Rooting for Minnesota’s Food Industry
If you had asked Cecilia Rodriguez a couple of years ago, she might have said she didn’t know whether she’d go to college. But now, the 16-year-old is quick to share her decisive plan: serve in the U.S. Navy, then pursue a college degree in agriculture. She wants to plant small, urban farms around the country, and perhaps beyond, to teach city kids like herself how to not only grow vegetables but to sell them.
If that idea sounds familiar, it’s because we’re lucky enough to live in a state that’s home to organizations like Urban Roots and Roots for the Home Team, two local groups intent on empowering youth through healthy food. Cecilia, who will be a senior at Johnson High School in St. Paul this fall, was referred to Urban Roots when she was looking for a job. There, she learned to “get her hands dirty” tending a vegetable garden. That’s also where she was recruited by Roots for the Home Team, which takes the vegetables grown by local kids and turns them into ingredients for salads that are sold during weekend Twins games at Target Field, right near the Gate 34 Experience. (Roots is now at Milwaukee Brewers games, too.)
Maxed out on ballpark nachos, I went to the Roots cart for the quinoa cucumber dill vegetable salad during a recent Twins game. I stayed for more than an inning, talking food entrepreneurship with Cecilia and her mentor, Roots for the Home Team founder and dietician Sue Moores. She started eight years ago with the goal of changing youth perceptions about healthy eating, “but the kids were so inspired by the entrepreneurial aspect,” Moores says. Cecilia and her co-workers collaborate with professional chefs to create salad recipes from the vegetables they grow. Then they make the salads—at Target Field, no less—and complete the circle by ringing up purchases for customers like me, who are nourished by their creations. It’s about as concrete a business lesson as a teen could get.
“If you have an entrepreneurial mind-set,” Moores says, “it spells success in life.”
These sorts of stories seem to pop up everywhere you look for food: From the freezer case at Lunds & Byerlys, where you’ll find the Jonny Pops frozen treats that a couple of St. Olaf College students created in their dorm kitchen, to the corridors of Target Field, where you can order food and drink made locally—from Surly Beer to Soul Bowl to Roots for the Home Team.
We at TCB love a good success story, almost as much as we love a good meal. In this issue, we’re excited to take a deep dive into the food industry, from challenges on the farm to innovation at Fortune 500 food producers to the evolution of the local grocery store to fascinating conversations with celebrated Twin Cities chefs. We also take an honest look at what the romanticized restaurant industry is really like for most kitchen employees. Food production has long been a crucial industry in Minnesota, home to Cargill, CHS, Land O’Lakes, and Hormel. Today, you can add a dynamic startup scene and nationally lauded restaurant culture that has produced several James Beard Award winners, including Gavin Kaysen and Ann Kim, who you’ll hear from in our chef’s roundtable (Farming for a Future).
We couldn’t have pulled this off without the guidance of executive editor Adam Platt, whose appreciation for good food is matched by his keen understanding of the inner workings of the restaurant business. We also called in two of the best food journalists in the biz, senior food and dining editor Stephanie March and senior writer Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl from our sister publication Mpls.St.Paul Magazine.
We turned over most of the magazine this month to the business of food; even so, we’ve barely scratched the surface. Look for even more related content online—stories, videos, podcasts—throughout August at tcbmag.com and additional stories in upcoming issues.
Food brings us together. It takes us to different parts of town and exposes us to different cultures. It directly influences our health and well-being. It inspires us to dream up new ideas. It invites constant change. The opportunities are boundless. The hunger is endless. The need for innovation is vital. And the stories—well, we know you’ll eat them up.