People, Not Profits: Slow Food in Minneapolis
by Daniel DeWolf
In bucolic Minnesota, a farm-to-table restaurant using organically grown and produced food from self-sustaining farms might seem like an obvious concept. After all, over half of the state’s land acreage is used for farming. However, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, less than one percent of those farms are certified organic operations. Limited availability of these farms, coupled with the lower cost of using traditional food suppliers, might explain why fast food restaurants still outnumber their slow food counterparts here. But consumer conscientiousness about food and its origins appears to be changing—specifically in the Twin Cities, but on a national scale, too.
One example of this shift can be found in south Minneapolis, at Tangletown’s Wise Acre Eatery. Owners Scott Enres and Dean Engelmann opened the restaurant last summer to feed the growing trend. It also helps that they have a self-sustaining farm in Plato, MN, less than an hour away. The duo has owned the farm and Tangletown Gardens—which is located across the street from the restaurant—for over nine years.
“When we were originally looking for a perfect urban garden center location,” Endres says, “we realized we couldn’t have the acreage in the city to be able to produce our own materials, but we also realized that the kind of customer we wanted and connected with the most is in the city.”
That connection to their community is what makes this trio of businesses such a unique enterprise. The garden center sells items like plants and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares that are grown at the farm; the restaurant’s menu features meats and produce that are raised responsibly and grown organically at Tangletown farm; and compost from the restaurant and the garden center are sent back to the farm and reintroduced into the earth.
“By doing it full circle, not having to import all that stuff, we save on cost and our carbon footprint can be lower,” Endres explains. “We’re not bringing in plants from Michigan or Utah; we’re bring in plants from Plato, forty minutes away.”
The farm also hosts a picnic and tour at the end of June and a dinner in late August, providing local residents a firsthand look at the operation, in addition to a meal made from scratch, using ingredients on site. The garden center and restaurant hold an art and garden tour at the end of July to raise money for community-oriented projects.
“That’s something that also helps build the sense of community around our businesses. We’re not just out there just to wait for the cash register to ring and to fill up on its own; we’re giving back, too. To build one of the strongest senses of community is when everybody can get involved and everyone can feel like they’re contributing something.”
Not all of the ingredients for the restaurant’s menu come from the farm, though. They reach out to Castle Rock Organic Farms for dairy products, and they stock their bar with craft beers from Fulton and Harriet breweries—both located in the Twin Cities—in order to support the local community.
“Trends come and go, and back in our grandparents’ days, this wasn’t really a trend, it was just the way that everybody ate. We want to serve this quality in our restaurant because it’s made with love and care.”
Endres emphasizes that the food served at the restaurant is “made with really good ingredients—local ingredients—that we can be really proud of serving, so it’s kind of like food with integrity.”