewards and what makes them tick. I wanted to smell their soil, ogle their crops, and meet their happy animals. I wanted to be a sustainable farmer groupie.

Upon arriving here, I knew not a soul, other than my now-husband, Mark, and his family, but that changed in pretty short order. I immediately began working at Food Alliance Midwest; Food Alliance offers the most comprehensive certification program for sustainably produced food in North America.

My first day on the job, I began coordinating Minnesota Cooks™ 2007. Jackpot. Connections made. Not only was I literally handed a veritable list of local, sustainable farmers, but this sweet package also entailed getting to know the hip and savvy chefs, cooks, and restaurant owners who are so giddy about sourcing the best food possible.

Now in my fourth year with this groovy program, I’m very honored to say that many of our program participants, both farmers and chefs, have become my friends. I truly owe it to Minnesota Cooks for helping me surround myself with a posse of values-based, ag-lovin’ folks who know what real food is. 

I owe a great deal of gratitude to my husband Mark for bringing me to such an amazing, wonderful food community, to Doug Peterson for allowing me to run with this great program, and to Bruce Miller, MFU’s Membership Director, for, well, just putting up with me.

Would You Like to Support Minnesota Cooks?

People have asked for years how they can be involved with Minnesota Cooks in a more significant way and our support page is the way in which to do just that. You can help us bring this legendary event to the Minnesota State Fair and keep our Minnesota Cooks calendar on the printing press!

Minnesota Cooks receives major financial support from Agricultural Utilization Research Institute and significant financial support from Mark Grunewald. Minnesota Cooks receives major media support from Star Tribune, Mpls St Paul Magazine, Simple, Good and Tasty, Edible Twin Cities, and AM950 KTNF.


Jill Grunewald is a Minneapolis-based Certified Holistic Health Counselor, health writer, and passionate advocate for sustainable agriculture. After fumbling through a career in architecture, she graduated from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in 2006. Her practice, Healthful Elements, focuses on bio-individual health and whole-foods therapy, with specialization in the endocrine system and hormones, particularly thyroid and adrenal health. She loves tractors, Frye boots, her Mom’s pie, classical piano, bluegrass, mid-century furniture, tea, co-ops, great design, clean sheets, and bacon. Her last post for Simple, Good and Tasty was Asparagus: In Season and Better Than Viagra.